Revised 3 July 2015

I have revised my opinion on the role of Edward Gibbon Wakefield and the New Zealand Company in the colonisation of New Zealand, and now concede that Wakefield held more "progressive" views than I had previously allowed.    Specifically, while Wakefields plan for "systematic colonization" involved the plantation of an English class society in New Zealand under the auspices of the British crown, he did envisage that the class system could evolve into a more egalitarian society based on, for want of a better word, a yeoman class of small landholders - which did in fact begin to develop over the first half-century of colonial rule.

Wakefield also desired that the infant colony should be self-governing from the outset, with its own national anthem, and that it should, in short order, become the seat of its own empire.   Thus he was not so much a Tory British imperialist, as a New Zealand national imperialist whose vision foreshadowed that of Richard Seddon's liberal government of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  His daughter and close confidant Nina, wrote (emphasis added) in relation to the planned Wakefield colony in South Australia "you ought to consult .. on writing a national song for us South Australians... to raise a future empire on the shores.. of the Southern Ocean..".   It is reasonable to assume that the daughter's vision, rather incautiously expressed in private, reflected that of her father, and that they would apply just as well to the New Zealand project as to South Australia.

However, in the event an effective degree of self-government was delayed until the middle of the twentieth century. It was only decades later that the New Zealand national anthem replaced the British royal anthem "God Save the Queen", and to this day it is the British monarch who holds sovereign power within the realm of New Zealand.  The implication is that the colonists as a whole were far more timid in their aspirations than the founding father of their colony, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, being content to remain legally, politically and economically subordinate to the global Anglo-American power well into the twenty-first century.
Wakefield himself wrote (emphasis added) "The colonists, being instructed and civilised people, would be as well qualified to govern themselves as the people of Britain; and being a wealthy people they would be able, without going to war, to assert the birth right of all British subjects - to enforce in the British Parliament, against a bad British ministry, their claim to equality before the law...they might frame their own laws, in a Colonial Assembly, under the eye of a viceroy, incapable of wrong and posessing a veto like the King of England...".

Clearly, Wakefield envisaged a "colony" which would not only be wealthy and self-governing, but also be a sovereign ("incapable of wrong") imperial power in its own right, and therefore not a colony in the strict sense at all.

Confirmation of the radical nature of Wakefield's proposal comes from the Colonial Office's legal adviser of the time, James Stephen, who argued that a Wakefield colony would be "a Republic in the most unequivocal sense of the word" adding that "So long as Great Britain remains a monarchy His Majesty can scarcely be advised to settle a Republic within any part of his Dominions"

Karl Marx's verdict (in "Capital") on the economic and social implications of Wakefield's theory of systematic colonization remains convincing, and it is remarkable how what Marx sees as the necessary conditions for the fulfilment of Wakefield's scheme - high land prices and an unending flow of foreign capital and immigrants - remains the case in New Zealand to the present day.  In fact those two factors, which are the basis of New Zealand's peculiar form of colonial capitalism, have now attained such  extraordinary levels that, while favoring the process of capital concentration and the proletarianisation of the colonial working class as intended, they have reached proportions that jeopardize social stability.

My reassessment of Wakefield relates more to his character, motivations and his political leanings than to the socio-economic implications of his doctrines.  These are all considerations which the Marxists would think of little significance.   But historical judgments are judgments of human beings, and they must be fair, balanced, and, to a degree at least, sympathetic.

Wakefield was in many respects the predecessor of the the Lange-Douglas New Zealand Labour Party of the nineteen eighties.   He was a middle class commoner who consorted with and depended upon the goodwill of aristocrats and plutocrats.  He had radical, non-conformist origins yet made common ground with Tory churchmen and Whig grandees.   He was both a a manipulator and an idealist, a self-seeker and a visionary, a scoundrel in some matters and a man of integrity in others.  He was obsessed by a theory which, to give him his due, he believed would give rise to a harmonious and noble society and a proudly independent self-governing nation.  That vision which he portrayed and sold to the first generation of New Zealanders was never realized, because he failed to account for the greed, duplicity and servility in the human type, despite the fact that those traits were not altogether absent from his own character.   The theoretical models of "systematic colonization" and "free market liberalism" respectively ended in a grossly unequal and unhappy society, politically subordinate to foreign powers.   Such unintended consequence is the normal fate of all ideological theories which see social problems as arising solely from the principles upon which a society is organised, and not at all from the vagaries and occasional perfidy of human nature.

Wakefield, like his brothers William and Felix, and son Jerningham, and unlike his collaborators or  antagonists of a higher class and better standing in Britain, such as John Robert Godley, Lord Lyttelton and Sir George Grey, he chose to spend his final years in  New Zealand and here he died and was buried.   In his visions, his contradictions and most particularly his fate he was nothing if not a New Zealander.  His loyalty to New Zealand was the product of, and remained inextricably involved,  with his grandiose (even Bonapartist) personal ambitions, but that is nothing unusual in a colonial statesman, which is to say that it is not unusual in the New Zealand politician.  The Wakefields are little celebrated either in New Zealand or in the United Kingdom.   The reasons are not difficult to discern.   As a family they combined a curious blend of idealism and roguery.   Felix emigrated to New Zealand because he had failed to make a go of it in England, and proceeded to inflict himself on the people of Canterbury, New Zealand.  Arthur was killed in the Wairau affray which was provoked by a reckless attempt to appropriate Maori lands on behalf of the New Zealand Company.  William died some years later of natural causes at Wellington.   The gifted but dissolute Jerningham followed his father into New Zealand parliamentary politics and died a pauper and an alcoholic.  Edward, after twice abducting heiresses in England, the second case seeing him sentenced to three years in Newgate prison, was beyond the pale of high society, and though he went on to play a significant role in the growth of the British empire in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, never managed to acquire the pre-eminence which he craved and died generally unlamented in modest circumstances in Wellington.

Nations, like families, have a duty to recognise their black sheep.   They are part of the flock.  Without them the numbers do not add up and nothing quite makes sense.  The Wakefields may be discounted, overlooked, or even forgotten yet in their curious mixture of non-conformity, ambition, deference to power, pragmatism, idealism and hedonism they are more typical of the New Zealander than most of those who we hold up as models of the New Zealander type, and their family tragedy expresses a national tragedy which by and large the New Zealand public have yet to recognise..

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