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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Politician and journalist.

A new biography of Wakefield, Edward appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Edward Wakefield was born in 1845 in Tasmania, the son of Felix Wakefield, one of Edward Gibbon's younger brothers. Although he spent his boyhood in New Zealand, he was educated in France and at King's College, London, returning to New Zealand in 1863 to work on the Nelson Examiner. When only 21 he became Stafford's private secretary and, for the next four years, secretary to Cabinet. At this time his considerable ability seemed to mark him out for a very bright future, and in 1874 he became editor of the Timaru Herald and a leader writer for the Otago Daily Times, the New Zealand Times, and The Press, Christchurch.

In 1875 he was elected for Geraldine to the House of Representatives, was defeated in 1881, but sat again for Selwyn from 1884 until his retirement from politics in 1887, at the age of 42. In this period he failed to fulfil his early promise. Although he was admired for his oratorical penetration and wit, he was feared for his merciless sarcasm and distrusted for the inconstancy of his political allegiances which lasted only as long as Wakefield saw in them some chance of gaining office. It was typical of him that when he ultimately took office as Colonial Secretary in Atkinson's week-long ministry of 1884, he had recently been elected to oppose him.

After leaving politics Wakefield concentrated on writing and in 1889 his social and political survey, New Zealand After Fifty Years, was published. In the next year he went to Europe as a journalist. He ended his days in blindness at a Carthusian Charterhouse in London, where he died in early August 1924.

Edward Wakefield's volatile and egotistical character made him a lonely politician and, as Alfred Saunders noted, he would probably have succeeded better if he had aimed less conspicuously for the ministerial benches. Nevertheless he was one of the most colourful public men of his time, with a brittle brilliance, wit, liveliness, political waywardness, and promise of great things never achieved.

by Edmund Bohan, M.A., School Teacher and Professional Singer (overseas).

  • History of New Zealand, Saunders, A. (1896–99)
  • New Zealand After Fifty Years, Wakefield, E. (1889).


Edmund Bohan, M.A., School Teacher and Professional Singer (overseas).