Edward Jerningham Wakefield. Adventure in New Zealand


Detail of Edward Jerningham Wakefield. Adventure in New Zealand. Detail of Edward Jerningham Wakefield. Adventure in New Zealand

A gifted wastrel in the grand Romantic tradition, too partial to drink and dissipation to fulfil the youthful promise of his keen intellect and literary flair, Edward Jerningham Wakefield (1820-1879) was the only son of the ambitious colonist Edward Gibbon Wakefield. In early adulthood he served as an agent and explorer for his father's chief colonial enterprise, the New Zealand Company. He arrived in New Zealand in August 1839 and for the next five years was engaged in a series of land-purchasing expeditions on the company's behalf in the Wanganui, Upper Rangitikei, Taupo and Nelson districts. The two-volume account of his exploits published on his return to England was accompanied by a large folio of coloured illustrations prepared by England's leading lithographic company, Day and Haghe.

Jerningham (as he was generally known to distinguish him from his father) came back to New Zealand in 1850 and lived mainly in Christchurch. He had two stints as a member of parliament (1853-1855 and 1871-1875), but by the time of his death in 1879 he was largely a forgotten man.

Adventure in New Zealand is an undeniably partisan book, aimed at encouraging migrants and missing no opportunity to disparage Governors Hobson and Fitzroy and other adversaries of the Wakefield family. Still, the text occasionally touches on the difficulties of pioneer life, including tensions between settlers and local Māori. There is a lengthy (if one-sided) discussion of the 1843 altercation with Ngati Toa chiefs Te Rangihaeata and Te Rauparaha over land in the Wairau Valley, which resulted in the deaths of Jerningham's uncle, Captain Arthur Wakefield, and twenty-one other Europeans.

Such carnage seems far removed from artist John Waring Saxton's idyllic depiction of the Nelson settlement – unless one notices the inscription for ‘the house of the late W. Thompson, Police Magistrate’. Thompson's aggressive and disrespectful manner, while trying to arrest Te Rauparaha, probably precipitated the Wairau affray. He perished along with Captain Wakefield.

The Library's set of Adventure in New Zealand was donated by the prominent Auckland businessman and art collector James Tannock Mackelvie (1824-1885).

Auckland Libraries Auckland Council