The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Wakefield, Edward Gibbon

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Wakefield, Edward Gibbon, the well-known promoter of colonisation and founder of the colonies of South Australia and New Zealand, was the eldest son of Edward Wakefield, of Burnham Hall, Essex, and was born in 1796, being educated for the Bar. In 1826 he became notorious by his abduction of a young heiress named Ellen Turner, whose father was High Sheriff of Cheshire, and whose fortune he coveted. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, and the marriage, which had been solemnised at Gretna Green, was dissolved by Act of Parliament. By indomitable persistency, and possession of great capacity, Mr. Wakefield managed to overlive the stigma of this disgraceful episode. He wrote copiously on constitutional subjects and those connected with the condition of the depressed classes of society. He was deeply interested in the question of colonising the British dependencies, and wrote "Letters from Sydney," a work on Australian colonisation, so full of local colouring and data, that it was generally accepted as a genuine record of travel and experience. In 1833 was published his great work, "A View of the Art of Colonisation." In this book were broached the new theories of colonisation with which his name is indissolubly linked, and on the principles of which the great colonies of South Australia and New Zealand were subsequently founded. His main idea was the sale of the public lands at an upset price and the devotion of the proceeds to the promotion of industrial immigration. With the aid of Robert Rentoul, editor of the Spectator, and of Sir William Molesworth, he attacked the system of convict transportation, and struck it a mortal blow. He was private secretary to the Earl of Durham in his mission to Canada after the rebellion, and was mainly instrumental in establishing self-government in that dependency. Having taken a deep interest in the colonisation of New Zealand under the auspices of the New Zealand Company, of which he was the leading spirit, he assisted in the foundation of the Canterbury and Otago settlements under separate associations. In 1852 he at last saw the land of promise which he had recommended to so many others. He at first settled in Canterbury, but subsequently lived at Wellington, becoming a member of the local Provincial Council. In 1854 he was elected M.H.R. for the Hutt district, but was obliged to retire through ill-health after one session's experience of parliamentary life. He took a leading part in the struggle which preceded the actual initiation of responsible government, which had been presumably granted, but which was withheld from operation by the acting Governor, largely on the irresponsible, and, as its advocates argued, unconstitutional advice of Gibbon Wakefield himself, Mr. Wakefield, though at first prompting the Lower House to demand it, ultimately adopting a temporising policy. He died at Wellington on May 16th, 1862. Besides Mr. Felix Wakefield (q.v.), Mr. Wakefield had three other brothers who made a home in New Zealand, viz., Arthur, a captain R.N., who founded the Nelson settlement in 1841 as agent of the New Zealand Company, and was killed by the Maoris at the lamentable affair known as the Wairu massacre on June 17th, 1843; William, who, though educated for the diplomatic service, was a colonel in the British auxiliary force in Spain, where he served from 1832 to 1834. He was the real founder of New Zealand on his brother's plans. In 1839 he went out as the principal agent of the New Zealand Company and selected the site of the Port Nicholson (Wellington) settlement, and in the next year the first colonists arrived. At the start of the settlement he was its ruler as chairman of the governing committee. He concluded the celebrated Ngaitapu purchase at Akaroa in 1843, by which the Maoris parted with the South Island to the whites. Colonel Wakefield married in 1826 Emily Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Shelley Sidney, of Penshurst Place, and sister of Philip, first Lord de Lisle and Dudley, by whom he had an only daughter, who married Sir Edward W. Stafford, afterwards Premier of New Zealand. He died at Wellington in 1848; Daniel, who emigrated to the Wellington settlement in 1844, and became a judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand.