WAKEFIELD, Captain Arthur, RN
New Zealand Company's agent at Nelson.
Arthur Wakefield was born on 19 November 1799 at Burnham Wick, Essex, the third son of Edward Wakefield (1774–1854) and of Susanna, née Crash (d. 1817). He was educated at the Bury St. Edmonds Grammar School, and in May 1810 entered the Royal Navy as a cadet in HMS Nisus. He then transferred to HMS Hebrus and did service in America, being present at the capture of Washington, D.C., and at Bladensburg, where he took an enemy standard. He witnessed the capture of the Ile-de-France, and in 1814 took part in the shore fighting in Java. In 1816, as midshipman in charge of signals, he was present at the bombardment of Algiers. He accompanied Sir Thomas Hardy on a two-year diplomatic mission to the South American republics, and in 1822 spent six months as aide-de-camp to Earl St. Vincent. From 1823 to 1828 he served on the West African Station, where he assisted the explorers Clapperton, Denham, and Park, and was also engaged in suppressing slavers. From 1828 to 1833 he was senior lieutenant in HMS Rose patrolling the St. Lawrence Gulf and Labrador fisheries. In 1837 his brother Edward Gibbon interested him in the projected New Zealand settlement, and in June of that year he accompanied the deputation that waited unsuccessfully upon Dandeson Coates to enlist the support of the Church Missionary Society.
Arthur Wakefield would have come to New Zealand in the Tory as the Company's Principal Agent, but shortly before he was due to sail, he was promoted to the command of HMS Radamanthus on which he served in the Mediterranean until 1841, when he retired from the Navy. He then became the New Zealand Company's agent for the projected Nelson settlement, throwing himself whole-heartedly into its planning and equipment. He arrived in Nelson in the Whitby, laid out Nelson town, and organised the government of the infant colony. Wakefield soon discovered that his greatest problem would be to secure sufficient land to satisfy the shiploads of settlers whom the company was sending out. To meet these demands he sent his surveyors to lay out the Motueka district and, in November 1842, into the Tuamarina district of Marlborough. Their reports upon the latter convinced him that there was ample land for all his requirements. He believed, mistakenly as it turned out, that this block had been included in Colonel Wakefield's purchase from Te Rauparaha some years earlier. When Wakefield ordered his surveyors to commence work, Te Rauparaha objected, and removed the survey party from the disputed land. Wakefield accompanied Thompson, the hot-headed and capricious local Police Magistrate, on the ill-considered expedition to arrest Te Rauparaha, thus precipitating, on 17 June 1843, the tragic Wairau Affray in which he lost his life.
A fluent French and Spanish linguist, Captain Arthur Wakefield was a fine naval officer and a capable, energetic colonial administrator. He was just in all his dealings, treating Maori and Pakeha alike. The chain of events leading to the Wairau Affray was neither his fault nor of his choosing. He died a bachelor.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Captain Wakefield's Letters to Colonel Wakefield, N.Z.C.104/7 (MSS), National Archives, Wellington. Nelson Examiner, 24 Apr 1847.