Edward Gibbon Wakefield: Abductor and Mystagogue - Part A

Part A of Edward Gibbon Wakefield: Abductor and Mystagogue argues that, far from being an imperial visionary, he was in fact remarkably myopic. Part A also offers a bleak account of the abduction of Ellen Turner.




Edward Gibbon Wakefield is best remembered as a colonisation theorist, and as one of the founders of New Zealand.1 Born in London in 1796, he was raised as an Anglican although his family had Quaker connections. His father, Edward Wakefield, was an associate of James Mill and Francis Place, and made his reputation, although not his fortune, with a two-volume statistical account of Ireland published in 1812. Thanks probably to a combination of family poverty and his own lack of co-operation, Gibbon Wakefield's formal education was confined to short periods of schooling at Westminster and at the Edinburgh High School. From 1814 to 1820, he held a minor diplomatic post, and was based for a time at the British Legation in Turin. In 1816, Wakefield eloped with a sixteen year-old heiress, Eliza Pattle, and contracted a civil marriage with her in Edinburgh. Eliza's widowed mother accepted him as a son-in-law, and the union was sealed by an Anglican ceremony shortly afterwards. Eliza died giving birth to her third child in 1820.

Wakefield apparently spent most of the next few years living in Paris off the income from his wife's fortune, and contemplating a career in politics. In 1826, he abducted Ellen Turner, the fifteen year-old daughter of a very wealthy Macclesfield silk merchant, and took her to Gretna in Scotland where he prevailed upon her to go through a marriage ceremony which was later annulled by a special act of parliament. Wakefield was prosecuted for abduction and, along with his brother and accomplice William, sentenced in 1827 to three years' imprisonment, which he served mainly in Newgate Gaol in London. In 1829, Wakefield published an anonymous tract entitled A Letter from Sydney, in which he painted a bleak picture of Australian society and argued that colonial land should be sold in order to promote concentration of settlement and finance the emigration of free labour, thereby reproducing a community with a much closer resemblance to rural England. In the years immediately after his release from prison, Wakefield also published - under his own name - pamphlets on social issues, and a powerful book denouncing the random and almost casual use of the death penalty that he had witnessed in Newgate.

In 1833, Wakefield restated his views on colonisation at some length in England and America.  During the next two years, he was involved with the project to establish a colony in South Australia. The extent of Wakefield's influence in the scheme is hard to assess, largely because as an ex-convict, he was kept in the background. In addition, the illness and death of his daughter in 1835 was a heavy personal blow. By 1836, he had withdrawn from the South Australian project, claiming - not for the last time - that his theories had not been properly put into practice. He turned instead to plans for a settlement in Western Australia, which spawned the unsuccessful Australind colony, and to schemes for the colonisation in New Zealand. In 1837, the New Zealand project brought him into contact with Lord Durham, probably the sole front-rank political figure over whom Wakefield ever succeeded in exercising influence.

In 1838, Durham was appointed as Governor-in-Chief and High Commissioner to British North America, with a mandate to settle the affairs of Canada in the aftermath of the rebellions of 1837. Despite the opposition of the prime minister, Lord Melbourne, Durham insisted on taking Wakefield with him, although in an unofficial capacity as adviser on public lands and emigration. Durham's mission was short-lived, since a clash with the government in London over the extent of his powers brought about his resignation within a few months. Wakefield acquired a notoriety beyond that of his controversial presence in Durham's entourage, for instance by attempting to conduct unauthorised but ambiguous negotiations with the leaders of the Patriote rebels. Durham sought to vindicate his own conduct by submitting a comprehensive report to the government, a document to which Wakefield contributed a large appendix attempting to apply his colonisation theories to Canada. Wakefield was probably responsible for the unauthorised release of the Durham Report to The Times newspaper, a breach of confidentiality that was considerably more scandalous in 1839 than would be the case today.

Between 1841 and 1844, Wakefield made several visits to Canada as agent for a land company called the North American Colonization Association of Ireland, which had purchased the seigneurie of Beauharnois to the south of Montreal. Wakefield sought to develop this investment by lobbying to place it on the route of one of the canals needed to improve the navigation of the St Lawrence River, and he was elected to the Canadian Assembly in November 1842. Although he was widely regarded as one of the inspirations behind the Durham Report, which had called for the anglicisation of French Canadians, Wakefield sought an alliance with French-Canadian leaders, and claimed to have influenced the governor-general, Sir Charles Bagot, in his policy of attempting to bring the French into government. However, when his new allies refused to support his schemes, Wakefield broke with them and in 1844 emerged as the champion of Bagot's successor, Sir Charles Metcalfe, who attempted to roll back the concessions made to the Reformers. Although the Beauharnois project made little headway, and certainly did nothing to demonstrate the validity of Wakefield's colonisation theories, he himself made a considerable profit from his activities.

Wakefield was brought back to Britain in 1844 by a further bereavement, news of the death of his brother Arthur in a clash with Maori at Wairau in New Zealand. He gave evidence to a parliamentary enquiry on New Zealand affairs in 1845, and his prospects for political influence were increased in June 1846 with the appointment as Colonial Secretary of Earl Grey, formerly Lord Howick, who was sympathetic to Wakefieldian ideas on colonisation although robustly aware of the shortcomings of Wakefield himself. Any such hopes were dashed in August 1846, when Wakefield fell seriously ill, probably the victim of a stroke.

Despite ill health that forced Wakefield to live in rural seclusion for the next six years, he remained actively interested in colonial affairs. Although the South Australian scheme had aimed at the creation of a secular province, Wakefield now turned to a project for a Church of England colony in New Zealand, which he originally envisaged would be located in the Wairarapa, the southern part of the North Island. As with South Australia, it is difficult to assess the extent of Wakefield's influence in the Canterbury project. The successful establishment of the colony in 1850 owed much to enthusiasm among a number of influential members of the aristocracy and gentry both for High Anglican principles and colonial adventure. It was not only a combination of ill health and personal notoriety that kept Wakefield in the background. He distanced himself from the Canterbury Association on the publication in 1849 of his last major book, A View of the Art of Colonization, which spiced large claims for his own influence with venomous abuse of Earl Grey and "Mr Mothercountry", the recently retired Colonial Office civil servant, James Stephen.  Although intended as an explanation and defence of Wakefield's colonisation theories, the book did little to clarify one of the central mysteries of Wakefieldian thought, the "sufficient price" that would regulate both the sale of land and the flow of emigration funded from the proceeds. Indeed, Wakefield devoted 330 pages before mentioning the topic, and then seemed more anxious to denounce the motives of those who had pressed him to name a figure.

In 1852, Wakefield emigrated to New Zealand, arriving in Canterbury in February 1853. Despite his enthusiasm for the province, Wakefield left Canterbury within a few weeks and settled in Wellington, apparently finding the Hutt valley a more attractive political base for his campaign to secure an influential role in government. Just as he had turned his back on Durham's policy of anglicisation in order to seek an alliance with the French Canadians, so Wakefield now proclaimed himself the champion of the small settler, although his entire theoretical writing had pointed to the sale of land to wealthy capitalists.

Wakefield's New Zealand political career was cut short by a further breakdown in his health. His contribution to the first General Assembly in 1854 was sufficient to earn him the distrust even of some of his admirers. It was, however, long enough for him to complete the recantation of his theories. Wakefield's ideas had never taken root in British North America because the proximity of very cheap land in the United States had undercut any attempt to sell colonial land at the higher prices prescribed by his theories. Now he claimed that the exceptional circumstances of the Australian gold rushes made it impossible to apply his theories to New Zealand.

Wakefield lived in retirement for a further seven years after the second break-down in his health, dying in Wellington in 1862, virtually forgotten in New Zealand. However, by 1898, Wakefield had been rediscovered as a symbol of decisive imperial vision. For William Pember Reeves, in one of the first and certainly one of the most enduring overview histories of New Zealand, Wakefield was the man of action who swept aside the concerns of lesser spirits with such fiddling inconveniences as Maori rights. "The founder of the Colony now comes on the scene," wrote an exasperated Reeves of the inconclusive 1830s.  "It was time he came."2 As B.J. Foster put it in 1966, Wakefield became a mythic hero, in whose person was merged "imperial destiny, checked by timid and unworthy men, and New Zealand, saved in the nick of time for a British future".3 Reeves was creating a history for a New Zealand that was in the process of deciding, if only by default, to reject membership of the Australian federation and so strike out towards a destiny of its own. Having turned his attention to New Zealand after failing to mould Australian society, Wakefield provided useful underpinning for the myth that New Zealanders were not simply British but better British than their convict-tainted cousins across the Tasman.

The year in which Reeves published his first edition of The Long White Cloud also saw the appearance of the first substantial biography of Wakefield, by Richard Garnett. Victorian morality still held sway, and Garnett was uneasy about the Ellen Turner episode.  None the less, in a longer perspective, it became easier to accept Wakefield's own claims, to portray him not only as someone more sinned against than sinning, and to regard his imperial achievement as far outweighing a prison sentence served seventy years earlier for an offence that might simply have stemmed from an excess of youthful romance.

Two further biographies appeared in 1928, one of them by a descendant, Irma O'Connor. The other was called The Amazing Career of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a sensational title which sits uncomfortably with the fact that its author, A.J. Harrop, had just secured one of the earliest doctoral degrees in History to be awarded by the University of Cambridge. The inconvenient problem that Wakefield had served a term in prison was beginning to recede into a just-fancy-that past world in which people were little more than caricatures. In 1929, R.C. Mills described the Newgate episode as "the starting point of a new and noble career", an experience that had tempered and revealed Wakefield's "sterling qualities". As late as 1968, in a chapter entitled "Irresponsible Youth", Lloyd-Prichard came close to characterising Ellen Turner not as a victim but rather as a honey trap, cynically manipulated by her millionaire father to get a dangerous political rival put behind bars.4

At different stages in his career, Wakefield had argued for tightly centralised imperial control over land sales and emigration policy, and for extensive colonial autonomy and self-government - his perspective tending to change in direct relationship to his distance from London at the time. By emphasising the latter over the former, Paul Bloomfield was able to hail Wakefield in 1961 as Builder of the British Commonwealth, in a book which also celebrated anyone who shared the author's privilege of being an Old Harrovian. Bloomfield marked the high-water mark of uncritical admiration of Wakefield and his work.

Already in 1957, Douglas Pike had begun the process of "cutting Wakefield down to size". Foster in 1966 pronounced that "it is no longer possible to argue that Wakefield's celebrated theory of 'systematic colonisation' was of material significance". Although Wakefield had argued for "the careful selection of emigrants and the transplantation of English social strata .... no scrupulous selection of emigrants was carried out, and social stratification did not survive a sea change".5

By the time Helen Taft Manning reviewed the state of Wakefield studies in 1974, revisionists of various kinds were discounting the Wakefield legend on all fronts. None the less, as was often the case with historiographical revision, while scholars might argue that claims for a Wakefieldian role in their special area of research had been exaggerated, there remained an overall acceptance of the received tradition that he had been a formative influence. Thus even Manning, who did not like Wakefield and who had discredited his claims to have shaped the policies of Bagot in Canada, still felt it remarkable "that a man with so little stability of character and so much taste for self-aggrandisement, even at the expense of his own objectives, should have influenced so profoundly the fate of the British Empire in the 19th century".6

As a white, male colonisation enthusiast, Wakefield went into something of an eclipse after 1974, as many historians were attracted by new agendas of race and gender. Indeed, when the Friends of the Turnbull Library decided that the 1996 bicentenary of Wakefield's birth should be marked by a conference in Wellington, it was perhaps surprising how much interest in his career and ideas was revealed. Perhaps this was because the central issue of Wakefield's theories, the allocation of land in order to shape society, was once again at the heart of Maori-pakeha relations in New Zealand.

This paper, based on a contribution to the conference, offers a reconsideration of Wakefield under four headings. First, it argues that notwithstanding a quarter of a century spent campaigning for the establishment of new colonies at the other end of the world, Wakefield had no clear or inspiring view of the future. Secondly, it argues that the abduction of Ellen Turner was a callous and ruthless crime, carried out with an arrogance that understandably filled most of his contemporaries with disgust. However, the third section of the argument offers something close to a plea in mitigation, suggesting that Wakefield inhabited a powerful world of fantasy, which lacked precise boundaries to separate it from the real world. This interpretation helps to explain the perverse ingenuity of the Turner abduction plot, but it also has implications for an evaluation of Wakefield's schemes to project Merrie England colonies on to distant continents. Hence the final section re-examines the issue of the real extent of Wakefield's influence.

These attempts at revision should be seen in relation to the limitations of standard forms of biography. Biography is essentially a linear form, in which subjects are taken step by step through life from birth and early conditioning to achievement, retirement and death. The linear form tends to treat individual episodes in a life as incidents on a longer journey, and to assume that the later years of life represent the culmination of a career. In Wakefield's case, biographical form tends to downgrade the Newgate disaster to a minor blip, and to assume that his later years - those of the Canterbury project and his own migration to New Zealand -  represented the successful climax of his life. Moreover, the ethics of biography affect neutrality but actually risk creating a form of moral  distortion. Biographers have long ceased to write with the aim of praising the good or damning the bad, seeking rather to understand and interpret their subjects. Not only does this approach avoid censure of Wakefield's conduct in the Turner abdication, but perversely it leads to implied condemnation of those contemporaries who rejected him as a man beyond the pale of decency. If biography cannot cope with the ethical dimension, it tends to respond to those who could with imputations of hypocrisy and denigration of  motive.

These, then, are the limitations of biography. Yet it suffers from a still more fundamental weakness, the problem that the evidence for almost anybody's life is fragmentary and hard to interpret. It is difficult enough to understand the complexity of the living human beings around us, and harder still to be sure that we have the most illuminating shards of evidence to enable us to know those who are long dead. Psychologists generally believe that childhood plays a major role in shaping our later lives, yet childhood is usually the phase that biographers find hardest to recapture. In Wakefield's case, there is a general impression that he was a headstrong and wilful youngster, but much of this rests upon often-quoted passages from the diary of his grandmother. These diary entries covered a period of about a week, and it is the prerogative of grandmothers to worry about their children's offspring. The simplest and most satisfying form of biography is the one that enables subjects to tell their own story. Unfortunately, Wakefield told too many stories to be trusted. Thus a biographical revision must depend less upon evidence, for evidence in biography is rarely neutral, and is forced to rely more upon hypothesis. Those who advance any hypothesis have a responsibility to ensure that it is at least plausible, and a duty to admit that by its very nature, it is capable neither of proof nor of disproof.


The starting point for this exploration of Wakefield is an attempt to take account in historical explanation of the role of past futures. Historians are very good at stopping the clock, pressing the freeze button on the video of times past. Given a set of individuals and events in 1830, historians can usually account for the ways in which events and individuals in 1820 shaped their attitudes and determined their responses ten years later. What is usually missing from this  methodology is not only a sense of past futures but a categorisation of their types and probable impact. How did the historical actors reconcile decisions taken in 1830 with their expectations for 1840 - or 1930? Of course, it is possible to look back, knowing what was going to happen in 1840 and 1930, and historians may assume that this gives them an advantage over the people whom they study. However, in a crucial sense, hindsight constitutes an obstacle to appreciating their perceptions. As Oakeshott puts it, "the present that we occupy evokes future. Indeed, it evokes a variety of futures".7 That was equally true for the people of 1830. For full historical understanding, it is necessary to seek the elements that are not visible in the frozen frame of any past present. How firm were their perceptions of their own futures? Were their futures optimistic or pessimistic, inspirations or warnings? Did they perceive the future in short-, medium- or long-term horizons of time? Were their long-term aims in conflict with short-term challenges? How were their perceptions of the future, and hence their response to their own successive presents, affected by discontinuity - war, technological change, personal bereavement?

It is one thing to propose the significance of past futures as a missing dimension in historical explanation, but another to discover what views of the future were actually held in the past presents that we study. Methodologically, the obvious way to proceed is to scan the pronouncements of the people of 1830 and analyse their predictions. There are, however, problems in this approach. The future was often used as a reservoir for procrastination - the Greek Kalends, the Spanish manana, the parliamentary device of defeating a bill by postponing its consideration for six months - or as a bogeyman: fail to conform to my present solution and you will suffer the consequences in time to come. In the identification of past futures, actions may speak louder than words. Thus in decreeing in 1940 that children should begin the day by singing, "There'll Always Be An England", the Canterbury Education Board was betraying an ambiguous message about the immediate future of the United Kingdom but revealing some very deep assumptions about the long-term orientation of New Zealand.8

In long-established societies, it may be easy to assume that the future will simply be a forward projection of past and present. When Sir George Grey returned to London after his first term as governor of New Zealand, he remarked that "he was very much struck in coming to England with the way in which we lived for the present. In the colony, whatever you do or plan is calculated with a view to what it will or ought to be in twenty or fifty or a hundred years hence". Yet it does not follow that everyone in New Zealand operated within the same mental time-scale. Some probably shared the sentiments of the Lyttelton Times in 1870: "The people of the colony are busy about their own affairs, and are perfectly willing to let time and circumstance shape the future."9 Thus a key challenge for this form of analysis is to identify those for whom the future was real and influential as against those who acted on the assumption that they could be busy about their own affairs without reference to times to come.

There would seem little doubt as to which category Edward Gibbon Wakefield would belong. As Stuart J. Reid put it in 1906, "he was a man of extraordinary political vision, who saw ... the possibility of building up, by timely concessions and bold statesmanship, a Greater Britain beyond the seas".10 "You cannot recall the past", Wakefield wrote in his Letter from Sydney "but you must deplore the present, and you may controul the future."11 For much of the fifteen years from 1837 to 1852, Wakefield took part in plans for the colonisation of New Zealand, culminating in the founding of Canterbury and his own emigration to the colony. If all present actions evoke future, then Wakefield's words and actions must surely embody a vision both detailed and inspiring. It is therefore curious to find that the Wakefieldian notion of the future seems unstructured and opaque.

This exploration of Wakefield's conception of the future is chiefly based upon his three major works on colonisation, supplemented by some of his writings on Canada, and his published correspondence.12 Wakefield was a prolific writer, especially in publications such as the Spectator and the Colonial Gazette, and it may be that he developed a more coherent view of the future in his journalism. If so, it would still seem odd that he omitted any such vision from the three works designed to win support for his theories. Moreover, Wakefield's biographers have been not merely sympathetic but downright indulgent, and had he ever tackled what George Bush called "the Vision Thing", they would surely have told us about it.
The Letter from Sydney evokes future, but almost always in the form of warnings of the degradation of the population of Australia. "Some generations hence, their descendants will probably be as uncouth, and ignorant, and violent as the great mass of North Americans." Australians would become democratic and ungovernable: "our grand-children will assert their independence". Wakefield had entertained the dream that Van Diemen's Land might become an island of "painters, sculptors, poets, orators, and friends of mankind", forming "a new people" who would "reject the prejudices, whilst they improve the accumulated knowledge of other worlds". However, the fate of Van Diemen's Land could not be separated from that of New South Wales, and Wakefield envisaged both "remaining equally barbarous till the year 3000, and becoming afterwards equally civilized, if the world should last so long". This was scare-mongering rather than a vision of the future. Of course, when he penned the Letter from Sydney, Wakefield had never set foot in a colony. This helps to explain how he could write that "we must not infer that, because at one time riches were obtained by sheep-farming, that pursuit will bestow riches in the future", a statement that merits inclusion in any anthology of exploded predictions. Overall, Wakefield seemed determined to abolish the future, to blanket it beneath a continuation of a static past. His aim was to ensure that the colonies "would no longer be new societies" but "so many extensions of an old society".13

If the Letter from Sydney betrays no awareness of the future as a dynamic process, his England and America does seem to offer some notion of interrelated change on a global scale. Free trade in corn would stimulate the British economy, increase trade with the United States and open commerce with China. Free labour, fed by massive immigration, might gradually destroy American slavery. Properly constructed colonies would enlarge British markets and relieve British social tensions. Yet these vague brush strokes are not very convincing. For instance, the chapter to which the historical futurologist turns with greatest interest is the one entitled "The Political Prospects of the English". Its opening words confirm the picture of a Wakefield unable to contemplate the future. "In order to take a just view of the political prospects of the English, we must look back a little" - and off he went to 1688, to argue over almost thirty pages that the Reform Act of 1832 was unlikely to prove a permanent settlement. From that scarcely startling conclusion, Wakefield slipped easily back on to his home ground to argue that most of the discontent could be diffused by persuading the discontented to emigrate.14

It might be more productive to turn from Wakefield's polemical writings to the assumptions behind his ideas and actions. The most obvious and basic of these would seem to be an unquestioning belief in the permanence of British world power. It seems reasonable to assume that most people become aware of international affairs in early adulthood, and tend to take the world order at that time as the yardstick against which they respond to change. Wakefield was born in 1796, and grew up - in a politically aware household - against a background of war with France, coupled in his mid-teens with the War of 1812 against the United States. Sometime in 1814, he joined the staff of Lord William Hill, British envoy to Turin, and for the next few years he held minor posts in the diplomatic service. It seems that he was actually on the continent when Napoleon escaped from Elba and began the bid for power that ended at Waterloo.15

Although he may seem to belong to the early Victorian era, Wakefield's own experience was rooted in the Regency period: in his last years in Wellington he recalled the grief among British diplomats in Italy at the news of the death in 1817 of the Princess Charlotte, daughter and heiress of the Prince Regent.16 It is therefore curious that Wakefield should have so readily assumed that British power would not be challenged in the future. He seems to have made little if any use of arguments that Britain would be strengthened by the establishment of colonies - except in the commercial sphere - but rather to have assumed that new communities overseas would shelter behind British power indefinitely. Indeed, Wakefield spelt out his assumption of continuing British supremacy in an essay written about 1823, possibly as a newspaper article, entitled his "Political Creed", in which he denounced "the miserable despondency of those who contend that the decline and fall of England have commenced, and that her bright day of prosperity, virtue, happiness and glory has passed away for ever!"17 Wakefield's patriotism seems to have made him oblivious to the possibility that, for instance, technological change might threaten British naval supremacy. His View of The Art of Colonization was very much a re-hash and defence of the theory advanced in England and America, even down to the re-cycling of the chapter title ("Note XII"), "The Art of Colonization". There was little sign that in the sixteen years that had elapsed between the two books, steamships had conquered the North Atlantic and might be expected to shorten the effective distance to Australia and New Zealand, nor that railways might modify his ideal of concentrated colonial settlement.

A picture thus emerges of a colonial theorist for whom present did not evoke a defined future that involved change. This may help to explain why his obiter dicta about systematic colonisation and sufficient price were rigid dogmas, incapable of adjustment to the dynamics of colonial reality. Where Wakefield referred to future at all, it seems to have been a realm wholly independent of, and unrelated to, the present. The death of his brother Arthur at Wairau perhaps explains why he wished in 1846 to "let the Natives alone for a long while to come",18 but he was capable of arguing as if present and future were wholly unrelated, insisting unrealistically upon instant solutions to complex problems. In 1841, for example, Wakefield was in Canada, as the agent of the North American Colonisation Association of Ireland, a land company that had purchased the Beauharnois seigneurie to the south of Montreal. To boost the value of the investment, Wakefield campaigned for the construction of a canal, as one of the short stretches of waterway needed to improve the navigation of the St Lawrence. The former colony of Upper Canada had already invested in similar projects to by-pass rapids upstream, and had embarked on the ambitious Welland Canal to link Lake Ontario with Lake Erie. Sir George Grey might have felt that this approach represented a sensible way of harnessing small steps in the present to a long-term solution. Not so Wakefield. He impatiently denounced this "bit-by-bit plan of opening the way from the Ocean to the Lakes.... Unless this object should be wholly provided for now, not left in part for the future - it were better to leave all for the future."19

Wakefield offered perhaps his most specific, although noncommittal, discussion of the future in his defence in 1844 of Sir Charles Metcalfe's government of Canada. It was true, he acknowledged, "that the wide Continents we are colonizing promise at some distant day to maintain communities too powerful for the precise colonial relation ... to continue for ever to subsist between them and the people of these Islands". It was "inevitable ... that at some future time our Colonies, powerful as the Parent State or more so, must either ... have become independent states more likely to be its enemies than its hearty friends" or they would have been brought into partnership, "confederacy, in some shape, by degrees taking the place of the old bond of union". It would have been difficult to have dissented from Wakefield's prediction, since it handily boxed the compass of possibilities. It is, however, striking to realise that Wakefield was writing just two years after the publication of Tennyson's ecstatic vision of the future in Locksley Hall. By contrast, even when Wakefield did take account of the future dimension, he was at pains to insist that it was distant. "All we can do is to take care of the present and near future. The future that is far off will take good care of itself."20  This is a strange attitude to encounter in someone who was obsessed with the founding of new communities overseas. A biographical hypothesis would suggest that it was related to a key aspect of Wakefield's personality, his insistence on absolute control over his own universe. Because the future was an unpredictable element, it had to be excluded, regarded as a wholly different and unrelated dimension. This may be seen from a rare example in which Wakefield used the word "future" twice in the same sentence. Writing to his sister shortly after he had emigrated to New Zealand, he commented: "all looks well for the future, so far as the future may be affected by my obtaining an influence in the country greater than that of anybody else".21

We are thus confronted with the paradox of a man who campaigned in support of projects that carried with them implications as far ahead as the year 3000, but who seems to have been unable to visualise a future in any form other than a forward projection of an idealised present, and one in which he himself dominated. However, there is a need for caution in accepting speculations by those who have no qualifications in psychology about those who have been long dead. A more immediate reason why Wakefield was unable to envisage any large and inspiring future is probably to be found in the fact that he could not escape from the notoriety of his own past, that he had abducted an heiress and served a three-year sentence in Newgate Prison for his crime. The abduction of Ellen Turner was a crucial episode in Wakefield's life and a central issue in Wakefield biography.


A popular series of children's stories in the first half of the twentieth century chronicled the activities of a little girl called Katy, in books with such titles as What Katy Did and What Katy Did Next. Most biographies are written on the Katy principle: they start at the beginning, with family background and childhood, and they move in linear fashion towards triumph, retirement and death. Thus the biographical approach naturally implies as assumption that the subject's career moves through connected phases towards a culmination in the later years of life. Hence, according to Bloomfield, Wakefield gave "the most finished performance of his life" between 1847 to 1852, with his part in the founding of Canterbury and the publication of his View of the Art of Colonization.22 Since Wakefield emigrated to New Zealand in 1852, it would be pardonable if in New Zealand at least, his career was seen to have moved steadily towards fulfilment. The weakness of the essentially Katy nature of biography, linear, narrative and working towards cathartic denouement, is that it becomes difficult to take account of a life that pivots around a traumatic mid-career episode.

However, in one important respect, biographers and historians diverge from the Katy approach, for Katy was a good little girl who was presented as a role model for children to emulate. Both biographers and historians tend to treat most acts as ethically neutral, resolutely refusing to emulate Charles Kingsley in his lectures at Cambridge in 1862, which were intended to convince undergraduates "that well-doing and ill-doing are rewarded and punished in this world, as well as in the world to come".23

Yet to evade the ethical dimension altogether is to distort understanding of the past in other ways. To narrate Wakefield's abduction of Ellen Turner on the Katy principle, as an account of what Wakefield did and what Wakefield did next, is to come close to ethical endorsement of his actions by default. This form of neutrality makes it difficult to grasp the moral outrage that Wakefield's actions aroused in his own contemporaries, with the concomitant risk that they may simply be dismissed as moralising hypocrites. Furthermore, failure openly to recognise the ruthless depravity of the abduction limits and weakens analysis of Wakefield's personality and intellect. The fact that Wakefield abducted a schoolgirl and tricked her into going through a marriage ceremony does not mean that his ideas on colonisation should be dismissed. Yet it is surely important to understand that Wakefield's theories, with all their dogmatism and evasions, were the product of the same mind that conceived and executed the Turner abduction.

Wakefield was not yet thirty when he kidnapped Ellen Turner, but even then he was in part re-enacting his own past.24 The Wakefield family, as Garnett put it, "possessed a fine irregular genius for marriage", with at least six clandestine or runaway unions among his immediate kin.25 Edward Gibbon Wakefield himself contributed two to the family nuptial record, but the episodes were very different. His elopement in 1816 at the age of twenty with the sixteen year-old heiress, Eliza Pattle, was evidently a love match, and was accepted as such by Eliza's mother.  Eliza's death in 1820 after giving birth to her third child in 1820 was one of a number of bereavements that Wakefield suffered, and it is probable that in some muddled way he hoped to recreate the happiness of this brief marriage by making Ellen Turner his second teenage bride.

Living comfortably off Eliza's inheritance, Wakefield spent much of the next five years in Paris. There, in 1822, his father Edward, a widower, secretly re-married. His bride, Frances Davies, was apparently keen that her husband should enter parliament - the elder Wakefield was actually a candidate for Reading at the general election of 1826 and opponents placarded the constituency with news of his son's escapade26 - and that her step-sons should marry money. Wakefield's brother William had in fact recently eloped with his heiress when the family made their fateful visit to Macclesfield in February 1826. It seems to have been as a return for Wakefield's help in this adventure that "dear little Willy-O", as he was known in the family circle, became entangled in the Turner affair.27

Frances was the daughter of the headmaster of Macclesfield Grammar School, Dr David Davies. As their father had taught at the school since 1778, the Davies family were well informed about the local elite of the Cheshire silk-weaving town, with its population of about 20,000.28 Furthermore, the school was also favoured by the county gentry, and Dr Davies, who was a doctor of divinity, had served the church in the nearby and strangely named village of Pott Shrigley. When the Wakefields turned up in Macclesfield to visit Dr Davies in February 1826, they found the town seething with jealousy and gossip about fellow-citizen William Turner, a wealthy silk manufacturer, who was building a pretty Regency-style country house at Shrigley and about to set himself up as a country gentleman.29 The venom extended to Turner's daughter, an only child whom locals described as "ugly, ignorant, awkward, and vulgar".30 The fifteen-year old Ellen had been sent to an academy for young ladies near Liverpool, "to polish her up for the Peerage", as a journalist disrespectfully remarked.31

Wakefield's biographers have relied heavily on his own romanticised and self-serving defence of his actions. This omitted several important points. One was the size of Ellen Turner's inheritance, said to be £600,000 - ten times the Pattle fortune.32 Another was the rumour that Ellen's matrimonial destiny lay not in the peerage, but among the local gentry: Thomas Legh of Lyme Hall "who possesses immense estates in Cheshire ...was on the point of paying his addresses to Miss Turner when she was carried off by Wakefield".33 Furthermore, Ellen's mother was in poor health, and the family solicitor, Thomas Grimsditch, let fall the opinion that she had in fact suffered a serious stroke.34 The elements of Wakefield's plot were soon in place.

On 7 March 1827,35 a carriage arrived at Miss Daulby's academy near Liverpool bringing a man claiming to be William Turner's newly hired butler who delivered a letter signed "John Ainsworth MD" which reported that Ellen's mother was dangerously ill and urged that she travel to Shrigley at once. The butler was Wakefield's French servant, who was unhappy at being involved in the plot, and the letter was a concoction by Wakefield. Ellen was taken to a hotel in Manchester, where she was introduced to Wakefield, who called himself "Captain Wilson". As Wakefield insouciantly explained, if Ellen had turned out to be a difficult catch, he would have arranged to send her home to Shrigley, leaving the world to wonder who was behind "an unsuccessful attempt to run away with Miss Turner".

Wakefield was to claim, implausibly, that he fell in love with Ellen on discovering that she was not the ugly, awkward girl of the Macclesfield backbiters. If so, he had a strange way of showing his affection. He hinted to Ellen that she might meet her father at Huddersfield, which lay to the north-east of Manchester. (Macclesfield was to the south.) From Huddersfield, Wakefield carried her through the night across the Pennines and northward to Kendal. Later, he offered the ingenious defence that having spent the night in Ellen's company, he was now honour-bound to marry her, thus excusing himself for the cruel lie he was about to tell.

Wakefield persuaded Ellen that a bank failure had made her father bankrupt - a common enough occurrence in that era, and one that had recently compelled the removal of another girl from Miss Daulby's academy. Turner's chief creditor, who was Wakefield's uncle (another invented character), had suggested that if Ellen agreed to marry his nephew, she would in effect become the owner of Shrigley Hall and could save her family from eviction. Wakefield made out that he had been reluctant for Ellen to sacrifice herself in this way, and had employed the kidnap stratagem to find out whether they were suited. For his part, he would like to marry her, but he insisted that Ellen had to be sure that she would be happy as his wife. "If you dislike or object to marry me, say so, and I will take you back to Shrigley, when your father's affairs must be arranged in some other way." It was not much of an offer to a young girl who loved her papa.

Ellen responded to Wakefield's repeated requests for an answer by insisting that she must see her father before deciding, and the Wakefield brothers carried her yet further north, to another promised meeting at Carlisle, where staff at the inn noticed that she was a "picture of misery". However, when one of them opened the carriage door to escort Ellen into the hotel, Wakefield interposed to prevent her from leaving him. While Wakefield remained in the carriage with his prize, his brother William disembarked to seek fresh horses. The inn-keepers of Carlisle were used to furtive couples in a hurry, and the carriage was soon on its way to Gretna and the easy-going marriage laws of Scotland.

 As they left Carlisle behind them, William Wakefield announced that he had something important to report to his brother. The Wakefields had conversed in French for much of the journey, but this information was aimed at Ellen. Dear little Willy-O explained that he had found William Turner hiding in the inn, accompanied by the family solicitor, Thomas Grimsditch. Turner, he reported, was attempting to cross the border into Scotland to elude his creditors, who had surrounded the place. William produced a message allegedly written by Grimsditch which conveyed William Turner's plea to Ellen that if she loved her father, she must marry Wakefield. "I then consented. I was induced to consent by the fear that if I did not my papa would be ruined."36 There was, of course, little likelihood that the fifteen year-old Ellen would be sufficiently familiar with the hand-writing of the family solicitor to realise that the message had been written by the Wakefields. It was probably this forgery that subsequently encouraged the Turner family to hope for a capital conviction, for it was a crime that carried the death penalty. The strategem was a measure of the desperate gamble upon which the brothers had embarked.
It is not clear whether Ellen realised that the exchange of promises before the old rogue who claimed to be the Gretna blacksmith actually constituted a binding ceremony of marriage, or merely a legal engagement that would save her father. Wakefield, it seems, had promised her that she would be spared the more private rituals of married life until the couple had come to know each other better. She did write a letter to her parents announcing her marriage and signed it with Wakefield's surname, no doubt at his dictation. William Wakefield carried the letter to Shrigley Hall, but Wakefield himself broke his promise to take Ellen to her family, suddenly remembering - so he told her - when they reached Leeds that he had an urgent appointment in Calais. In fact, he had sent his servant to book a suite of rooms at a hotel in London shortly after Ellen had fallen into his hands, another sign of premeditation. It may be that Wakefield planned to travel on from Calais to Paris in the company of the Honourable Algernon Percy, British ambassador to Switzerland, whom he had known in his days as a minor envoy, and who could provide useful diplomatic cover should questions be asked about the unhappy girl he had in tow.37 Unfortunately, the boat that brought Percy on 15 March also carried two outraged uncles, accompanied by Grimsditch, with a Bow Street Runner (who was unfortunately out of his jurisdiction) and news that Ellen's mother was by now - not surprisingly - very ill indeed.

Wakefield's subsequent claim to the House of Lords that Ellen had "married him from motives of love"38 hardly squared with the joy with which she flung herself into the arms of her uncles. When Grimsditch assured her - prematurely as it turned out - that the Gretna wedding was legally invalid, she exclaimed "Thank God for it! It is the happiest intelligence that could be conveyed to me." Wakefield appealed to French law to secure control over her, but Ellen told the magistrate, "I will go with uncle anywhere - anything to get away from this man." It is inaccurate to say that Ellen was "induced to return to her parents", for the only inducement she required was the opportunity to escape.39 Wakefield followed her to England and the legal battle began.

There were three stages in the contest. The Cheshire magistrates held committal proceedings in May 1826, the hearing conveniently held at Disley, a small town at the gates of Mr Legh's estate. Wakefield "exhibited an air of perfect indifference until the decision was made known to him, when he seemed considerably agitated", as indeed he might, since he was committed to Lancaster Castle for trial.40 In March 1827, the Wakefield brothers were tried at Lancaster Assizes. On the morning of the second day of the case, they withdrew their plea of not guilty to the charge of abduction, a change of front that suggests some plea-bargaining, possibly because Wakefield still sought to avoid a court verdict against the validity of the Gretna marriage.41 The prisoners were taken to London for sentence, and in May both Wakefields received three-year prison terms. William Turner promptly applied for a private act of parliament to annul the marriage. Wakefield was brought from Newgate and allowed to speak at the bar of the House of Lords, but his pleas for further delay were dismissed and the act quickly passed.42 In January 1828, Ellen, a "youthful and lovely bride" in a magnificent silk wedding dress, was married to Thomas Legh and so, as The Times put it, "Wakefield may bid adieu to her fortune". Ellen Legh died in childbirth three years later, just short of her twentieth birthday.43

Is it possible to defend Wakefield's conduct? One contemporary journalist insisted that "pretty Miss Turner ... did not care the least about being run away with". It was claimed that "at the first inn at which she had gone up stairs to put her curls to right, or tie her shoe-strings, or do any thing else she wanted to do", she might have thrown herself on the mercy of the landlady and "the ravisher in the post-chaise would have been laid by the heels in a twinkling".44 Is it possible to believe that Ellen was an unusually mature fifteen year-old who entered willingly into the adventure, and married Wakefield of her own volition? Ellen impressed one reporter when she first gave evidence in May 1826. "She is rather tall for her age, and her voice and manner are commanding; her countenance is pale, but it is enlivened by two piercing eyes, and a finely shaped mouth, with teeth extremely well formed and white as to form a contrast with her ruby lips." A year later, when she appeared before the House of Lords dressed in black - silk of course - and wearing "a plain cottage bonnet tied close under her chin", another report was bold enough to mention "a good figure", as well as "large dark eyes and what is generally called a pleasing face". Ellen evidently impressed those who heard her give evidence, although prosecuting counsel at Wakefield's trial claimed that she was "much grown" in the year since the abduction.45 Was there, then, something in Wakefield's claim that in a single day he had converted "a scolded and neglected ... school-girl, to the earthly idol of a passionate and romantic husband"?46

A modern teenager might well escape her abductor, seek out the local police and social services or telephone home for help. These options were not open to a kidnap victim in 1826. Even the telegraph lay a decade in the future: if Ellen had managed to arouse suspicions at any point along her journey with Wakefield, there was no way of intercepting the runaways at the next town. In any case, it was natural for a genteel girl of fifteen in 1826 to defer to adults. Although Ellen had been suspicious of the strange carriage and the unknown servant that had arrived at Miss Daulby's academy, it was probably in itself no surprise to her to be collected from school. She would have known that her mother was in poor health and understood that her father was too busy: Wakefield seized the opportunity to carry her off when William Turner was away in London. When she was handed over to Wakefield/Wilson in Manchester, she had no alternative but to accept the knowledgeable adult authority of a "gentlemanly man, of rather a slender form" and "a touch of dandyism". One of Wakefield's admirers later recalled that he was "a master in the art of persuading. He seldom failed if he could get his victim into conversation."47

Ellen was an unusually vulnerable victim and Wakefield went some way beyond mere persuasion. Having learnt in Macclesfield that she was "rather fearful in a carriage",48 he broke down her resistance by subjecting her to a two hundred mile overnight journey, further and further from home. Suppose she had attempted to raise the alarm? The smooth-talking and masterful Wakefield was capable of adopting the persona of a stern elder brother who had rescued a wayward sister from an unsuitable romance or he might perhaps have become a medical specialist carrying a hysterical lunatic to an asylum. It would have been a bold inn-keeper who would have interposed. Behind Wakefield's charm and magnetism, there probably lay a hint of menace, as he revealed when he detained Ellen in the carriage at Carlisle. When she was freed from him at Calais, Ellen called Wakefield "a brute", adding "and I never called anyone a brute before".49 There was not a scintilla of romance about the chilling psychological ordeal to which this fifteen year-old girl was subjected by a man determined to gain control over her inheritance. In the confrontation at Calais, Turner's brother-in-law Henry Critchley asked Wakefield "how he could commit so flagrant and cruel an act as to carry away a mere child whom he had never met". Wakefield replied that on learning that Ellen was "a fine girl, with the largest fortune in the county", he had "therefore determined to possess himself of her, to accomplish which he had used deception but not force". Provocatively, he added the arrogant touch that "he had never attempted any thing he did not accomplish".50

Mitigating factors argued or implied by Wakefield's biographers may be dismissed. The defence of his conduct that attracted much prurient interest was that Ellen was returned to her uncles "a pure and spotless virgin". As Wakefield put it, "though she was lawfully mine, I never enforced the rights of a husband".51 Wakefield, so his defenders argue, may have been an unorthodox suitor, but he was a caring lover who sought to win his bride's affection after he had married her - although this did not give Ellen much choice. It is more likely that the considerations that induced Wakefield to delay consummation of his runaway nuptials were practical rather than romantic. Ellen had probably only just reached puberty. Wakefield had already been threatened with a duel in 1818 and had acted as a second in 1823. Relations with the Turner family would in any case, to say the least, be awkward enough without giving reason for Ellen's father and uncles to come after him with horsewhips and challenges to pistols at dawn. Wakefield's aim was almost certainly to persuade the Turners to accept him - as Eliza Pattle's mother had accepted him - and ratify the Scottish marriage with an Anglican wedding.52 The strategy did not require Ellen to be a virgin bride, but it would have been highly inconvenient to Wakefield's social and political ambitions if she had become pregnant.

Wakefield's interest in Ellen recalls the courtship in Tom Jones of the heiress Bridget Allworthy by the adventurer Captain Blifil, who was "greatly enamoured ... of Mr Allworthy's house and gardens and of his lands, tenements, and hereditaments; of all which the captain was so passionately fond that he would most probably have contracted marriage with them had he been obliged to have taken the witch of Endor into the bargain".53 Ellen was considerably more personable than the witch of Endor, but Wakefield could afford to wait. As he had said, the ceremony at Gretna had made Ellen his lawful wife. Some authorities disagreed, arguing that "even by the Scotch law, barbarous as it is, to constitute a marriage the consent must be freely and voluntarily given".54 If Ellen had indeed been legally Wakefield's wife, the evidence that she gave against him was invalid, and the court at Lancaster may have erred in assuming that the marriage ceremony could be disregarded. It subsequently appeared the fact that Ellen had been tricked into marrying Wakefield did not necessarily invalidate the ceremony: if every wife who discovered that her partner in life was not what he had seemed, the institution of marriage would quickly crumble. It took an act of parliament to expunge the Gretna ceremony from the record.

It was because Wakefield believed he had legal possession that he could acquiesce in Ellen's return to her family. Wakefield's biographers convey the impression that he realised at Calais that the game was up but courageously returned to England to face the consequences of his actions. An alternative interpretation is possible. Wakefield came back to intimidate the Turners into making terms. One of his earliest tactics was to placard the West End of London with denunciations of the family. In the year before the case came to trial, there were press reports that Wakefield intended to take legal proceedings for "restitution of conjugal rights" or even to seek a writ of habeas corpus to force William Turner to hand over his daughter. The Times noted that Wakefield "has cunning enough to perceive that every delay is in his favour". Ellen's "injured and irritated" father might die, leaving her open to his renewed attentions. Alternatively, William Turner might agree to buy off his unwelcome son-in-law in exchange for Wakefield's co-operation in securing the annulment of the marriage through the Ecclesiastical Courts. None of this showed any concern for Ellen, who was put through the ordeal of giving evidence three times. "Miss Turner has suffered much", said The Times.55

Wakefield's champions claim that he had no need to marry Ellen for her money, since he already enjoyed a comfortable income from his first wife's fortune. Rather he sought to marry into the Turner family as a step to becoming MP for Macclesfield in order to fight for the interests of the distressed silk-weavers. Why a wealthy manufacturer should help to elect an MP who would champion the interests of his down-trodden employees has never been explained. Lloyd-Prichard, the only Wakefield scholar to note the contradiction, ingeniously inverted the story to claim that William Turner subjected his own daughter "to the ordeal of a witness in a sordid trial ... to stop for ever the Wakefields' designs on Macclesfield".56 The fact that so many accounts have followed Garnett in stating that Wakefield "expected to be returned for Macclesfield"57 demonstrates the extent to which Wakefield mythology has not been subjected to close scrutiny. Macclesfield was not a parliamentary borough in 1826, and did not acquire the right to elect a member of parliament until it was enfranchised by the Reform Act of 1832. In 1826, a sweeping measure of parliamentary Reform seemed very unlikely. There is no doubt that Wakefield wanted to become a member of parliament, but in 1826, the way to Westminster lay through purchase of a rotten borough. "Boroughs were dear and elections very costly," Wakefield wrote of the unreformed system, "a snug borough cost near £100,000".58 Wakefield lived off the income from a capital fund of £70,000. He needed William Turner's money to buy his way into parliament. If he had indeed been elected as MP for some decayed Cornish fishing village, it may be doubted whether he would have had much to say on behalf of the distressed silk-weavers.

Anxious to avoid seeming to moralise, scholars have been restrained in their condemnation of Wakefield's conduct in the Turner case, a "mad freak" according to Reeves, or one of "his marital pranks" in the words of Douglas Pike.   Few have gone even as far as Collier in 1914, who sniffed that it "would be agreeable to pass over in silence an episode ... that seemed to revive, in a new form to suit the altered conditions of modern life, an adventurous early phase of the marital relationship which has been found to prevail among so many primitive peoples".59 Generally, the episode has been tacitly excused by the omelette theory of historical ethics: Wakefield would never have become an authority on colonisation had he not spent three years locked away in Newgate, and he would not have been imprisoned had he not abducted Ellen Turner. It is impossible to make an omelette without breaking some eggs, and Ellen was the egg.60

Most of Wakefield's contemporaries took a sterner view of "the cunning and depravity displayed in the formation of the plot - and the artful wickedness developed in its execution". "Nature does not often produce such a monster", The Times assured its readers, condemning Wakefield as "that callous-hearted wretch".61 "Three years imprisonment fell very short indeed of the punishment which ought to follow such a crime," said the Home Secretary, Robert Peel, throwing the government's support behind the measure to annul the Gretna marriage. "Hundreds of delinquents, much less guilty than Wakefield - without the advantages of education which he possessed - had been convicted of capital felonies, and had forfeited their lives."62 Peel's condemnation may partly explain Wakefield's scornful denunciation of the Swan River colony, the failed attempt by Thomas Peel to settle a massive land grant in Western Australia obtained from the Colonial Office "by means of a letter" from his cousin, the Home Secretary.63 It is noticeable that there is a gap in the record of major Wakefieldian colonisation projects that coincides with the years 1841-1846, when Peel was prime minister and Wakefield spent much of his time in Canada.

To contemporaries, then, Wakefield's crime was not an episode that could be consigned to the conveyer belt of Katy-style biography. Posterity may think of Wakefield as a colonisation theorist. Contemporaries saw him as a criminal. Colonel Charles Grey, who found Wakefield "a very agreeable man" when they met in Canada (a view that he quickly revised), none the less identified him "of Miss Turner notoriety". Colonel Grey's brother, Lord Howick (later the third Earl Grey), regarded Wakefield as a "clever scoundrel".64 Brougham, who had appeared for the prosecution at Lancaster, referred to him as a "swindler".65 Lord Sydenham, governor-general of Canada, mockingly called Wakefield a "scamp",66 while his successor, Bagot, nicknamed him "Cacodaemon", a malevolent spirit.67 The Turner affair was not forgotten in Wakefield's future business dealings. "He is greedy ... and did not prove himself early in life very nice about getting money", was one comment on his association with the Beauharnois project in Canada,68 while another acknowledged his ability but added that "he does not unite here the same suffrages in regard to character".69 Wakefield's bad character followed him to New Zealand. When he mocked the "Sighing Rooms" of the Colonial Office, critics retorted with allusions to the "Swindling Rooms" of the Canterbury Association.70 "He may be the  screw under the stern", FitzGerald wrote of Wakefield's role in colonial politics, "but he wont do for the figurehead."71

Perhaps the best-known example of the rigidity of the barrier against Wakefield's admission to decent society was the outcry against the entourage that Durham took to Canada in 1838, that included Wakefield and Thomas Turton, a lawyer who had been involved in a sensational divorce case. "It is incredible that a man of common sense could show such an ignorance or such a disregard of public feeling and opinion as you have done in the selection of these gentlemen," wrote the prime minister Lord Melbourne to Durham. "If their abilities and powers were superhuman they would not counterbalance the discredit of their characters."72 It is easy enough to point out that Melbourne was no saint, and to dismiss the outcry as mere hypocrisy.73 In reality, it reveals that there were gradations of misconduct in which even the adulterous Melbourne felt obliged to cast stones. Durham angrily defended his right to employ the divorcee, but he quietly retreated over the issue of publicly associating his mission with the child abductor. Wakefield's role, as so often, was behind the scenes, although his association with the Durham mission was well-known and counter-productive.74 Sadly, Turton who repaid Durham's confidence with the very bad advice that he had the power to exile Canadian rebels to Bermuda, an abuse of authority that destroyed the mission.75




Paul Bloomfield, Edward Gibbon Wakefield: Builder of The British Commonwealth (London, 1961)

Eng & Am  

[Edward Gibbon Wakefield], England & America: A Comparison of the Social and Political State of Both Nations (London, 1833). Reference is made to the New York edition of 1834, reprinted in facsimile, New York, 1967.

Edward Jerningham Wakefield, ed., The Founders of Canterbury: Volume I: Being the Letters of the Late Edward Gibbon Wakefield... 
(Christchurch, 1868, facsimile edition, ed. Peter Burroughs, London 1968)


R. Garnett, Edward Gibbon Wakefield: The Colonization of South Australia and New Zealand (London, 1898)

A.J. Harrop, The Amazing Career of Edward Gibbon Wakefield  (London, 1928)


A Letter from Sydney the Principal Town of  Australasia (London, 1829), reprinted in [R.C. Mills, ed.], Edward Gibbon Wakefield, A Letter from Sydney and Other Writings (London, 1929)


M.F. Lloyd-Prichard, ed., The Collected Works of Edward Gibbon Wakefield (Glasgow, 1968)


Peter Stuart, Edward Gibbon Wakefield in New Zealand: His  Political  Career,  1853-4  (Wellington, 1971)


Edward Gibbon Wakefield, A View of the Art of Colonization ... in Letters between a Statesman and a Colonist (London, 1849)

1. This account of Wakefield's life and career is drawn generally from Garnett, Harrop and Bloomfield.  Wakefield's career is summarised in the Introduction to Lloyd-Prichard. See also entries by Miles Fairburn in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, i (Wellington, 1990), pp. 572-575; by H.J.M. Johnston in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, ix (Toronto, 1976), pp. 817-819 and by Graeme L. Pretty in Australian Dictionary of Biography, ii (Melbourne, 1967), pp.  559-562. See also Irma O'Connor, Edward  Gibbon Wakefield: The Man Himself (London, 1928), Douglas Pike, Paradise of Dissent: South Australia 1829-1857 (London, 1957) and June Phillip, A Great View of Things: Edward Gibbon Wakefield (Melbourne, 1971).

2. William Pember Reeves, The Long White Cloud: Ao Tea Roa (London, 1898), p. 166.

3. [B.J. Foster], "History, Myths" in A.H. McLintock, ed., An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (3 vols, Wellington, 1966), ii, p. 84.

4. Mills, Introduction to A Letter from Sydney and Other Writings, p. viii; Lloyd-Prichard, p. 11.

5. Pike, Paradise of Dissent, described by Helen Taft Manning,  "The  Present State of  Wakefield  Studies", Historical Studies, xvi (1974), p. 282; [Foster], in McLintock, ed., Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, ii, p. 84.

6. Manning, "Wakefield Studies", p. 285.

7. Michael Oakeshott, On History and Other Essays (Totowa, NJ, 1983), p. 13.

8.  Nancy M. Taylor, The New Zealand People at War: The Home Front (2 vols, Wellington, 1986), i, p. 127.

9. Quoted by Frederic Rogers in a letter of 25 May 1854, G.E. Marindin, ed., Letters of Frederic Lord Blachford (London, 1896), pp. 156-157; Lyttelton Times, 1 December 1870, quoted F. Madden with D. Fieldhouse, eds, Settler Self-Government, 1840-1900 (Westport, Conn., 1990), p. 798.

10. Stuart J. Reid, Life and Letters of the First Earl of Durham (2 vols, London, 1906), i, pp. 160-161.

11. Letter, p. 54.

12. Wakefield's Letter from Sydney first appeared as a series of newspaper articles in August-October 1829. It is possible that he had by then been released from Newgate after serving his three-year sentence, having been committed for trial in May 1826. England & America was published in 1833. (Wakefield later claimed that "the publisher ... took on himself" the decision to give it a "puffing title", View, p. 47n.) The View of the Art of Colonization was published in 1849. Its influence is discussed  below. Wakefield's letters on the founding of Canterbury, published by his son Jerningham in 1868 (Founders), were intended to have a sequel, consisting of replies. This never appeared, possibly because one of the aims of the project was to downgrade the roles of J.E. FitzGerald and J.R. Godley as founders of Canterbury. Three of the original letters, to G.F. Young, are in Cambridge University Library, Royal Commonwealth Society Collection, and were published in Royal Commonwealth Society Library Notes, n.s. 105, September 1965. These tend to confirm the general accuracy of Jerningham Wakefield's transcriptions.

13. Letter, pp. 47, 85. Wakefield was never to visit Australia.

14. Eng & Am, "Note V", pp. 90ff.

15. Garnett, p. 16; Harrop. p. 17.

16. Recollections of Alice Freeman, Wakefield's niece, Harrop, p. 190.

17. Quoted, Garnett, p. 27; Harrop, p. 21. In an apt misprint, Bloomfield, p.51, renders the title as Political Greed. Wakefield, like many of his contemporaries, usually referred to "England" rather than Britain, although his matrimonial ventures prove that he was aware of the separate existence of Scotland.

18. Bloomfield, p. 283.

19.  Wakefield's  "Memorandum  Relating  to  Navigation Improvements", Canadian Historical Review, xiii (1932), p. 41. I owe this item to Dr Colin M. Coates.

20. Sir Charles Metcalfe in Canada (1844), reprinted in E.M. Wrong, Charles Buller and Responsible Government (Oxford, 1926), pp. 351-352. This may be contrasted with Tennyson in Locksley Hall, published two years earlier:

I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would  be.

21. Letter of 29 April 1853, quoted Stuart, p. 50.

22. Bloomfield, p. 292. The Katy books were written by Susan Coolidge (Sarah Woolsey) and published in the decade after 1900.

23. F.E. Kingsley, ed., Charles Kingsley: His Letters and Memories of His Life (London, 1904 ed.), pp. 247, 240.

24. For accounts of the kidnapping, see especially Harrop, pp. 23-32 and Bloomfield, pp. 1-14, 52-74. Both draw on an extended account presumably written by Wakefield  (but disavowed by him on publication) in John Bull, 22 May 1826, pp. 165-166, and cf. The Times, 26 May 1826.

25. Garnett, p. 5. For Wakefield's first marriage, see Bloomfield, pp. 34-44.

26. The Times, 4 April 1826.

27. Bloomfield, p. 52. William Wakefield left England after serving a prison sentence for his part in the abduction, and joined the British Legion in Spain, a regiment of mercenaries and adventurers who fought against the Carlist rebels.  Hence his claim in New Zealand to be "Colonel Wakefield".

28. J. Foster, Alumni Oxonienses ... 1715-1886,  i, (Oxford, 1888), p. 345. David Davies was born c. 1755 at Machynlleth in Wales. His death in January 1828 suggests that he may have been one of the indirect casualties of the Turner affair, and may help to explain why Frances Wakefield broke off relations with her step-son.

29. C.S. Davies, ed., A History of Macclesfield(Manchester, 1961), p.212.

30. Wakefield's account in John Bull, 22 May 1826. For Shrigley Hall, see N. Pevsner and E. Hubbard, The Buildings of England: Cheshire (Harmondsworth, 1971), p. 314.

31. John Bull, 26 March 1826. The journalist was almost certainly Theodore Hook.

32. The Times, 26 June 1827, reported Ellen's fortune to be £600,000. She was also heiress to her uncle Robert Turner. John Bull, 26 March 1826, thought her "worth a million of money sterling".

33. The Times, 19 September 1826, quoting the Manchester Gazette, a local source.

34. Harrop, pp. 35-36.

35. For the account that follows, see n. 24. There is some confusion about the exact date of the abduction, probably because the Wakefields maximised the element of surprise by staging it at night.

36. Ellen Turner's evidence was impressively consistent. At the committal proceedings, she was reported as saying: "it was against my will and inclination; but I told him, if it was the only thing that would save my papa, I would consent." The Times, 27 May 1826.

37. The Times, 28 March 1826.

38. The Times, 31 May 1827.

39. The Trial of Edward Gibbon Wakefield ... for the Abduction of Miss Ellen Turner (London, 1827), p. 168; The Times, 23 March 1826; Australian Dictionary of Biography, ii, p. 559.

40. The Times, 26 May 1826. Liverpool, the scene of the abduction, was part of Lancashire, and Lancaster was the county town.

41. The Times, 26 March 1827. Wakefield's biographers do not seem to have noticed that the brothers changed their plea.

42. The Times, 31 May 1827, reporting proceedings before the House of Lords, 30 May. This was to be Wakefield's only parliamentary speech at Westminster.

43. The Times, 23, 18 January 1828. Crowds had turned out to welcome Ellen on her return to Shrigley Hall from London after her appearance before the House of Lords, and the bells of Pott Shrigley Church were rung in her honour.  The Times, 26 June 1827, 18, 19 January 1831. These reports correct Bloomfield, p. 74.

44. John Bull, 26 March 1826. The circumlocutions for going to the lavatory are interesting.

45. The Times, 26 May 1826, 31 May 1827; Trial of Wakefield, p. 13.

46. John Bull, 22 May 1826.

47. Wakefield, described in The Times, 26 May 1826, which added that he had "light hair and eyes"; Garnett, p. 283.

48. Harrop, p. 24. There is no reason to assume that Ellen had any clear idea of where she was being taken, or how she might get home. Three years earlier, William Cobbett, celebrated for his investigative journeys around the south-east of England, had been surprised to find himself by the sea when he rode into New Romney, "for I had not looked at a map of Kent for years, and, perhaps, never". Educational standards at boarding schools for girls were notoriously low, and Miss Daulby's task was to teach Ellen to be lady, not  a  geographer.  William  Cobbett,  Rural  Rides (Harmondsworth, 1967 ed.), pp. 191-192.

49. The Times, 27 May 1826.

50. Trial of Wakefield, p. 167; The Times, 27 May 1826.

51. Harrop, p. 30; The Times, 26 May 1826. Wakefield's claims produced some scepticism and ribaldry (Bloomfield, p. 54). It may have been to counter suspicion that Ellen had lost her virginity that she was married off so rapidly to Thomas Legh.

52. Wakefield had married Eliza Pattle first by civil ceremony in Edinburgh on 27 July 1816 and then in an Anglican wedding on 10 August. Similarly, the future Earl of Durham had married his first wife at Gretna on 1 January 1812 and then at Malpas Church in Cheshire on 28 January. This episode may explain why Durham did not share the general  disapproval that contemporaries  felt  towards Wakefield. Bloomfield, p. 38; Reid, Durham, i, pp. 64-65.

53. Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones (1749), Book 1, ch. 11.

54. Letter from "W.R.", The Times, 24 March 1824. From the outset, Wakefield in effect challenged the Turners to seek an act of parliament. Turner apparently had resolved to take this course if it was necessary to free Ellen to give evidence. John Bull, 22 May 1826; The Times, 3 March 1827. Turner's costs were reported to be close to £10,000. Parliamentary Debates, n.s. xviii, col. 1135 (6 June 1827).

55. The Times, 31 August, 8 September 1826, 30 March 1827, 18 August 1826, 21 March 1827. Wakefield perhaps inspired a press report that Turner had "resolved not to appear against the prisoner", The Times, 27 July 1826.

56. Lloyd-Prichard, pp. 11-12. Duncan McNeill, later Lord Colonsay, a Scots lawyer, gave evidence for the defence in the Lancaster trial in support of the validity of the Gretna marriage. He insisted in later life that Wakefield had been wrongfully convicted, and from this was drawn an inference that the motive behind the prosecution was political.

57. Garnett, p. 34 and cf. Harrop, p. 41.

58. Eng & Am, p. 92.

59. Reeves, Long White Cloud, p. 167; Pike, Paradise of Dissent, p. 75; James Collier, "Editor's Introduction" to his edition of A View of the Art of Colonization (Oxford, 1914), p. vii.

60. This was in effect the view that the Spectator was advancing to rehabilitate Wakefield in 1831, Harrop, p. 48. For another statement of the omelette theory, see the defence of the Taranaki War in W.P. Morrell, British Colonial Policy in the Mid-Victorian Age (Oxford, 1969), p. 241. A related school of thought saw Newgate as a blessing in disguise, e.g.: "As a Member of Parliament ... his attention must necessarily have been distracted by other questions of greater importance". Mills, The Colonization of  Australia : The Wakefield Experiment in  Empire Building (London, 1915; facsimile ed., Sydney, 1974), pp. 78-79.

61. Trial of Wakefield, p. v; The Times, 1, 7 June 1827.

62. Parliamentary Debates, n.s. xvii, col. 1133 (6 June 1827).

63. Eng & Am, p. 273. In 1835, Wakefield seems to have been involved in writing an unflattering biography of Peel, probably for publication in the Morning Chronicle.  When Peel died in 1850, Wakefield was grudgingly admiring of his political career, perhaps because he was writing to Godley. William Thomas, The Philosophic Radicals (Oxford, 1979), p. 279; Founders, p. 292.

64. William Ormsby, ed., Crisis in the Canadas: 1838-1839. The Grey Journals and Letters (Toronto, 1964), p. 62 (entry for 29 June 1838), and cf. p. 185; University of Durham, Grey Papers, Journal, C3/2, 15 January 1837. In 1831, Robert Gouger informed T.F. Elliot of the Colonial Office that the author of the Letter from Sydney was Wakefield, "whose name you must remember to have heard of in connection with the abduction of Miss Turner some years since". Quoted, Mills, The Colonization of Australia, p. 78n.

65. Reid, Durham, ii, p. 339 gives "felon" but the apparent source is "swindler". G.O. Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay (2 vols, 1876; Oxford, 1978 ed.), ii, p. 2. Brougham had appeared for the prosecution in the Lancaster trial, but it had been rumoured that he had been retained by both sides "and there is some doubt for whom the learned gentleman will appear".  He later claimed that Wakefield had attempted to forge a will.  The Times, 9 August 1826; Phillip, A Great View of Things, p. 2.

66. Paul Knaplund, ed., Letters of Lord Sydenham ... to Lord John Russell (London, 1931; facsimile ed., Clifton NJ, 1973), pp. 97, 136 (letters of 27 September 1840, 26 April 1841).

67. National Archives of Canada, Derby Papers, microfilm A-30, Bagot to Stanley, private, 28 October, 27 December 1842.

68. Parkes to Ellice, 16 August 1839, quoted in H.T. Manning, "Edward Gibbon Wakefield and the  Beauharnois Canal", Canadian Historical Review, xlviii (1967), p. 7.

69. London, Public Record Office, CO 42/500, Sir R.I. Routh to C.P. Trevelyan, 12 January 1842, fo. 35. The letter was written from Montreal and referred to "Gilbert" Wakefield.  This was a confusion with a Unitarian radical and classical scholar who had died in 1801.

70. Sidney's Emigrant's Journal, no. 23, 8 March 1849. Samuel Sidney was a vigorous opponent.

71. FitzGerald to Godley, 23 April 1855, quoted in Stuart, p. 122. It is worth noting that, apart from a village in Nelson probably named in honour of his brother Arthur, Wakefield's name does not appear on the map of New Zealand.

72. Melbourne to Durham, 18 July 1838, in L.C. Sanders, ed., Lord Melbourne's Papers (London, 1889), pp. 428-429. Wakefield's association with Lord Durham had its origins in the project to establish a colony in New Zealand. H.T. Manning, "Lord Durham and the New Zealand Company", New Zealand Journal of History, vi (1972), pp. 1-19.

73. The question of hypocrisy is discussed in Ged Martin, The Durham Report and British Policy (Cambridge, 1972), p. 23.

74. C. New, Lord Durham: A Biography of John George Lambton First Earl of Durham (Oxford, 1929), pp. 369-371.

75. Cf. the comment of Charles Greville: "it appears that his law is not a jot better than his morals". [H. Reeve, ed.], A Journal of the Reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1852 (The Greville Memoirs) (3 vols, London 1885), i, p. 123.