Pompallier - a slice of France in Russell

Once a port town for whalers and traders Russell has come a long way since the 1800s when it was described as the hell-hole of the South Pacific.

Once a port town for whalers and traders Russell has come a long way since the 1800s when it was described as the hell-hole of the South Pacific. Russell (then Kororareka) is now famous for its cafes, restaurants and Pompallier.

Pompallier is not only one of the oldest buildings in New Zealand but also our oldest industrial building. The sole survivor of a once-crowded mission compound, it is a piece of French provincial architecture, unique in Australasia. It was here that French Catholic missionaries printed religious texts in the Maori language.

The place today is named after Bishop Jean-Baptiste Pompallier, who arrived in New Zealand in 1838. It was here in Russell that he set up his headquarters as leader of the Catholic Mission to Western Oceania. Pompallier was the Frenchman who had had the audacity to push for the ''Fourth'' Treaty Article at Waitangi in 1840: asserting the right to religious tolerance. Pompallier saw New Zealand become a British colony, Kororareka become Russell, and the Treaty Wars split the north.

Of extraordinary rammed earth (pise de terre) construction, Pompallier was built during those turbulent years that saw the Bay of Islands become the Birthplace of the Nation. Visitors to Pompallier today are given hands-on experiences of pioneer printing and tanning while they hear the fascinating stories of the people who first worked here, and their relationships with Maori, English settlers and Protestant missionaries. Pompallier is now set in the beautiful colonial gardens that were created long after the missionaries had left.

In 2002 the remains of Bishop Pompallier were returned to New Zealand after being exhumed from his grave in France where he had been largely forgotten. Bishop Pompallier''s remains were returned to New Zealand in response to growing support for his return, and he was finally interred at the Church of St Mary''s at Motuti in the Hokianga (also in Northland). Before his interment, the Bishop''s remains were taken to different significant places around the country including the Pompallier building in Russell.

Further information:

Kate Martin
NZ Historic Places Trust Property Manager for Pompallier
Phone +64 9 403 9015
Email  pompallier@historic.org.nz

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