Early Victorian New Zealand: A Study of Racial Tension and Social Attitudes, 1839-1852

Early Victorian New Zealand: A Study of Racial Tension and Social Attitudes, 1839-1852

Early Victorian New Zealand: A Study of Racial Tension and Social Attitudes, 1839-1852

Early Victorian New Zealand: A Study of Racial Tension and Social Attitudes, 1839-1852

Excerpt

The Wakefields were a family of adventurers with a vision of empire which was to colour the thinking of the Victorian Age. In this study I shall describe in detail their attempt to impose an early Victorian pattern on one corner of Polynesia and the tensions that resulted therefrom.

The narrative begins with an account of how Edward Gibbon Wakefield charmed the New Zealand Company's emigrants into crossing twelve thousand miles of ocean to the 'Cannibal Isles' at a time when all seemed uncertainty and risk. Wakefield was not an isolated eccentric but a social planner, essentially orthodox in his economic doctrines, and with a flair for adapting himself to the spirit of the times. Similarly, the New Zealand Company was not a freakish organization but a characteristic product of the City of London, with Lord Durham as its titular head and Mr Joseph Somes, the largest individual shipowner in England who used to walk about at Lloyd's 'quite like a dictator', as its first Chairman. In one respect, however, the Company was unique, for, in addition to plans for founding settlements in the image of Victorian England, Wakefield had devised 'a deliberate and methodical scheme for leading a savage people to embrace the religion, language, laws, and social habits of an advanced country'. This was a concession to the current humanitarian fervour of the House of Commons. Too often, a parliamentary committee urged in 1837, native races had had their property seized, their numbers diminished and their character debased by Europeans who acted 'as if they were undoubted lords of the soil' and drove the natives into the interior 'as if they were dogs or kangaroos'. Hitherto, E. G. Wakefield and his colleagues agreed . . .

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