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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District]


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Under the heading “Old Wellington,” a good deal of information is given regarding this remarkable company, and little of importance is left to be added here. “Brett's Early History of New Zealand,” p. 473, may be profitably referred to by those desirous of acquainting themselves more minutely with the doings of the company. Excellent pictures of the founders and some of the others connected with it are given in the same work.

The company was formed in 1839, the founder, Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, had already made himself notorious, if not famous, in connection with an attempt to colonize South Australia, referred to in an article on “Sir George Grey,” p. 32, of this volume. Mr. Wakefield was a man of great ability and no small influence; but his past fame and then present objects were more likely to encourage enthusiasm in the breasts of adventurous intending colonists than to inspire the confidence of the British Government. Thus it happened that there was less difficulty in floating the company than in obtaining its charter. Looking back dispassionately upon the history of this company, it would appear that the Home Government acted in that half-hearted manner so common with governments and often so disastrous in its effects upon those chiefly concerned. Though the charter was at first refused, it was done in such a way as to leave the promoters with a lively hope of success in the near future; and this encouraged them to begin colonization in defiance of the opposition of the Colonial Office. The Wakefields were evidently able in some way to bring pressure enough to bear on the Ministry to obtain a charter; but before that was granted, it was deemed advisable by the British Government to take steps which practically meant entering into competition instead of co-operation with the company whose rights it had been asked to recognize. Nothing seems more reasonable than that the Government, when approached, should either have immediately undertaken the colonizing of New Zealand on its own account—assisted by any private company which might place itself under its jurisdiction—or it should have allowed the new company a fair opportunity of accomplishing the objects for which the charter had been asked. Having been granted a charter, and having been tacitly allowed to raise and spend a great deal of money, the New Zealand Company had a right to insist that any interference on the part of the British Government should be of the kind that would be helpful to the company. The granting of the charter in the end (1841) was a serious blunder—a weak yielding to pressure—that was in itself discreditable to any civilized government; but the methods adopted of trying to right that wrong, if less stupid, were more dishonest.

That Colonel Wakefield and his company made the wisest choice in selecting Wellington for the centre of their operations, has been amply proved by subsequent events; and it is exceedingly likely that the same choice would have been made by Captain Hobson, but for the prior rights of the New Zealand Company. Thus decentralization was begun at a time when co-operation was most needed. It is quite possible that had the British Government and the New Zealand Company worked together from the first, much, if not all the bloodshed might have been spared. The grabbing of the land for speculative purposes was the real cause of all the trouble, and the consequent spreading about of the people laid them open to attack from all sides. Thus it happened that partly through the avarice of its leaders, and partly through the action of the Home Government in first helping and then thwarting the New Zealand Company, Colonel Wakefield and his brave party were unable to give so good an account of themselves as they anticipated or as was expected of them. Both time and money were wasted in the bandying of recriminations between the promoters page 249 and the Government at Home, and between the leading colonists here and the Government at Auckland.

The result of all this was prejudicial in every way, nor did its effects close with the life of the company. Whatever faults there may have been, and whatever mistakes may have been made, it must be conceded that the New Zealand Company brought this country under the notice of Englishmen in such a way as to induce the very best class of colonists to turn their faces hitherward. The high position which this Colony has for fifty years maintained in the matter of her public men is largely due to the influence exerted by the brave, intelligent, well-bred and free immigrants introduced by the New Zealand Company. Unfortunately, very few of them now remain, and hardly any of them are represented by their sons in the Parliament of to-day. A good many of them returned to the Old World to end their days there; but even these left behind them names which will be long remembered.

Wellington was the principal settlement; but the Nelson and New Plymouth districts were also in the first instance settled by the New Zealand Company. In 1846 Mr. E. G. Wakefield ceased to be the managing director, and in 1852, according to Mr. Thomas Archer, F.R.H.S., the “company ceded all its ‘rights’ to the Crown for £270,000.” Thus ended the career of one of the most notable colonization companies the world has ever seen