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Wakefield, Edward Gibbon

Wakefield, Edward Gibbon

WORKS BY WAKEFIELD

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862), an expert on colonization, was born in London. He attended Westminster School between 1808 and 1810 and a secondary school in Edinburgh from 1810 to 1812, exhibiting in both institutions “signs of an intractable disposition” (Carlyle 1899). When he failed in a brief try at diplomacy and his first marriage was terminated by his wife’s death, Wakefield endeavored to repair his fortunes by tricking a schoolgirl heiress into marriage. Her infuriated relatives succeeded in annulling the union and in having Wakefield punished with a three-year term of imprisonment, which he duly served in London’s Newgate Prison between 1826 and 1829. Enforced leisure enabled Wakefield to compose his powerful Facts Relating to the Punishment of Death in the Metropolis (1831), a treatise along Benthamite lines arguing that what deters crime is the certainty of apprehension, not the severity of punishment. More important, his prison experience set Wakefield to speculating, initially about his own emigration from England and subsequently about the whole subject of colonization. His Letter from Sydney (1829), published anonymously at the end of his prison sentence, purported to be an actual communication from an English emigrant in Australia. Although Wakefield had not visited Australia, his tone was sufficiently plausible and the contents sufficiently detailed to win the book some celebrity. Wakefield’s View of the Art of Colonization (1849) was a longer and more polemical work, but A Letter from Sydney contained the essential features of the Wakefield system of colonization. In it, he argued that the three correct principles governing new settlement were, first, the termination of free grants of land and the setting of a “sufficient price” on unoccupied territory; second, the use of the sales proceeds to finance the movement of voluntary settlers, properly distributed by sex, age, and skill, to new colonies; and third, the grant of self-government once colonial population reached fifty thousand.

As a theorist of population, emigration, and colonization, Wakefield displayed considerable powers of originality and exposition. Indeed, he appears to have anticipated two key theoretical concepts much in vogue among nineteenth-century students of economic development—the strategic significance of social overhead capital and the desirability of balanced economic growth. The original edition of Mill’s Principles of Political Economy (1848) quoted Wakefield as the recognized authority on colonization, and the 1852 edition cited emigration from Ireland in the wake of the potato famine as a grim demonstration of the accuracy of Wakefield’s analysis.

If anything, Wakefield was still more successful as a colonial organizer than he was as a theorist. The South Australia Association was founded in 1834 to promote Wakefield’s views, and after the society had won the support of the duke of Wellington, Parliament in the same year passed legislation that included provisions for the sale of land at a fixed price of five shillings per acre and for the use of the proceeds to subsidize the movement of English settlers to South Australia. In 1838

Wakefield accompanied Lord Durham to Canada and had a large share in the writing of Durham’s famous Report on the Affairs of British North America, the basis of Canadian advance to self-government. In the 1840s Wakefield played an active role in the colonization of New Zealand. Between 1852 and 1854 he served as a highly influential adviser to the government of the young colony. The last years of his life, marred by illness, Wakefield spent in retirement.

Robert Lekachman

[See alsocapital, social overhead.]

WORKS BY WAKEFIELD

(1829) 1929 A Letter From Sydney, the Principal Town of Australasia, & Other Writings on Colonization. London and Toronto: Dent; New York: Dutton.

(1831) 1832 Facts Relating to the Punishment of Death in the Metropolis; With an Appendix, Concerning Murder for the Sale of the Dead Body. 2d ed. London: Wilson.

(1849) 1914 A View of the Art of Colonization: In Letters Between a Statesman and a Colonist. Oxford: Clarendon.

SUPPLEMENTARY BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bloomfield, Paul 1961 Edward Gibbon Wakefield: Builder of the British Commonwealth. London: Longmans.

Carlyle, Edward I. (1899) 1938 Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862). Volume 20, pages 449-452 in Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford Univ. Press.

Mill, John Stuart (1848) 1961 Principles of Political Economy. New ed. Edited by W. J. Ashley. New York: Kelley.

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Edward Gibbon Wakefield

Edward Gibbon Wakefield

Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796-1862) was a British colonial reformer, promoter, and advocate of systematic colonization.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a London land agent's son, was born on March 20, 1796. He was educated at Westminster and entered the Foreign Service in 1814. Two years later he eloped with a ward in chancery, and Parliament condoned the offense. In 1826, six years after the death of his wife, Wakefield abducted a 15-year-old heiress from school; this time Parliament annulled the marriage, and Wakefield spent three years in Newgate Prison. In prison he became interested in both corrective punishment and colonial development. He advocated the abolition of transportation on the grounds that it had no deterrent effect and attributed the slow development of the Australian colonies to a policy based on free land grants and convict labor.

In A Letter from Sydney (1829), England and America (1833), and The Art of Colonisation (1849), Wakefield propounded a theory of systematic colonization: he wanted to transplant British society without the many social evils evident at home. Colonial land sold at a high, uniform price would produce revenue to pay for the immigration of free settlers. Newcomers unable to afford land would constitute a laboring class. Economic growth would result, and by concentrating settlement, a civilized society capable of self-government would evolve.

The Ripon Regulations (1831) discontinued free land grants in Australia, and a land fund assisted immigrants. But when the price of land was raised from five to 20 shillings an acre, pastoralists began to squat farther afield, and settlement became more dispersed. In 1838 Wakefield accompanied Lord Durham to Canada, and his influence on the Report on the Affairs of British North America, recommending local self-government, is evident in the sections on public lands and migration.

Wakefield was intimately involved in many private schemes to promote new colonies. In 1834 the South Australian Company secured a parliamentary act whereby control of a proposed colony was shared by the Colonial Office and a board of commissioners responsible for land sales, immigration, and public finance. Settlement began in 1836, but Wakefield, disapproving of various details, transferred his interest to New Zealand.

In 1837 the British government refused to charter the New Zealand Association because New Zealand was not then part of the Crown's dominions and because missionaries sought to protect Maori land rights. Nevertheless, before the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, a reformed New Zealand Land Company had managed to establish settlements, after acquiring land on easy terms and dispatching immigrants without parliamentary sanction. When its land titles were subsequently questioned by the government, Wakefield campaigned for local self-government, a proposal which the governor, Sir George Grey, successfully opposed.

In 1853 Wakefield emigrated to Wellington and was elected to the colony's first General Assembly, following the New Zealand Constitutional Act (1852). After 1854, when his health broke, he lived in retirement until his death on May 16, 1862.

Doctrinaire and uncompromising, Wakefield frequently quarreled with his disciples. Lacking firsthand knowledge, he often had impracticable ideas. Nevertheless, at a time when new colonial policies were being devised, his writings and actions helped to reshape British attitudes toward colonial development.

Further Reading

After a long period of relative neglect, Wakefield has been resurrected as an architect of the British Commonwealth. The best account, by Paul Bloomfield, Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1961), attempts to bring into focus the magnitude of Wake-field's achievements as an empire builder and analyzes his extraordinary personality. Older biographies include Richard Garnett, Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1898), and Irma O'Connor, Edward Gibbon Wakefield: The Man Himself (1928). Two studies which include important discussions of Wakefield's work are Donald Winch, Classical Political Economy and Colonies (1965), and Peter Burroughs, Britain and Australia, 1831-1855: A Study in Imperial Relations and Crown Lands Administration (1967). □

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Wakefield, Edward Gibbon

Edward Gibbon Wakefield, 1796–1862, British colonial statesman. He was attached to the British embassies in Turin (1814–16) and Paris (1820–26), but in 1826 was convicted of an attempt to marry an heiress by trickery. While in prison (1827–30) Wakefield prepared material for a book on capital punishment (pub. 1831) and studied colonial affairs. He evolved his important theory of systematic colonization, embodied in such works as A Letter from Sydney (1829) and A View of the Art of Colonization (1849). Concerned by the problems of increasing population, with resultant poverty and crime, he advocated the settlement of the colonies by ordinary citizens rather than by transported convicts. He argued that land should be sold in small lots at a moderate fixed price instead of given away (the funds thus gathered to be used to support further colonization), and some self-government should be allowed. These influential ideas led to the founding (1834) of the South Australian Association and the establishment of the South Australian colony. Wakefield accompanied (1838) Lord Durham to Canada as an adviser and influenced Durham's report on Canadian government. In 1839 he founded the New Zealand Land Company, which colonized part of that territory. He went to New Zealand in 1852 and entered into politics there, but suffered a complete breakdown in 1854.

See his collected works, ed. by M. F. Lloyd Prichard (1968); biographies by I. O'Connor (1929) and P. Bloomfield (1961); R. C. Mills, The Colonization of Australia (1915, repr. 1968).

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Wakefield, Edward Gibbon

Wakefield, Edward Gibbon (1796–1862). Wakefield, whose father and uncle were authors, was a wild youth who demanded to be removed from Westminster School, disliked Edinburgh High School, and made a runaway marriage with a ward of Chancery. Released from that scrape by the death of his wife, he attempted a second runaway match with a schoolgirl and was sent to gaol for three years. On his release he took up the cause of colonization, urging emigration to Australia and pointing out that the policy of granting free lands produced an acute shortage of labour. In 1838 Wakefield accompanied Lord Durham on his mission to Canada and had considerable influence on the final report. He then transferred his interest to New Zealand, organizing a company to send out settlers and contributing to the formal annexation of that country in 1840. In 1852 he left for New Zealand but suffered a final breakdown a year after his arrival. Wakefield's achievement was to encourage a more systematic and coherent attitude towards colonial development.

J. A. Cannon

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