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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District]

New Zealand Company

New Zealand Company.

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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

Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield, the first Managing Director of the New Zealand Company, was the eldest son of Mr. Edward Wakefield, Bunham Hall, Essex. He was born in 1796, and was educated for the bar. It is a matter of history that when thirty years of age, Mr. Wakefield came prominently into notice by his abduction of the young heiress, Miss Ellen Turner, daughter of the High Sheriff of Cheshire. Their marriage, which had been solemnised at Gretna Green, was dissolved by special Act of Parliament, and the rash bridegroom was sentenced to imprisonment for three years. Mr. Wakefield was a man of genius, with too much pluck to be altogether cast down by even so serious a mistake and its due punishment. He wielded most successfully “the pen of a ready writer,” and colonisation was his pet theme. The settlement of the Colonies of South Australia and New Zealand was certainly accelerated by his efforts, but there will probably always be differences of opinion as to the benefits his schemes conferred on these colonies. He had worked hard in pushing ahead the Colony for over twelve years before he himself acted on the advice which he had so consistently given others. In 1852 he landed in New Zealand, first settling in Canterbury, but shertly afterwards removing to Wellington. He was elected to represent the Hutt District in the first Parliament, in 1854. Speaking of this Parliament in his “New Zealand and its Colonisation,” (1859) the Hon. W. Swainson wrote: “Among the members returned to the House of Representatives on the occasion of the first general election, there were several experienced, energetic and able men. Conspicuous among them was Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Possessing acknowledged ability, the chief promoter of the colonisation of New Zealand, the founder of the modern school of colonial politicians, a man who has been justly described as ‘one of the shrewdest of mankind,’ Mr. Wakefield naturally filled a large space in the small colonial Parliament.” Mr. Wakefield took a leading part in the agitation for responsible Government, but he was, perhaps, too brilliant to be trusted by a Parliament almost all the members of which individually felt themselves his intellectual inferiors. On the 10th of May, 1862, Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield died, at Wellington, in all probability somewhat disappointed with the results of his life's work, great as they certainly were.

Colonel William Wakefield was a brother of Mr. E. G. Wakefield, and was educated for the Diplomatic Service. He, however, entered the Army, and was for a time in the British Auxiliary Force in Spain. The part he took in founding New Zealand on the plans of his illustrious brother is pretty fully described in the preceding article on “Old Wellington.” The Colonel was married in 1826 to Miss Emily Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Shelley Sidney, of Penhurst Place, and sister of the first Lord de Lisle and Dudley. His only daughter married Mr. (afterwards Sir Edward) Stafford, referred to on page 58 hereof. Colonel Wakefield died in Wellington in 1848.

Captain Arthur Wakefield, R.N., was aother brother of the founder, who cast in his fortunes with the New Zealand Company. He was the agent of the Company at Nelson, where he was succeeded by Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Fox. Captain Wakefield was very popular with the early settlers, and his murder by the chief Rangihaeata, on the occasion of the Wairan Massacre, on the 17th of June, 1843, was very deeply and very generally deplored. His brothers, Mr. Felix Wakefield and Mr. Daniel Wakefield, though they came to New Zealand, were less intimately connected with the Company.

Mr. Edward Jerningham Wakefield, frequently mentioned in “Old Wellington,” was the only son of Mr. Edward Gibbon Wakefield. After assisting his uncle, Colonel Wakefield, in the founding of Wellington, New Plymouth, and Nelson, he returned to England in 1844 While in New Zealand on the first occasion he occupied important appointments for one so young. He was a magistrate; and though he was rebuked, if not insulted, by Governor Fitzroy, all the authorities mentioning the circumstances declare such rebuke to have been entirely unwarranted. On his return to the Colony, Mr. Wakefield [Teddy Wakefield, as he was familiarly called to distinguish him from his numerous relations, so many of whom were prominent in New Zealand at that time] was elected as a representative of Canterbury in the first House of Representatives in 1854, and he was during that same year appointed to the Executive Council (see page 56). He was a young man of great promise, but, unfortunately for himself and his friends, he neglected to make the most of his opportunities, and formed habits which doubtless did much to bring his illustrious career to an early finish. In 1876 he again represented Christchurch, but died in that city during that year, leaving a widow, a sister of Mr. Rowe, about that time well known as the proprietor of the Denbigh Hotel, Feilding. As early as 1848 Mr. Wakefield wrote and compiled The Handbook for New Zealand (London: John ‘N. West Parker, Strand), under the nom de plume “A Late Magistrate of the Colony,” and three years before that he handed to the press his Adventures in New Zealand. Mr. Wakefield was the author of several other works in connection with the Colony. His early death, and the causes which so undoubtedly led to it, were very deeply regretted by a large number of colonists.