Jerningham Wakefield

Edward Jerningham Wakefield (25 June 1820 – 3 March 1879), known as Jerningham Wakefield, was the only son of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. As such, he was closely associated with his father's interest in colonisation. He worked for the New Zealand Company and later was a member of the Canterbury Association. He was active as a politician in New Zealand, both at national and provincial level, but became an alcoholic and died penniless in an old people's home.

Jerningham Wakefield
Edward Jerningham Wakefield, ca 1850.jpg
Portrait of Jerningham Wakefield from ca 1850
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Christchurch Country
In office
27 August 1853 – 15 September 1855
Preceded byNew constituency
Succeeded byDingley Askham Brittin
John Hall
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Christchurch City East
In office
18 January 1871 – 6 December 1875
Preceded byNew constituency
Succeeded byIn abeyance
Personal details
Born25 June 1820
London, England
Died3 March 1879(1879-03-03) (aged 58)
Ashburton, New Zealand
RelationsEdward Gibbon Wakefield (father)
Edward Wakefield (grandfather)
Daniel Bell Wakefield (uncle)
William Wakefield (uncle)
Arthur Wakefield (uncle)
Felix Wakefield (uncle)
Charles Torlesse (cousin)

Early lifeEdit

Nina and Jerningham Wakefield in 1822

Wakefield was born in London in 1820. His parents were Edward Gibbon Wakefield and Eliza Anne Frances Pattle, but his mother died within days of his birth. Together with his sister Nina, he was mostly brought up by Catherine Torlesse, his father's sister and mother of Charles Torlesse. Wakefield was known by his middle name[1] and educated at Bruce Castle School and King's College London.[2]

Later lifeEdit

Night-time camping scene at Rangiora bush with John Robert Godley, Charlotte Godley, Arthur Godley, Charles Torlesse, Charles Hunter Brown, and Jerningham Wakefield. Painted on 6 December 1850 by Frederick Weld.

In 1839 he accompanied his uncle, Colonel William Wakefield to New Zealand on the New Zealand Company ship Tory. This expedition was an advance party seeking a suitable site to found a colony in the Cook Strait area. In 1840 he explored the coast from Wellington to Whanganui River guided by a group of Maori he referred to as his "slaves".[3]

Jerningham Wakefield had intended to stay in New Zealand for only a few months but he found the growth of the new colony so fascinating that it was four years before he returned to England in 1844. He quickly assembled his journals and they were published as Adventures in New Zealand in April 1845. The favourable picture he presented of the colony founded by the New Zealand Company helped the Company to avoid censure in the House of Commons.

For the next five years Jerningham Wakefield lived a dissipated life in London. In September 1845 he attended a lecture at the Royal Adelaide Gallery in London by the tattooed Pākehā Māori, Barnet Burns, who had previously applied without success to join the New Zealand Company on the Tory. He joined the Canterbury Association on 6 May 1848, but resigned again on 8 November 1849.[2] Then, in 1850, faced with bankruptcy, Wakefield sailed for New Zealand, this time with the advance party for the Canterbury settlement.

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1853–1855 1st Christchurch Country Independent
1871–1875 5th Christchurch City East Independent

He entered politics, in New Zealand's 1st Parliament, as one of the two members for Christchurch Country for 1853–1855; and was a member of the 5th Parliament for Christchurch City East for 1871–1875.[4] He moved to Wellington in 1855 to be near his sick father, and represented the City of Wellington in the Provincial Council from 1857 to 1861.

He stood in the 1875 election in the Christchurch electorate, where six candidates were contesting three available positions, but he came fifth and was thus defeated.[5]

He had a financial interest in the earliest daily newspapers.[6]

Because of his increasing alcoholism his behaviour was very erratic and he was an embarrassment to his supporters. He was one of the MPs sometimes locked in small rooms at Parliament by Whips to keep them sober enough to vote in critical divisions, though in 1872 this was defeated when political opponents lowered a bottle of whisky down the chimney to him.[7] Gradually over the next few years he dissipated his wealth and substance and destroyed his health.

He died, penniless, in Ashburton, New Zealand in 1879.


  1. ^ Cooper, Ronda. "Wakefield, Edward Jerningham". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  2. ^ a b Blain, Rev. Michael (2007). The Canterbury Association (1848-1852): A Study of Its Members' Connections (PDF). Christchurch: Project Canterbury. pp. 86–87. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
  3. ^ Voyagers. pp 112-119. P Moon. Penguin .
  4. ^ "Return of Mr E. J. Wakefield for Christchurch East". The Star (826). 19 January 1871. p. 2. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
  5. ^ "Polling for Christchurch City". The Press. XXIV (3217). 22 December 1875. p. 2. Retrieved 21 April 2013.
  6. ^ "Founders Recalled". The Evening Post. 17 November 1939.
  7. ^ Bollinger, Conrad (1967) [1959]. Grog's Own Country: The Story of Liquor Licensing in New Zealand (2nd revised ed.). Auckland: Minerva. pp. 22–23.

External linksEdit

New Zealand Parliament
New constituency Member of Parliament for Christchurch Country
Served alongside: James Stuart-Wortley
Succeeded by
New constituency Member of Parliament for Christchurch City East
In abeyance
Title next held by
Thomas Davey