Wakefield, Edward Gibbon (DNB00)
|←Wakefield, Edward (1774-1854)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 58
Wakefield, Edward Gibbon
WAKEFIELD, EDWARD GIBBON (1796–1862), colonial statesman, born in London on 20 March 1796, was the eldest son of Edward Wakefield [q. v.], by his wife Susanna Crash, daughter of a farmer at Felstead, Essex. Daniel Wakefield [q. v.] was his uncle, and Priscilla Wakefield [q. v.] his grandmother. He was named after his great-grandmother, Isabella Gibbon, a distant relative of the historian. He was admitted to Westminster school on 13 Jan. 1808. He did not like the school, and, refusing to return in September 1810, was removed to Edinburgh high school. There also he showed signs of an intractable disposition, finally leaving in January 1812. In 1814 he entered the employment of William Hill, envoy to the court of Turin [see Hill, William Noel-, third Lord Berwick]. In 1816 he made a runaway match with an heiress and ward in chancery, Eliza Susan Pattle, the orphan daughter of a Canton merchant. He afterwards returned to Turin as secretary to the under-secretary of the legation, and after his wife's death on 5 July 1820 he became connected with the Paris legation.
In 1826, urged on by the persuasions of his friends in Paris, he made a foolhardy attempt to improve his prospects by a second marriage. On 7 March by a false message he beguiled from school Ellen Turner, the daughter of William Turner of Shrigley, a wealthy Cheshire manufacturer, inducing her, by representing that her father's fortune depended on her compliance, to go through a ceremony of marriage at Gretna Green. He took the lady with him to Calais, but forbore to consummate the marriage; at Calais he was overtaken by his bride's enraged relatives, who induced her to leave him. Wakefield returned to England to share the fate of his accomplice, his brother William, who had already been arrested. They were both sentenced to three years' imprisonment. The question of the legality of the marriage was involved in so much doubt that it was cancelled by special act of parliament.
Some two years after his release he published the result of his prison experience and reflections, ‘Facts relating to the Punishment of Death in the Metropolis’ (London, 1831, 8vo), a book remarkable alike for its insight and for its extraordinary power of portrayal. To his clear demonstration that punishment is deterrent according to its certainty, not according to its severity, the amelioration of English criminal law was largely due. The book reached a second edition in 1832.
The term of Wakefield's imprisonment, however, was more important as the period when, perhaps, deeming it desirable that he should quit the country for good, he began a careful study of colonial affairs. He studied exhaustively the subject of colonisation. He was surprised by the absence of any attempt to direct colonial enterprise on scientific principles. The depressed condition of the Australian colonies was chiefly due to the scarcity of labourers, which prevented the development of the country's resources, although plenty of capital was available on easy terms. Land could be acquired so easily that no one was willing to remain dependent. House or farm servants could only be obtained among convicts, who, besides being unfit for responsible positions, were too few in number to supply the demand adequately. Through the dispersal of the population as isolated proprietors of large holdings, the subdivision of industry necessary for the welfare and progress of a modern community was rendered impossible, and the colony sank at once into a state of economic barbarism. To remedy this condition of affairs, Wakefield proposed to hinder the immediate conversion of labourers into landed proprietors by abolishing free grants of agricultural land, and requiring in future the payment of a fixed sum per acre. He also proposed a tax on the rental of grants to be employed in conveying labourers to the colony. Emigration was to be carefully regulated, the supply proportioned to the demand, and the number of emigrants of each sex kept equal. The price of new land should be fixed sufficiently low to enable each labourer to become by purchase a landed proprietor in four or five years. He permitted free grants of pasture, for such land could only be used by one who already possessed capital. He also insisted on the absolute necessity of a thorough scientific survey of the territory of the colony.
These views Wakefield first enunciated in a popular form in ‘A Letter from Sydney’ (London, 1829, 12mo), published under the name of Robert Gouger, afterwards colonial secretary in South Australia. It was so graphically written that no one doubted that it was the work of an actual emigrant. His views were restated in more scientific shape in a chapter on the ‘Art of Colonisation’ in his ‘England and America’ (London, 1833, 2 vols. 8vo; New York, 1834, 8vo), a disconnected work, with a vague title, devoted chiefly to considering the phenomena of capital and labour, with disquisitions on other economic subjects. He finally elaborated his theories in 1849 in ‘A View of the Art of Colonization’ (London, 8vo), in which, after long experience, he modified his first conclusions in some secondary details. Much of the widespread influence Wakefield's views attained was due to the steady support of Robert Stephen Rintoul [q. v.], who was always ready to publish in the ‘Spectator’ Wakefield's opinions on any colonial question. Lieutenant-colonel Robert Torrens [q. v.] also, though at first not altogether friendly, afterwards gave him important help.
In 1830 the views broached in the ‘Letter from Sydney’ had their first practical fruits in the foundation of the National Colonization Society. A controversy with (Sir) Robert John Wilmot-Horton [q. v.] and with Torrens caused its temporary dissolution, but it was revived in 1837, and continued to exist at least as late as 1844. In 1831, at the instance of the society, the English government abandoned the system of free grants of land in New South Wales, exacting a payment of five shillings an acre—a sum which Wakefield deemed insufficient—and applying the purchase-money to defray the cost of transporting emigrants.
In 1834, after Wakefield and Torrens, acting for the Colonization Society, had for some time beset the colonial office in vain, a powerful company was formed, under the title of the South Australian Association, with a view to founding a colony on Wakefield's principles. Among its members were Charles Buller (1806–1848) [q. v.], George Grote [q. v.], (Sir) William Molesworth [q. v.], Torrens, and Henry George (afterwards Sir Henry George) Ward [q. v.] Wakefield was not ostensibly connected with the society, though in reality exercising a paramount influence.
The Duke of Wellington became interested, and a bill establishing the colony was passed through parliament before the end of August. The act embodied Wakefield's two chief articles of faith—the sale of land at a fixed price, and the application of the proceeds to an immigration fund. The introduction of convicts was forbidden, and self-government secured when the population should amount to fifty thousand. A landing was effected in July 1836, and a colony formally constituted in December. Although Wakefield had been the moving spirit in the earlier stages of the enterprise, he was not permitted to take a share in the actual direction of the colony. The administration was entrusted to commissioners appointed by the crown, and Wakefield was not included in the nomination.
In 1838, on the appointment of Lord Durham as governor-general of the British colonies in North America after the suspension of the Canadian constitution [see Lambton, John George, first Earl of Durham], Wakefield accompanied him as an unofficial adviser. Durham afterwards bore the strongest testimony to his wisdom, declaring privately that he had never erred except when he rejected Wakefield's advice. Wakefield had a large share in drawing up Durham's famous ‘Report on the Affairs of British North America,’ which proposed to remedy the troubles in Canada by uniting the North American provinces and granting them full control of their internal affairs. The ministry hesitated to submit to parliament proposals of so bold a character, but on 8 Feb. its publicity was assured by Wakefield, who communicated it to the ‘Times.’ His exact part in writing the report is uncertain, but he undoubtedly had a large share in the original conception. Wakefield twice returned to Canada, in December 1841 and in September 1843. In 1843 he took part in Canadian politics, both as a member of parliament and in the more important capacity of secret adviser to Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe [q. v.] Wakefield was the author of the noble character of Metcalfe, ‘whom God made greater than the colonial office,’ which appeared in 1844 under the title ‘A View of Sir Charles Metcalfe's Government of Canada’ (London, 8vo), and also of the article ‘Sir Charles Metcalfe in Canada,’ published in ‘Fisher's Colonial Magazine,’ July 1844.
After the severance of his connection with South Australia, however, his remaining life was chiefly occupied with the foundation and guidance of the colony of New Zealand. In 1837 he formed the New Zealand Association, which comprised among its members Lord Durham, Francis Baring, Buller, Molesworth, and William (afterwards Sir William) Hutt [q. v.], and which was intended to bring the questions of the annexation and colonisation of the islands before the public and parliament. Under its auspices a body of intending settlers was formed. In 1838 a bill was introduced into parliament embodying the proposals of the association, but, failing to obtain the support of government, was thrown out in the commons. In October the matter was put in more precise shape by the formation of the New Zealand Colonization Company, formed principally of city men, with hardly any of the representatives of colonial reform. After much hindrance from the timidity of the colonial office and the opposition of the Church Missionary Society, which feared that an extensive influx of colonists would alienate native feeling, the New Zealand Land Company was formed in 1839 by the amalgamation of the Colonization Company, the Association, and an earlier company founded in 1825 with the support of William Huskisson [q. v.] They were unable to obtain the sanction of the government, and on 5 May the Tory sailed from London with the first detachment of settlers, without any distinct assurance of support. This decided action compelled the government to extend its authority over New Zealand, just in time to anticipate annexation on the part of France. Government, however, declined to co-operate with the New Zealand Company, and despatched Captain Hobson to New Zealand, placing him under the orders of the governor of New South Wales. Hobson proclaimed British sovereignty on 21 May 1840.
While Wakefield's brother William controlled the operations of the colonists in New Zealand [see Wakefield, William Hayward], Wakefield directed the New Zealand Company in London, fighting its battles with the colonial office and the missionary interest. Save for the comparatively brief interval in 1840 and 1841, when Lord John Russell held the secretaryship, the attitude of the colonial office was consistently hostile. In February 1841 he won a legal status for the company by obtaining from Russell a charter of incorporation. Wakefield's labours in obtaining evidence for the parliamentary committees were especially important. In 1836 he gave evidence before one appointed to consider the question of granting colonial lands, which approved his views in their report. In 1837 the transportation committee condemned the system of transporting criminals to Australia, and recommended the institution of an immigration fund as an alternative method of providing labour. In 1840 the result of the inquiry into South Australian affairs was entirely favourable to the views he advanced in his evidence. In 1840 and 1844 he was examined before the two great New Zealand committees. His labours in the business of the company were unceasing. In 1846 he succumbed to overwork, and on 18 Aug. was struck down with paralysis of the brain.
On his partial recovery a year later he found that his influence in the company was gone, and that the management had passed into the hands of men who attached greater importance to financial success than the original promoters had done. In January 1849 he resigned his directorship and joined Lord Lyttelton and John Robert Godley [q. v.] in founding the church of England settlement at Canterbury. In 1850 he joined Charles Bowyer Adderley (now Lord Norton) in forming the Colonial Reform Society, and in 1852 he left England for New Zealand, landing at Port Lyttelton on 2 Feb. 1853. He threw himself at once into New Zealand politics, and rendered important services as adviser to the acting governor, Colonel Robert Henry Wynyard [q. v.] The confidence of Wynyard, however, ruined his popularity with the legislature, and the excitement of conflict caused a complete breakdown in December 1854. The rest of his life was passed in complete retirement, and he died at Wellington on 16 May 1862. By his wife, Eliza Susan Pattle, he had a son—who is noticed below—and a daughter, Susan Priscilla, who died before her father.
The importance of Wakefield's achievements in colonial matters can hardly be overestimated. The tangible fruits of his labours are the least part of their result, for all subsequent colonial development has followed the direction of his thought. He brought to the subject for the first time the mind of a philosopher and statesman, equally fitted for framing a comprehensive theory and for directing its working in practical detail. The great flaw in his character was lack of scruple in selecting the means for attaining his ends. This imperfection of character brought about serious disaster in his private affairs, and in his public life it prevented even his most devoted supporters from giving him their implicit confidence. There is a portrait of Wakefield in the provincial hall at Christchurch, and a bust was placed in the colonial office in 1875. Another portrait, engraved in 1826, is prefixed to Edward Wakefield's ‘New Zealand after Fifty Years,’ 1897.
Besides the works mentioned, Wakefield was author of:
- ‘Swing Unmasked, or the causes of Rural Incendiarism,’ London, 1831, 8vo.
- ‘The Hangman and the Judge,’ London, 1833, 8vo.
- ‘Popular Politics,’ London, 1837, 12mo.
He also edited Adam Smith's ‘Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,’ London, 1835–9, 4 vols. 12mo, with a commentary.
Edward Jerningham Wakefield (1820–1879), writer on New Zealand, the only son of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, was born on 25 June 1820. He accompanied his father to Canada in 1838, and in the next year sailed to New Zealand in the Tory. He remained in New Zealand until 1844, and kept a diary of the proceedings of the settlers. This he published in 1845 on his return to England, under the title ‘Adventures in New Zealand’ (London, 2 vols. 8vo). Resettling in New Zealand with his father in 1852, he was elected to the house of representatives for a Canterbury constituency in 1854, and was a member of the executive council from August to September. He was again a member of the house of representatives in 1876, and died on 3 March 1879. He was married and had three daughters. With John Robert Godley [q. v.] he edited his father's correspondence concerning the foundation of the Canterbury settlement, under the title ‘The Founders of Canterbury,’ Christchurch, 1868, 8vo (Mennell, Dict. of Australasian Biogr.; Lyttelton Times, 26 March 1879, monthly suppl.)
[Foster's Royal Lineage of Noble and Gentle Families, ii. 840–5; Garnett's Edward Gibbon Wakefield, ‘Builders of Greater Britain,’ 1898, with portrait; Harcus's South Australia, 1876; Hodder's George Fife Angas, 1891; Hodder's Hist. of South Australia, 1893, i. 21–3, 28, 46; Rees's Life of Sir George Grey, 1892, i. 104; Gisborne's New Zealand Rulers and Statesmen, 1897, pp. 62, 63, 78, 79; Reeves's Long White Cloud, 1898; Garran's Australian Atlas; Rusden's Hist. of New Zealand, 1883; Sherrin and Wallace's Early Hist. of New Zealand (Brett's Hist. Ser.) 1890.]