Edward Jerningham Wakefield (1820-1879)

Edward Jerningham Wakefield (1820-1879) had a lot going for him – he really had the world laid out before him.

Born to Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Eliza Pattle in London, he became a member of a family that made colonising New Zealand a family business!

Jerningham (as I will call him to save confusion with his dad) first saw New Zealand in 1839 on the first ship and the first expedition of the New Zealand Company (his father Edward Gibbon Wakefield was the director) to New Zealand. Also onboard was his uncle William Wakefield who had been appointed leader of the adventure. During this time, another one of Jerningham’s uncles, Arthur Wakefield, was founding the Wakefield settlement in Nelson. Young Jerningham took a great interest in the colony process and did not return to the London until 1844. He gathered up his journals about his time in New Zealand and they were published.

He was affectionately called ‘Tiraweke’ by the Maori which meant “Teddy Wide-Awake”.  Wide-Awake was the Maori way of saying Wakefield many believe.

Over the next five years, Jerningham lived just for the pleasure of things. While he was throwing away truckloads of money, his father Edward had be-friended John Robert Godley who shared many of the same views of immigration to the colonies. In 1850, Godley boarded a ship (with his wife Charlotte and son Arthur) to sail to Canterbury to found the city of Christchurch. The bankrupt drunkard, that Jerningham had become, joined him; for a fresh start of things. On arriving, he entered into politics. In 1855, Jerningham headed back to London when his father Edward suffered a stroke. While caring for his father, he became involved in London politics.

As his Dad wouldn’t stay put, Jerningham was soon back in Christchurch.  The split of Riccarton Road into Yaldhurst and Main South Road, along with St Paul’s Anglican Church nestled in between is known as Church Corner. It wasn’t always so, of course 🙂 Peer Street that crosses both Riccarton and Main South Road is named after Edward Jerningham Wakefield’s horse, ‘The Peer’ and the area was known as Peerwick. Following that that, the area became known as Riccarton Village and then Upper Riccarton.

As there were the Yaldhurst Stables (in which the suburb is named after) just metres away, maybe Edward and his horse ‘The Peer’ would take to the track that used to train racing horses. They could have been a common sight together and while this is definitely the name of his horse, it could also explain how the naming came about.  Also as Felix Wakefield, Jerningam’s uncle owned the land that makes up the school of Villa Maria, maybe Jerninham hung out there as well as the stables…no one can say.

In 1863, Jerningham married Ellen Roe in Riccarton and the pair owned a fine home in Fendall Town (Fendalton). They were known for their lavish parties and great social events. Two daughters were born during these years. Throughout his productive years in the Canterbury government, he also worked on the Railway project along side William Sefton Moorhouse – bringing the first railway system to New Zealand.

Unfortunately, Jerningham was battling alcoholism and it slowly began to steal his life from under him. He became known as being unreliable and erratic at work. Before anything critical was to be voted on, Jerningham’s colleagues started the habit of locking him in a room to sober up. Eventually, Jerningham lost his fine home, had to sell the furniture and the family moved to a little cottage in Worcester Street. The Wakefield’s would add another daughter to the family while in that little cottage. He would lose Ellen and his daughters next, encouraging her to move into her brother’s place in Palmerston North. Always an affectionate father, he would write to his daughters and delighted in their letters to him. He also send them books and music.

In 1878, Jerningham’s health failed him and he moved in with friends in Ashburton. Unknown to his family, he had moved into a half-way house. He couldn’t bear the shame of Ellen or his daughters to see him like he was so he stopped all contact. He died in that half-way house alone, clutching a photo of his daughters.

Edward is buried in Pioneer Park which was once the Settler’s Cemetery in Ashburton.

*image courtesy of http://www.book14me.com *
*photo was Peer Street sign and Edward’s grave was taken by Annette Bulovic*

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