Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796–1862) author, reformer


Edward Gibbon Wakefield was a doctrinaire and eccentric visionary, who did much to shape the British ideal of selfgovernment in white colonies, particularly Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Born in London, he was educated at Westminster and entered the British Foreign Service in 1814. He served three years in prison for abducting underage girls for marriage. While imprisoned, he became interested in questions of colonial development. Wakefield eventually became the most renowned proponent of systematic colonization, designed to transplant the best aspects of British society to other temperate climates around the world. In Wakefield’s view, land should not be granted in large blocks or given freely to individual settlers, as these practices encouraged careless development. Instead, it should be sold to the highest bidder at a “sufficient price,” and the money used to encourage the immigration of free settlers. Those who could not afford land would become laborers, who would eventually earn enough in wages to purchase their own land. Because of the concentration of capital, sound planning, and good breeding, economic growth and civilized society would grow hand in hand, making the colonies fit for “responsible government,” that is, control by the local population on all purely local matters. Wakefield developed his ideas in A Letter from Sydney (1829) and England and America (1833). He accompanied John George Lambton, Lord Durham, to Canada in 1838, and significantly influenced the sections of the Durham Report (1839) relating to public lands and self-government. Though his recommendations regarding responsible government were not followed in the resulting Act of Union (1840), they were substantially implemented in 1848. Wakefield’s mature program for systematic colonization was published in 1849 as A View of the Art of Colonization in present reference to the British Empire.Wakefield immigrated to New Zealand in 1853 and was elected to its first constitutional assembly.

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