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William Wakefield

Colonel Wiliam Wakefield (1801-1848), married 1826 to Emily Sydney, the fifth child of Edward Wakefield and Priscilla Bell, he was the leader of the first colonizing expedition to New Zealand and founder of Wellington.

Table of contents
1 Early life
2 New Zealand
3 The trials of a colonist
4 Further reading

Early life

Born just outside London, he was largely raised by his elder sister, Catherine, who found him a difficult child. As he grew older he came very much under the influence of his older brother, Edward Gibbon Wakefield who was not always a good influence onhis life. In 1825 he became formally betrother to Emily Sydney but before they could be married William became involved with his brother, Edward Gibbon, in the abduction of wealthy heiress and both brothers were arrested. Then while out on bail William absconded to Paris, apparently to meet up with his Emily who by now was three months preganant. He returned to England when the baby was born and was prmptly arrested and held in Lancaster Castle until hs trial. He was subsequently sentences to three years in jail. During this time his 'wife' died leaving him with six month old daughter.

Upon his release from jail William spent some time with his daughter at his sister Catherine's. Then in 1832 he travelled to Portugal and enlisted as a mercenary soldier in the service of Dom Pedro, the Emporer of Brazil. Although he had no military experience whatsoever he was apparently able to enlist as a Captain. He survived the siege of Opporto and the subsequent campaigning but gained little from it except experience and a handful of medals.

After the Portuguese Campaign he returned briefly to England and enlisted in the British Auxiliary Legion fighting for the infant, Isabel, Queen of Spain. he emerged from the campaign as a major, re-enlisted and was promoted to Colonel. He was one of the few officers to survive the campaigns of the following years, he stayed until the Legion was disbanded in 1837 and returned to England the following year.

New Zealand

In early 1839 the New Zealand Company in London was hurriedly organizing their first expedition, hurriedly because they were anxious toget it underway before the government stopped them. They already had a ship, the Tory. At the suggestion of his brother, Edward Gibbon, they appointed William as the commander of the expedition. The Tory sailed from London on 4 May, 1839 with Wiliam as sole and unqualified leader of the expedition. However he also had a very full and complete set of instructions about their activities in New Zealand. The instructions came under three headings; the purchase of land for the New Zealand Company, the acquisition of knowledge about New Zealand and to make preparation for the formation of settlements. William was expected to treat the maori with utmost fairness, to make certain they were fully aware of the nature of the transactions they were entering into. He had to makeertain they knew what the Company intended in the long term, the number of settlers to be expected and the extent of the proposed settlements. He was not to complete any purchase until he was certain that all the vendors were happy with the deal. Furthermore he was instructed to be generous with the goods offered for the purchase.

Reading William's subsequent accounts of the deals he made with the Maori and also other accounts such a that written by his nephew, Edward Jerningham Wakefield who accompanied him on the expedition as acting secretary, every effort was made to fulfill these conditions. This is an important point.

It has become an established historical "fact" that the maori were cheated of their land. Some of the later purchases of the New Zealand Company may have been questionable. But for first purchase made of the area that is now Wellington and the Hutt Valley, every effort was made to be scrupulously fair and open. Afterwards both sides seemed to be very happy with the deal and lived together amicably, side by side, for many months.

William's first sight of New Zealand was not encouraging, successive ranges of formidable mountains. They took on supplies of wood and water at Ship Cove in Queen Charlotte Soound and met their first Maori who were very interested in trading. One of the offers William firmly rejected was that of their wives and daughters for the comfort of the sailors. Later on the missionaries tried to claim that some of the goods William gave the maori were not payment for land but payment for the use of Maori women. When the nature of the missionaries accusation became clear it was laughed out of court, William had established a very strong reputation for probity and correctness.

After five weeks among the Sounds of the South island the Tory sailed over to Te Wanganui a Tara, "The Big harbour of Tara" and Port Nicholson. Here he began serious negotitations for the purchase of land. The negotiations involved two tribes or iwi, Ngati Toa and Te Atiawa, it involved sixteen chiefs and after five days a deal was made that apparently pleased everyone. It was subsequently endorsed by the paramount chief of the area, Rauparaha. Strong objections were raised by Te Rauparaha's nephew, Te Rangihaeata although he reluctantly signed the deed eventually even while doubting its validity.

The purchase completed William and the Tory set ou to explore a bit more of New Zealand sailing up the west coast. They were impressed with the potential of the Taranaki are for further settlement. They then sailed up to the Hokianga and made contact with the traders and to look at buying land in that district. However the expedition was curtailed when the Tory ran aground in Hokianga Harbour. The ship was saved but it needed extensive repairs. Anxious to return to Port Nicholson and his appointed rendezvous with the survey ship, Cuba, William crossed the island to Korarareka where he charters another ship to take him south.

The trials of a colonist

William arrived back in Port Nicholson in early January, 1840. The first of the settlers ships arrived on January 21st with five others coming in over the next few weeks. However as the settlers preparered to begin building their new homes it became apparent that the land around Petone was ot suitable being too swampy. A new site had to be selected and Lambton harbour was chosen, a few kilometers further west. However the newly chosen site was already occupied by the Maori being one of their residential areas. William was quite clear that he had brought and paid for the land on behalf of the New Zealand Company but it soon emerged that despite his efforts the Maori had not fully understood the nature of the deal. They had expected to share the land with the Pakeha and were most unwilling to move.

It was a difficult situation for the Maori; while they had overwhelming numbers and military power they did not want a confrontation that might drive the Pakeha elsewhere. They probably suspected also that not only would they be fighting the settlers but also the other Maori in the area. Reluctantly and with bad grace they moved. However this was the beginning of a resentmet and anger that has plagued Maori-Pakeha relations right up until the present day.

To make matters worse the missionary, Henry Williams appeared in the district with copies of the Treaty of Waitangi for Maori to sign. Furthermore he was claiming some of the land the New Zealand Company had purchased. William was furious as he recognized that Henry Williams claims were made for selfish reasons but he granted him one acre of town land for his personal ownership. It is worth noting that Henry Williams was soon to be dismissed and disgraced by the Church Missionary Society for defrauding the Maori,

During this period William would have been extremely busy. He was not only the leader of the expedition and the colony, the principal agent for the New Zealand Company but he was also president of the Settlers Council which had been formed to maintain law and order in the Colony.

Meanwhile another problem was looming; the consequences of the furtive and hurried way in which the New Zealand Company had established the settlement ahead of the establishment of British Sovereignty. Naturally the new governor, William Hobson, resented their actions. The Setlers Council was seen asattempt to establish an illegal republic. The Acting Colonial Secretary Willoughby Shortland was dispatched with soldeirs and mounted police to disband the illegal organization. Fortunately he stayed on to administer justice and the change over happened smoothly although with some resentment from the colonists.

William strongly believed that Port Nicholson's central position made it the obvious choice to be New Zealand's Capital and seat of government. However Hobson chose Auckland, he probably recognized that Port Nicholson was dominated by the New Zealand Company. Meanwhile Shortland was scrutinizing the details of the Land purchase very critically. Inevitably he found a flaw, one of the Maori chiefs had sold land he did not own and without the consent of the owners.

There were other problems too. Many of the settlers were not happy with the land they had been allocated, others were not getting the land they had paid for. To satisfy its committments the New Zealand Company needed about fifty thousand hectares. There is not that much arable land in the Wellington area. Furthernmore William's nephew, Edward Jerningham was causing concern, drinking heavily and fornicating with Maori maidens.

Altogether poor old William was beset on all sides. He seems to havwe withdrawn into himself; one of the settlers described him as "the coldest mannered man they have met" Despite all the difficulties the Colony thrived, Port Nicholson became Wellington and continued to grow, How much of the credit belongs to William and hown much depended on the determination of the settlers probably depends upon the opinions of the historian.

The death of his brother Arthur in the Wairau Massacre was a huhe blow particularly as William felt partly responsible Governor Hobson died and was replaced by Robert FitzRoy. Initially he and William clashed seriously particularly when FitzRoy declined to take any action against his brother's murderers. However the situation did gradually improve. Apparently the two men recognized that they had to work together. The wellington settlement was a fait accompli while the Governor was the most powerful man in New Zealand.

There was continuing criticism of the land deals the New Zealand Company had made. William felt he had been honest but very few of the government agreed with him. Several of the deals were renegotiated and the putative owners paid a second time. Gradually though the Land Claims Commissioner, William Spain swung around. Initially he had appeared to favour the Maori, He became neutral and then began to support the claims of the New Zealand Company.

However over the next few years William was involved in disputes with the Crown, with the Maori and with his own surveyors. These disputes meant that the colonist land titles were delayed by months or years leading in turn to disputes with the various settlements. One of the undertakings of the New Zealand Company was that labourers going to the colony were guaranteed work. Because of the delays William had no work for them and this caused further anger, at one stage Nelson wa almost in a state of armed rebellion against the Comapny's agents. William and the Company simply did not have the resources to carry out their commitments. The situation was mede worse by William's personality; he demonstrated no sign of any leadership qualities and was unwilling to take any initiative in dealing with the problems. His time was apparently spent writing letters back to London dewscribing the wonderful progress being made. When confronted with problems he blustered, cajoled, criticized, what ever, but he would not do anything.

By April, 1844 he had alienated practically every colonist. One of them wrote "The baneful influence of Colonel Wakefield has ruined every settler and the colony of Port Nicholson."

Early in 1842 William ahd been joined in New Zealand by his daughter, Emily, then sixteen years old. Shortly afterrwards she became engaged to Francis Molesworth but it was broken off when ill health forced him to return to England. Then in late 1845 she met Edward Stafford of Nelson and they were married the following year. From his survivng letters it is clear that William greatly missed his daughter, he had enjoyed very little family life until she came to New Zealand.

In March 1847 William fought a duel with his doctor, Issaac Featherstone over an editorial in the Wellington Indepenedent newspaper which questioned his honesty. Featherstone fired first and missed then William fired into the air saying he could not shoot a man who had seven daughters. Just as well, the following year William had great need of his services.

Wiiliam suffered a mild stroke early in 1848 and then a more severe one in August. Then on 15 September, 1848 while at the bath house he collapsed; there were soon three doctors on the scene but to no avail and he died four days later. He was given what amounted to a State funeral, Governor Grey attened as did nearly half of Wellington, both Maori and Pakeha, The Maori Chief, Te Puni was one of his pall bearers. In death William was given the respect he seldom had gained in life. It was acknowledged that he had worked to the best of maybe limited ability at an impssible task and had probably contributed more than anyone else to the foundation of Wellington.

Further reading

"A Sort of Conscience, The Wakefields" by Phillip Temple, Auckland University Press, 2002.