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Wakefield and the New Zealand Company

Edward Gibbon Wakefield

Born: probably 20 March 1796, in London, England

Died: 16 May 1862, in Wellington


  • After an uneven education, Edward Gibbon Wakefield became a messenger for a member of the diplomatic service, and travelled through Europe
  • In 1816 Wakefield eloped with a 16-year-old heiress, Eliza Pattle, but managed to talk his way out of trouble and into a promotion.
  • After the birth of their son, Edward Jerningham Wakefield in 1820, Eliza died.
  • In 1826 Wakefield ran off with another young girl because he hoped that her father would be forced to help him with his political career if she was his wife. His brother and stepmother helped him, and when the girl's family caught up with them, they were brought to trial. The two brothers were sentenced to 3 years in prison.
  • While in prison Wakefield read a number of books on economics and social ideas, and worked out his theory on colonisation. In his writing he used language which some people say showed his remorse over his past behaviour, but which more likely was deliberately used so that he would be respectable again once he was released from prison.
  • In 1830 Wakefield and others formed the National Colonization Society to win official support for his colonisation theory.
  • His behaviour in the past and the bad name this had given him stopped Wakefield from entering political life in England, and any influence he held had to be behind-the-scenes. He was very good at talking to people so that they came around to his point of view.
  • Wakefield was involved for a while in plans for the colonisation of South Australia, and also spent time in Canada, while working on plans to colonise New Zealand.
  • He helped set up the New Zealand Association, which later became the New Zealand Company. The first organised attempt at settlement was of Wellington, under the leadership of his brother William, in1839.
  • After the death of his brother Arthur in the Wairau affray of June 1843, Wakefield had to defend the New Zealand Company and its policies back in England.
  • In 1848 Wakefield, with John Robert Godley set up the Canterbury Association to plan a Church of England colony in New Zealand. Land for the settlement was obtained from the Ngāi Tahu under the deal known as Kemp's Deed.
  • Within a year he was trying to get support in England for self-government for New Zealand. The 1852 New Zealand Constitution Bill included sections on provincial government, which were probably the result of Wakefield's influence.
  • Wakefield left England for New Zealand in late 1852, arriving in Lyttelton on 2 February 1853. He was not warmly welcomed there and so travelled to Wellington where he argued with Governor Grey over land regulations.
  • He went into politics, and was elected to both the Wellington Provincial Council and the House of Representatives. Political problems early in the first General Assembly, and ill health, ended his political career.
  • Wakefield took no more part in public affairs, and died on 16 May 1862, in Wellington.


  • Edward Gibbon Wakefield was a man with a strong personality and ambition.
  • His theories on colonisation tried to put in place ordered, civilised and self-supporting colonies, but were not flexible enough to adapt to local conditions.
  • The Canterbury settlement was probably the most successful of his schemes.


Wairau Affray:
On 17 June 1843 a party of 50 Europeans, led by Arthur Wakefield, walked into the Wairau Valley from Nelson. They tried to arrest Te Rauparaha and another Māori chief, Rangihaeata, on a flimsy charge of arson from when a survey party had tried to survey disputed land in the Wairau Valley. The European claim to the land was based on a false deed of sale, which the Māori owners had been tricked into signing. The chiefs refused to go with them, and one of the Europeans fired his gun (probably accidently). Fighting broke out and people were killed on both sides. After Wakefield called on the Europeans to surrender, Rangihaeata demanded utu for his wife who had been killed, and Wakefield and others were executed. Despite demands for revenge from settlers in Wellington and Nelson, Governor Fitzroy refused to act, saying that the Māori had been provoked by the unreasonable actions of the Europeans.
Wakefield and Colonisation:
Once the settlers arrived in New Zealand local conditions made them change the way they had planned to do things. Canterbury was the most successful of the Wakefield settlements, but still had to change some details. The following points are what was supposed to happen under Wakefield's scheme for the colonisation of New Zealand:
  • Men able to afford to buy land in the new colony would be allowed only small amounts at a time so that the land would be properly developed. This was instead of being allowed large areas of land that would need people to work it specially brought in (slaves or convicts, as in North America and parts of Australia).
  • The price of this land (the 'sufficient price') would depend on local circumstances.
  • Farm workers would be brought out to work the land, and eventually given the chance to buy some for themselves
  • Because the landowners would not have to spend as much time working on their land as workers would be available, these men would be able to carry over into the colony the culture and quality of life they had had back in England. Life in the new settlement would be more orderly and 'civilised'.
  • The natural leaders of the colony (educated and used to being in charge) would have the time to establish schools, roads, and regulations, and the dream of self-government would be achieved sooner than expected.
  • And at the same time the money received from the sale of the land would be used to bring more workers out to the settlement (as assisted passengers they would not have to pay their fare), and to build the services needed in the new towns, including the planned cathedral and college.
  • All people who wanted to emigrate under the scheme would have to 'be of good character' ie hard-working, well-behaved and Christian.
  • A 'slice of English life' would be moved from England to New Zealand, and would be under the strong influence of the Anglican Church
Canterbury Association:
The Association was formed in 1848 and was supported by a number of members of parliament and English peers, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. The capital city of the new colony was to be called Christ Church, after the Oxford College John Robert Godley attended. The agricultural settlement planned was to be made up of selected Anglican families, with the land sold to the settlers to raise money for the building of schools, roads, and churches. The Canterbury Association bought the land from the New Zealand Company. The rural sections were sold in lots of no less than 50 acres for 3 an acre. The land in the city (1,000 acres) was divided into quarter acre sections, and balloted out to the new settlers. The Association hoped to establish a colony of 15,000 people, with a bishop (and a cathedral), 21 clergy, and 20 schoolmasters. Twelve shiploads of settlers were planned, with the first four leaving England in September 1850.
Kemp's Deed:
This was signed at Akaroa on 12 June 1848 by sixteen Ngāi Tahu chiefs. They sold the greater part of their land for £2,000, but kept their settlements and food-gathering places. They were to be given back larger reserves of land once the surveying had been done. Commissioner Henry Kemp, acting on behalf of Governor George Grey, was only allowed to offer the £2,000. There was a mix-up over the reserves, partly because the map attached to the deed (the paper which had all the details of the sale) had different information. When Walter Mantell mapped the land in 1848 he deliberately cut down the promised reserves, allowing less than four acres per head instead of the promised ten. He also kept back from Ngāi Tahu some of their cultivated land and food-gathering places (mahinga kai).


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