Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796 – 1862)

Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796 – 1862) could roll with the punches! Born in London, he was a politician who took a keen interest in colonisation, firstly with South Australia.Before all the drama started, Edward eloped with a very rich Eliza Pattle; his eyes not so fixed on his new bride but the £70,000 she came with. It’s not hard to guess that her family would not have approved the match…after all his only role in the Napoleonic war was delivery boy – but he did witness Waterloo. I’m sure the pay and the position didn’t quite make for a high status!
That wasn’t the last of Edward’s money chasing career. After Eliza’s early death, he fought her grieving family for the rest of her money in court! The lowest point came though when he kidnapped 15 year old Ellen Turner from her school and forced her to marry him; again she was rich and came with a lot of money!!! Edward and his brother William were arrested, tried and did 3 years in Newgate Prison (London).
By the 1830’s, Edward became a politician, with a keen interest in forming new colonies in South Australia. He was a powerful speaker and was the main driving force behind the project. As the project began to take shape and started to succeed, more power was taken from him to the point he was completely frozen out. In 1837 he walked away and set his eyes on New Zealand!
Despite Edward’s efforts, the New Zealand project waned and was dropped. With the company of his son, Edward Jerningham Wakefield, Edward sailed for Canada. Fellow politician and friend, Lord Durham, was dealing with rebellions in the new colony there. Only Durham wanted Edward involved so it came down to Edward just working in the background unseen. He helped make history but of course, he was not acknowledged in any of it.In 1838, new life was breathed into the New Zealand project and Edward was out in front. He was the director of The New Zealand Company. With the purchase of their first ship, the “Tory”, the first expedition was made. The leader of the expedition was Edward’s brother, William, and young Edward Jerningham was also on board. Edward would send 9 more ships to the new colony by the end of 1839. One of which carried Arthur Wakefield, another of Edward’s brothers, to what would become Nelson. Travelling with Arthur was their nephew, Charles Torlesse who was a surveyor in training.Tragically, Arthur became a victim of the Wairau Massacre in 1843. The Maori of the region were unhappy with the treatment they had received from the surveyors. They went through the right channels by complaining to the European government of the time, but nothing was done. Even Arthur asked the local politician to sort things out but the process proved too slow. The Maori began to attack the camps, breaking their tools and burning their tents. No one was harmed in these attacks. Arthur had had enough and with a posse of 60 settlers, they went to arrest the ring leaders. In the excitement as the arrests, with great resistance, were under way – one of the settle’s guns went off. The stray bullet killed the wife of one the tribesmen. He demanded Utu (which means “avenge”) and gunfire broke out from both sides. Some fled but Arthur stayed, trying to manage a ceasefire. Arthur and all 22 Europeans that were caught were killed. This happened after the signing of the Treaty.

Edward suffered a stroke after all this. He decided to get away from the stresses of The New Zealand Company by moving to France in 1844. He wasn’t gone for long, returning to his position and in 1846, had another stroke!

It was during this time that he be-friended John Robert Godley and together they worked on the Canterbury Settlement. When Godley left for Canterbury, Edward’s wayward son, Edward Jerningham, joined him.

Edward sailed out to Christchurch in 1853 (also aboard was the newly married John and Jane Deans on their return from Scotland and Henry Sewell), expecting a hero’s welcome. He didn’t get any of that; he was the symbol of the lies of The Canterbury Association to the early settlers. Even James Fitzgerald refused to meet him.

Felix Wakefield, the older brother of Edward Gibbon also had plans of grandeur when he settled in Christchurch.  He had been allotted 100 acres of land in Sumner which he quickly subdivided and sold off. He had called his land Wakefield Town, hoping the name would remain but the original name from the Canterbury Association of Sumner remained. Only Wakefield Ave in Sumner bears his name.  Sadly, I have been unable to find Felix’s grave in Barbadoes Street Cemetery.  I believe it is a victim of the earthquakes and the stone lays face down in the grass or is smashed.

Chest-fallen, Edward left after just one month – heading for Wellington. He didn’t get much of a welcome there either. Governor George Gray actually left town so he didn’t have to meet him. Edward did meet up with his brother Daniel who was involved in the politics there. Edward joined the government and ended up battling with James Fitzgerald who had just moved up from Christchurch. The game didn’t last long. In 1855, he withdrew from public life after suffering Rheumatic Fever and Neuralgia. He died in 1862.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield image courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Gibbon_Wakefield

5 Responses

  1. Lemuel Lyes says:

    Great post! Those Wakefield brothers certainly managed to live varied and interesting lives with plenty of drama, controversy and at times a dose of tragedy.

    Very sad to hear that Felix’s grave hasn’t survived.

    • Hey Lemuel, thanks for your comment, yea, I am very fond of the Wakefields, never a dull moment. I was gutted to not find Felix’s grave, hopefully repairs to our cemeteries are a part of the rebuild. I will always be hopeful to find it eventually.

  2. Robyn says:

    Do you have any info on his marriage to Ellen?
    He accomplished so much in his life, good and bad. What a complicated man! Would love to know more about his personality.

    • Hi Robyn, no I don’t know much about his marriage to Ellen except it was short! And most likely either on the run or was in hiding. If you are from Christchurch, I came across a book on Edward Gibbon Wakefield at the Smiths Bookshop at The Tannery in Woolston if you are interested. From what I read so far, he wasn’t well liked at all but he will always be the Father of New Zealand 😉

  3. Robyn says:

    I’m not surprised that he wasn’t well liked. He took what he wanted and although foiled sometimes he kept pushing and pushing. An interesting man with a sharply divergent character.

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