Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Verjus, Henri Stanislas (1860–1892)

by James Griffin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Henri Stanislas Verjus (1860-1892), missionary, was born on 26 May 1860 at Oleggio, Piedmont, Italy, younger son of Philippe Verjus, a Savoyard soldier in the Sardinian army, and his wife Laura, née Massara. Precociously devout he enrolled in 1872 in the Petit-Oeuvre of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart at Chezal-Benôit. After he had been threatened with expulsion in 1876 for levity, academic failure and other misdemeanours, his superiors had to restrain him from mortifications including eating inedible scraps and self-flagellation with wire-tipped twine. In 1878 he took his first vows and was teaching at Petit-Oeuvre when the Ferry Laws closed all Catholic teaching institutions in France. He took his final vows in exile at Barcelona, Spain, in 1881 and was ordained in Rome in November 1883. Appointed to New Guinea under Fr Navarre, Verjus left Marseilles in November 1884 and arrived at Thursday Island on 24 February 1885. He was obstructed by magistrate Henry Chester until the piratical 'Yankee Ned' Mosby, discharging obligations to the bishop of Cooktown, brought him and two Italian religious Brothers to Yule Island, Gulf of Papua, on 30 June. He named Port Leo after the reigning Pope, said the first Mass on 4 July and bought land, but was asked by Sir Peter Scratchley to leave in September to avoid possible conflict with the London Missionary Society.

After Scratchley's death, Verjus returned to Yule Island in February 1886. The Polynesian catechist of the LMS withdrew but Verjus and his companions suffered badly from famine, fever and overwork. With Fr Louis Couppé he explored the Roro and Mekeo hinterland in 1886-87, named the St Joseph River and explored as far as Rarai. In September 1889 he was consecrated bishop in a hut at Yule Island by Archbishop Navarre. Intended as vicar apostolic of New Britain, at his own and Navarre's requests he was made coadjutor for British New Guinea in 1890. Although Navarre saw him as 'my best missionary, my right arm', Verjus opposed the archbishop's policy of consolidation on the island before working on the mainland and won his point: eight stations were established by 1891. The first Papuan baby was baptized in 1886, the first male in 1889 and the 250 people of Yule Island at Christmas 1891.

Verjus single-handedly conciliated and overawed warring tribes and baffled the sorcerers, not all of whom he thought were satanic. Although abhorring heresy, he was tolerant in practice of Protestant teachers. He co-operated amiably with Sir William MacGregor and guided him through the Mekeo. MacGregor admired him, praised his 'rare liberality' and lack of sectarianism, and extolled his progressive methods of pacification. Ill health sent him to Europe in April 1892. In October he presented to the Pope, with other symbolic objects, a triple tiara of bird-of-paradise head-dresses from converted chiefs, an address of submission, and religious and other books in the Roro language. He died of pneumonia at Oleggio, Piedmont, on 13 November 1892, 'martyred by regret at not being a martyr'. When Verjus first landed natives had accepted 'Missionary' as his name. In village tradition, he is still 'Mitsinari'.

Select Bibliography

  • British New Guinea, Annual Report, 1889-93
  • J. Vaudon, Monseigneur Henri Verjus M.S.C (Paris, 1913)
  • A. T. Cadoux, L'Apôtre des Papous: Mgr Henri Verjus (Lyon, 1931)
  • A. Dupeyrat, Papouasie: Histoire de la Mission, 1885-1935 (Paris, 1935)
  • P. L. T. G. Goyau, Le Christ Chez les Papous (Paris, 1938)
  • R. B. Joyce, Sir William MacGregor (Melb, 1971)
  • Annales de Notre Dame du Sacré-Coeur, 1887-95
  • Vox Missionum (Croydon), 1943
  • Catholic Missions, June 1945
  • Protectorate letter-books (National Archives of Papua New Guinea)
  • notes de Mgr Navarre sur sa vie (R.C. Mission Archives, Yule Island and microfilm PMB 654).

Citation details

James Griffin, 'Verjus, Henri Stanislas (1860–1892)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/verjus-henri-stanislas-4777/text7949, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 19 October 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017

Life Summary [details]

Birth

26 May 1860
Oleggio, Piedmont, Italy

Death

13 November 1892
Oleggio, Piedmont, Italy

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation