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Vaggioli's Return: A Deserter's Adventures


Vaggioli's Return: A Deserter's Adventures

Eighty years after his death, Dom Felice Vaggioli is finally being recognised as an important commentator on and personality in New Zealand's past. Last year saw the first English edition of the controversial History of New Zealand and Its Inhabitants, more than a hundred years after its original publication in Italian. Now translator John Crockett has brought to light a second book from the Italian missionary priest

Written after the completion of the history, A Deserter's Adventures is an autobiography, and is published for the first time by University of Otago Press. The manuscript was stored in Vaggioli's monastery in Italy and was found by Crockett during his research on the history. Crockett has translated the New Zealand section of the manuscript, which covers the period from 1879-1887, when Vaggioli worked in Auckland, Gisborne and Coromandel.

The title A Deserter's Adventures is that given the work by Vaggioli, as he was a conscientious objector, or 'draft dodger' in his youth and therefore termed himself 'a deserter'. This is typical of the individual who emerges from the pages of this book: always questioning, and always applying a strong sense of justice and fine logic to the many dilemmas he found himself in as a missionary priest in New Zealand.

Few priests were as pure as Vaggioli, it seems, as he relates tales of indebtedness, womanising and drunkenness among his colleagues. He is the hero of his own story, writing of himself: "I was a real gentleman: upright, frank and trustworthy in every regard." More seriously, he offers a unique perspective - an insider's view of the colonial Catholic Church. Being Vaggioli, he pulls no punches when discussing Protestants and Freemasons, or when voicing his staunch support of the Irish in their struggle to be free of English domination.

Vaggioli arrived in New Zealand unable to speak a word of English. He quickly became fluent and showed himself 'to be fiercely partisan and also community-minded,' writes historian Rory Sweetman in his introduction to the book. 'Vaggioli sheds a great deal of light on New Zealand Catholicism in the colonial era.'

Forthright and animated, A Deserter's Adventures is written in the same style as the History, with a sense of immediacy that makes the past come alive. John Crockett conveys Vaggioli's punctilious character and the language of the period in this excellent translation.


more information overleaf

About the Author

Dom Felice Vaggioli (1845-1921) was a Benedictine monk from Tuscany. As a youth he was a conscientious objector, avoiding compulsory military service by hiding in a region which was under Austrian rule. He began his novitiate in 1864 and was professed a religious the following year. In 1876 he was sent as a missionary to Tunisia, and three years later to New Zealand.

Vaggioli was first appointed parish priest in Gisborne, and was entrusted with the job of clearing the parish debt. He then performed similar tasks at St Benedict's church in Newton, Auckland. However, the stress of managing an enormous debt resulted in his health deteriorating and after a brief holiday he was appointed to Coromandel. In 1888, after his return to Italy, he assumed the important post of Abbot Visitor of the Italian province of his order, until 1896 when he ceased this role to concentrate on his writing. From 1910 until his death he occupied the prestigious position of Superior of San Giorgio Maggiore monastery in Venice. Vaggioli was known for his austerity, intellectual curiosity and frankness.

About the Translator

John Crockett was born in Auckland in 1946 and attended Holy Name Seminary in Christchurch to begin studies for the Catholic priesthood. He then spent four years at Propaganda Fide College in Rome, where he received a theology degree and was ordained as a deacon, but decided not to become a priest. On returning to New Zealand he completed a BA in history and Italian and an MA in applied sociology. He has worked as a social worker and counsellor and currently works at Student Health at the University of Auckland.

Currently John Crockett is working on two translations: the first volume of Vaggioli's History of New Zealand, and a study of Pai Marire (the Hau Hau movement) which was written by Franciscan monk Ottavio Barsanti, and originally published in Turin in 1868. He is also writing an historical novel, Nga Roimata, based on the journey of two students, Maori and Pakeha, who were sent to Rome by Bishop Pompallier in the mid nineteenth century.

Contact John Crockett: tel 025 275 0412, or 09 445 2077
A Deserter's Adventures
The Autobiography of Dom Felice Vaggioli
John Crockett
274 pages, $49.95
ISBN 1 877276 11 1
Published October 2001

CONTACT For more information, or to arrange an interview, contact Philippa Jamieson, University of Otago Press, tel. (03) 479 9094, fax (03) 479 8385, email:

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