A Tale of Two Cities: How William Wakefield Influenced London’s Opinion of Wellington


In the early 1840s, William Wakefield was the most important person in Wellington. As the principal agent of the New Zealand Company, a private London-based colonisation firm, he founded the settlement in 1840 and held considerable authority. In this position, William relayed information about the situation on the ground in Wellington to policymakers and Company directors back in London. However, his allegiance to the Company meant much of what he reported often suited its agenda.

William’s Company loyalty stemmed from his devotion to its founder, his older brother, Edward Gibbon Wakefield. The Company originated in a prison cell in 1829 when William and Edward were serving sentences for kidnapping a fifteen-year-old heiress and attempting to acquire her inheritance by tricking her into marrying Edward. Pursuing new endeavours, Edward used his time behind bars to write A Letter from Sydney, articulating a profitable method of colonising and ‘civilising’ the frontier, the Wakefield Scheme.[1] In short: cheaply acquired indigenous land was resold to capitalists at sufficient prices, allowing them to support the emigration of working-class settlers also hoping to buy land; low wages ensured this took some years, ensuring colonies flourished.[2] The National Colonisation Society (NCS) welcomed Edward after his release in 1830. After NCS lobbying, the South Australia Act 1834 saw the Wakefield Scheme’s first deployment.[3] When the settlement (Adelaide) fell into debt, Edward blamed poor implementation of his ideas and distanced himself from the project.[4] Focusing on New Zealand, he established the New Zealand Association (NZA) in 1837. As with Australia, he sought official sanction to colonise New Zealand, but opposition had now grown fierce. The Colonial Office and the Church Missionary Society (CMS) expressed alarm at Edward’s description of Māori as “thoroughly savage people” who “scarcely cultivate the earth.”[5] Permanent Under-Secretary for the Colonies James Stephen claimed Edward’s plans ensured “the conquest and the extermination of the present inhabitants.”[6] CMS Secretary Dandeson Coates warned Māori could become “despoiled of their lands, demoralized […] exterminated.”[7] Opponents defeated the New Zealand Bill in 1838, one member telling Parliament, “Each clause, if possible, was more monstrous than the other.”[8] The NZA disbanded, but “notwithstanding this temporary setback” its members committed to bestowing upon “the inhabitants of New Zealand the blessings of Christianity and civilization.”[9]

When Lord Normanby became Colonial Secretary in February 1839, some 2,000 British subjects already lived in New Zealand; colonisation seemed inevitable. When Edward learned in March that Normanby sought a treaty acquiring sovereignty over New Zealand, giving the Crown a monopoly over buying land from Māori, he rallied fellow capitalists, saying, “Possess yourselves of the Soil & you are secure—but, if from delay you allow others to do it before you—they will succeed & you will fail.”[10] Pooling resources, they formed the New Zealand Company and outmanoeuvred Normanby by executing a fait accompli; their actions, though illegal, would prove irreversible.

William Wakefield, who following his release had risen to the rank of colonel as a mercenary and a soldier, now accepted his brother’s invitation to lead the expedition to New Zealand. Hastily preparing a ship, the Tory, he set sail on 12 May. On 20 September, in a record-breaking 96 days, he arrived in the harbour at the bottom of the North Island, Port Nicholson (known to Māori as Te Whanganui-a-Tara). A week later, he had bought it. Before the Tory even arrived, 148 settlers left Britain on the Aurora on 18 September.[11] Normanby and the understaffed Colonial Office could scarcely keep up.[12] They dispatched Captain William Hobson to oversee the treaty process, but a fortnight before Hobson’s Treaty of Waitangi was first signed on 6 February 1840, the Aurora’s settlers had already arrived in Port Nicholson.

But by 1844, William’s settlement of Wellington faced bleak prospects. Struggling to attract new settlers after confrontation with Māori and Crown intervention in land acquisition and dispute resolution, Wellingtonians lamented their “deplorable condition,” blaming “one fundamental cause […] the Auckland Government.”[13] By now, William had dealt with three Crown representatives: Hobson, Lieutenant-Governor from February 1840 and Governor from May 1841, died of a stroke in September 1842, so New Zealand Colonial Secretary Willoughby Shortland administered the government until Governor Robert FitzRoy replaced Hobson in December 1843. William disliked them all, considering their efforts to assert control ruinous for the Company and its settlements. William’s animosity worsened when Ngāti Toa chief, Te Rangihaeata, killed Arthur Wakefield (another Wakefield brother and Company agent who had founded Nelson) in Wairau in June 1843 and FitzRoy agreed with Shortland’s assessment that Arthur had been in the wrong. In September 1843, Land Claims Commissioner William Spain then ruled the Company’s 1839 land purchases invalid, ordering it pay compensation to affected Māori. To offset its financial troubles, the Company sought its own compensation for shouldering colonisation costs in the name of the Crown. When that failed, the Company succeeded in establishing a House of Commons Select Committee on New Zealand on 26 April 1844 “to inquire into the State of the Colony of New Zealand, and into the Proceedings of the New Zealand Company.”[14] The Company hoped the Committee would see FitzRoy replaced with someone more sympathetic.

No historians debate the favourable nature of the Committee’s report for the Company. Regarding general scholarship of the Company, Rebecca Burke’s 2014 doctoral thesis says that “older scholarship seems to glorify, whereas more critical approaches began to appear in the 1960s.”[15] Indeed, Ian Wards’ landmark 1968 The Shadow of the Land describes the Committee’s Chairman, Lord Howick, as a loyal member of the so-called “Wakefield set.”[16] In 1989, Patricia Burns’ Fatal Success, to date the most comprehensive overview of the Company’s dealings,says eighteen of the Committee’s nineteen resolutions aligned “almost perfectly” with Company objectives.[17] Philip Temple’s 2002 Wakefield family biography, A Sort of Conscience, repeats Burns’ phrasing and adds that only the first resolution offered a “nugatory rap over the knuckles.”[18] In 2007, the Waitangi Tribunal summarised the report as taking a “strongly pro-New Zealand Company stance.”[19]

Where I aim to shed more light is in assessing William’s role in facilitating the report’s positive outcome by examining the influence he had on shaping opinions of Wellington in London. I contrast what really happened in Wellington against William’s correspondence and his contributions to the Company’s ongoing propaganda campaign. This is a tale of two cities, London and Wellington, but also a tale of two Wellingtons: the reality versus William’s rendition.

Fig. 1. Top (left to right): Edward Gibbon Wakefield (founder of the New Zealand Company), Arthur Wakefield (founder of Nelson), and William Wakefield (founder of Wellington). Bottom (left to right): Governor William Hobson, New Zealand Colonial Secretary Willoughby Shortland, and Governor Robert FitzRoy.


In 1839, five iwi had customary rights in Te Whanganui-a-Tara: Ngāti Ruanui, Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Toa, Taranaki, and Te Ātiawa.[20] Numerous pālined the harbour, occupied mostly by Te Ātiawa hapū, including Kumutoto, Ngauranga, Pito-one, Tiakiwai, and Waiwhetu. Ngāti Tama occupied Kaiwharawhara while Ngāti Ruanui and Taranaki cohabited Te Aro. Ngāti Toa occupied no pā in the harbour, but their chief, Te Rauparaha, considered himself the region’s paramount authority.[21] Based on nearby Kāpiti Island, he commanded access to the Cook Strait, making him gatekeeper to New Zealand’s critical waterway. Trading with passing ships and acquiring muskets, Te Rauparaha increased his mana through warfare in the lower North and upper South Islands. His nephew, Te Rangihaeata, held Mana Island, controlling access to Porirua, an inlet with overland passage to Te Whanganui-a-Tara. Ngāti Toa’s dominance of the area led them to consider Te Whanganui-a-Tara within their territory.[22] (See Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Aerial view of modern-day Wellington marked with locations of key Māori settlement sites at the time of William Wakefield’s arrival on 20 September 1839: 1) Kāpiti; 2) Mana; 3) Porirua; 4) Pito-one; 5) Waiwhetu; 6) Ngauranga; 7) Kaiwharawhara; 8) Tiakiwai; 9) Pipitea; 10) Kumutoto; 11) Te Aro.

William arrived on 20 September, ignorant of the harbour’s tribal dynamics but nevertheless intent on buying it. Te Ātiawa’s chiefs, Te Puni and Te Wharepouri, greeted him. William’s nephew (Edward’s son), Edward Jerningham Wakefield, served as the expedition’s secretary and described the chiefs as “the two principal chiefs of the tribe living on shore.” Te Puni apparently “expressed the most marked satisfaction on hearing that we wished to buy the place, and bring white people to it,” while Te Wharepouri “expressed his willingness to sell the land, and his desire of seeing white men come to live upon it.”[23] While this account indicates a lack of knowledge of the area’s tribal complexity, the chiefs’ instant enthusiasm to part with their land suggests either the account or the interpreting was misleading. Both explanations are probably true; Jerningham’s Adventure in New Zealand was a precocious defence of the Company, and the translators were unqualified. Ngati, a Māori who travelled to Europe in 1836 and spoke limited English found employment as an interpreter in return for a voyage home on the Tory.[24] However, upon arrival in Queen Charlotte Sound, where the Tory anchored en route to Te Whanganui-a-Tara, his low tribal status became apparent; William wrote of Ngati’s “want of weight” when dealing with chiefly ranks.[25] Fortuitously, William then met Richard ‘Dicky’ Barrett, a “cheerful, poorly educated, roly-poly seaman.”[26] Despite Ngati being briefed on the Company’s plan (though to what extent and how well he understood it is debatable), and despite Barrett only speaking ‘pidgin’ or ‘whaler’ Māori, his local knowledge and his marriage to a Te Ātiawa noblewoman saw him supplant Ngati as lead interpreter.[27] With Barrett’s translation and a Company agenda, William’s account mirrors Jerningham’s: “[Te Puni] betrayed the most lively satisfaction at being informed that we wished to buy the place and bring white men to it.”[28]

Problems with the purchase began when William did not, nor could not, follow the Company’s own instructions. Assuming Māori had similar concepts of land ownership, or simply trying to cover themselves, the Company directed William to explain to Māori that land purchases, not to be completed without maps and unless “thoroughly understood,” sought to establish British settlement.[29] However, on 27 September, after a week of debate amongst chiefs, whose understanding of William’s intent suffered linguistic and cultural confusion, the Deed of Purchase of Port Nicholson (written by Jerningham in English only) was signed. Jerningham wrote how Te Wharepouri demarcated the boundary of the purchase from aboard the Tory: “He had followed with his finger the summit of the mountain ranges.”[30] The boundaries were so vague that no map was possible nor produced and the deed’s attempt to define the area was “scarcely intelligible.”[31] Nonetheless, the deed stated that the sixteen signing chiefs, the “sole and only proprietors,” had “sold and parted with all [their] right, title, and interest in all the said lands.” The payment of a hundred muskets and various other items exhibited the Wakefield Scheme in action.[32] William signed the deed and later wrote, “Thus has terminated, in the most satisfactory manner, this first and important purchase for the Company.”[33]

Differing concepts of land ownership and “totally ineffective” translators made ‘thorough understanding’ impossible.[34] Jerningham admitted, “It was extremely difficult ­– nay almost impossible – to buy a large and distinct tract of land, with fixed boundaries, from any native […] perfectly unused as they were to any dealing in land according to our notions.”[35] Some chiefs may have thought a few settlers would live and trade among them, but Barrett relayed nothing of the Company’s intent to remove Māori from their pā, cultivations, and burial grounds, permanently severing them from the land.[36] Nor did he communicate the Company’s policy of ‘tenths.’ To reassure detractors of their humanitarianism, the Company planned to designate one tenth of the settlement as ‘native reserves.’ They assumed Māori would abandon their land for a tenth and benefit from proximity to the growing settlement in further remuneration for selling their land.[37] Compared to the deed’s 1,600 words, Barrett translated a mostly meaningless 115.[38]

Although preceding the Treaty of Waitangi, William’s purchase could not escape legal scrutiny. On 19 January 1840, before Hobson left Sydney for Waitangi, New South Wales Governor George Gipps proclaimed all land purchases made before the upcoming treaty were subject to investigation. In February 1843, Barrett testified to Land Claims Commissioner William Spain, recalling fourteen of the sixteen chiefs who signed the deed and detailing to which pā they belonged: seven came from Pito-one, three from Waiwhetu, and one from Kaiwharawhara, Kumutoto, Ngauranga, and Tiakiwai respectively. Thirteen belonged to Te Ātiawa hapū; Te Kaeaea of Ngāti Tama at Kaiwharawhara giving the only other signature. No chiefs from Taranaki nor Ngāti Ruanui at Te Aro signed, and neither did any representatives from Ngāti Toa.[39] In September 1843, Spain’s preliminary report called the deed “perfectly unintelligible.” He wrote, “I am of opinion, that the greater portion of the land claimed by the Company in the Port Nicholson district […] has not been alienated by the natives.” Describing the Company’s purchase as “very loose and careless,” Spain labelled Barrett’s interpreting “exceedingly imperfect.”[40]

Fig. 3. Top (left to right): Te Rauparaha (Ngāti Toa chief), Te Rangihaeata (Ngāti Toa chief, Te Rauparaha’s nephew), Te Puni (Te Ātiawa chief), and Te Wharepouri (Te Ātiawa chief, Te Puni’s nephew). Bottom (left to right): Te Kaeaea (Ngāti Tama chief), Edward Jerningham Wakefield (Company secretary, Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s son and William Wakefield’s nephew), Richard ‘Dicky’ Barrett (Company interpreter), and William Spain (Land Claims Commissioner).

William knew problems existed, but his attempted resolution made matters worse. Anchoring in Cloudy Bay a week after buying Port Nicholson, he met John Guard, a whaler who knew Te Rauparaha. William wrote, “[Guard] questioned the validity of the title I had obtained for the Company to Port Nicholson, saying that Raupero [sic] had conquered it and only allowed the present possessors to cultivate it, and that no doubt there would be a fight about it.”[41] On 16 October, William visited Te Rauparaha at Kāpiti and commenced a tense ten-day negotiation. Te Rauparaha expressed anger at the Port Nicholson sale, concerned “white people intended to drive the natives away.” William wrote, “The negotiation was difficult and disagreeable […] [Ngāti Toa’s] rights to large portions of territory are however indisputable.” Progress came on 23 October, William writing, “full explanation and understanding took place in the presence of at least twenty witnesses and ended in the full cession to me, for the Company of all [Ngāti Toa’s] rights and claims in both islands.” Negotiations concluded the next day, William writing Te Rauparaha heard the deed “translated in all its important parts” to his “perfect understanding.”[42] On 25 October, the deed was signed. The land William claimed to have bought spanned the North and South Islands and amounted to a third of New Zealand. However, Te Rauparaha later told Spain he thought the deed only sold Taitapu (Golden Bay), was never translated, and meant Queen Victoria would consider him “the great chief of New Zealand.”[43]

Company settlement began in 1840 upon these questionable foundations and quickly encountered trouble. In William’s absence, Company surveyor William Mein Smith chose the shorefront between Pito-one and Waiwhetu for the settlement site. Although exposed to southerly winds, the nearby flat land surrounding the Heretaunga (Hutt River) offered the only suitable location to implement the town plan. (See Fig. 4). William returned on 21 January, the day before the first settler ship, Aurora, arrived. Three more ships followed and within a month the beachfront township of Britannia emerged, population roughly 600.[44] The number of settlers alarmed Māori. Some chiefs later told Spain they thought William only wanted to anchor in the harbour. Te Wharepouri thought “nine or ten” settlers might arrive, adding, “But I see that each ship holds two hundred, and I believe, now, that you have more coming. They are all well armed […] They will soon be too strong for us; my heart is dark.”[45] Then on 2 March, the folly of Britannia’s windswept location compounded when the Hutt River flooded, forcing the settlers to relocate.

The settlers’ relocation to Port Nicholson’s westernmost bay, Lambton Harbour, for its shelter and depth disrupted six of the harbour’s seven pā. Four pā already occupied the desirable new site, and while three chiefs from Kumutoto, Pipitea, and Tiakiwai had signed the deed (though with minimal say), none had from Te Aro.[46] Additionally, with the Hutt site rezoned for agriculture, a road linking it to the Lambton site would cut through Kaiwharawhara, Ngauranga, and Pito-one. Yet William considered freshwater access, not land issues, Lambton’s “most apparent drawback.”[47] With little regard for its inhabitants, settlers began building a government district in Pipitea, with residencies and businesses encroaching on Te Aro. William’s antipathy, particularly towards Te Aro, may have stemmed from learned intertribal prejudice; Te Wharepouri called Te Aro a “slave settlement.”[48] Also, when a copy of the Treaty of Waitangi arrived on 29 April and gained thirty-four signatures, few were sought from Te Aro—only two Taranaki chiefs signed, none from Ngāti Ruanui.[49] Possible explanations aside, William wanted the land, considered it his, and occupied it.

Fig. 4. The Company’s plan for a settlement, drafted in London in 1839 to sell sections to settlers.

William’s administrative actions during this time worried Hobson in the north. In March, William formed a Council “to make regulations for preserving the peace of the Settlement.” As Council President, he also formed a settler militia, empowering himself with “the highest authority in directing the armed inhabitants.”[50] Louis E. Ward wrote in 1928 that the militia, compulsory for men aged 18 to 60, aimed to preserve “order and protection of life and property, and to uphold the power and authority of the British race.”[51] On 21 May, Hobson proclaimed sovereignty over New Zealand, yet his Ensign, A. D. W. Best, wrote how word reached Hobson of “a turbulent set of rebels, who were establishing a republic at Port Nicholson.” Referring to this “insurgent shore,” Best said thirty soldiers had been sent “to quell the rebellion!”[52] Hobson alleged William had “attempted to usurp the powers vested in me.”[53] On 25 May, he sent Shortland to Port Nicholson with the soldiers, labelling the settlers “demagogues.”[54] Shortland arrived on 4 June and recited Hobson’s proclamation of sovereignty. The insinuation that William and the settlers had displayed disloyalty to Britain strained their relationship with Hobson. Prominent settlers met on 1 July to discuss “the imputation upon their allegiance.” Speaking “in the most loyal terms,” they pledged “every assistance” to Hobson. Proving their sincerity, they proposed making Port Nicholson the seat of government and William travelled north to submit this in person.[55]

During William’s absence, Crown intervention in land issues began worrying settlers. Word arrived on 4 August that Gipps had passed the New Zealand Land Claims Act, fulfilling his January proclamation. Settler land purchased through the Company now awaited Crown investigation. The “injustice of this sweeping measure” alarmed settlers, some briefly considering relocating to Chile.[56] Others visited Sydney to petition Gipps, who made a special consideration after conceding the fairness of the value of goods paid in 1839.[57] The purchases still needed validation, but settlers considered them indisputable and called Gipps a friend.[58] William arrived back on 19 August, saying Hobson had welcomed him courteously and he passed on Hobson’s “sympathy for the community at Port Nicholson.” Alas, Hobson’s popularity still soured when William relayed his decision to make Auckland the seat of government.[59]

Hobson’s ‘snub’ aside, the Company, sure of their legal footing, released a town plan revealing their intention to relocate Māori. Labels of pā sites merely marked the vicinities where they presently stood, the plan replacing pā with streets and lots, and areas chosen for tenths were wholly unaccommodating of Māori custom.[60] (See Fig. 5). On 26 August, a fortnight after the plan’s publication, settler Edward Daniell began building on a lot overlapping with land Te Aro pā residents considered theirs. When an altercation arose, armed settlers made Māori back down. Shortland cautioned settlers “from assembling under arms on any pretence whatever, without being duly authorised so to do, upon the allegiance they owe to Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”[61] William wrote that Shortland was now “universally disliked.”[62] On 29 August, Shortland reached an agreement with Te Aro. Māori assigned him their rights, title and interest until the Company could prove they had bought the land fairly. If not, Shortland promised Māori compensation, but significantly not a return of the land. How well Māori understood the agreement is unclear.[63]

Fig. 5. Company plan for Wellington’s expansion by William Mein Smith, 14 August 1840, with native reserves coloured green. Pā (pah) labels are seen in the ocean, as if already removed, with streams used by pā (highlighted in blue) depicted but clearly intended to be replaced by development.

By 1840’s end, with the settlement now officially named Wellington, settlers and the Crown had entrenched themselves in its uncertain fate. On 16 November, the ‘Charter for erecting the Colony of New Zealand’ was signed in London, declaring New Zealand would become a separate Crown Colony on 3 May 1841 independent of NSW. On 19 November, the Company also secured an agreement whereby costs incurred in settling New Zealand on Britain’s behalf would be reimbursed in acres for new settlements. Then in exchange for a Royal Charter, the Company agreed to disclaim any purchases found to be invalid and handed over control of the tenths to the Crown.[64]

Tensions between all parties worsened in 1841. On 15 February, prominent settlers discussed Hobson’s latest perceived misconduct towards Wellington. “Viewing with surprise and disgust” Hobson’s “nefarious” enticements for labourers to move to Auckland (a practice known as ‘crimping’), they signed a petition calling for his removal.[65] But the opposite soon occurred; Hobson was promoted from Lieutenant-Governor to Governor on 3 May when New Zealand became a Crown Colony. On 9 June, he passed the Land Claims Ordinance, carrying over Gipps’ legislation requiring validation of all land sales. Meanwhile, expansive road building projects deteriorated relations between settlers and Māori. On 20 March, workers had completed the Hutt Road connecting the old and new settlement sites, cutting through Kaiwharawhara and driving out Ngāti Tama (Te Rauparaha allowed them to relocate to the Hutt Valley).[66] On 1 July, settlers reported to Police Magistrate Michael Murphy that Te Rangihaeata had destroyed bridges and felled trees, obstructing the new road linking Wellington to Porirua (also cutting through Kaiwharawhara) to prevent settler encroachment upon Ngāti Toa’s coastal territories. (See Fig. 6). Then on 5 August, the body of a Māori was found outside Te Aro pā. Settler doctors determined apoplexy as the cause of death, but disillusioned with settler activity, Te Wharepouri convinced other Māori a settler was guilty of murder. Hearing calls for blood, Murphy told settlers to arm themselves. That evening, William chaired a meeting, chastising Hobson for neglecting Wellington (having still never visited). Three resolutions passed: Crown protection was inadequate; settlers were in danger; settlers would defend themselves if necessary.[67] Two days passed with Māori and settlers bracing for violence. Fortunately, nothing happened.

Fig. 6. Aerial view of modern-day Wellington marked with locations of key settler activity c. 1841: Green) original Hutt Valley settlement site, rezoned for agriculture; Blue) new Lambton Harbour settlement site, zoned as government, commercial, and residential districts; White) Hutt Road; Yellow) Porirua Road; Red) disrupted pā sites; Black) undisrupted pā sites.

Hobson finally visited Wellington on 19 August but solved none of the settlement’s issues. Feeling he had shunned them, few settlers bothered to welcome him when he arrived. During his brief stay, Hobson visited Te Aro with Chief Protector of Aborigines George Clarke. Hearing residents’ grievances, Hobson authorised compensation of £50 if they moved to allocated tenths and it seemed an agreement was reached. However, after Hobson departed the following day, the pā’s residents reconsidered the offer and the issue remained unsolved. In the months following his Wellington visit, Hobson debated with Arthur Wakefield about the potential site of another Company settlement (Nelson).[68] They agreed upon a site in late 1841 and the first settlers arrived on 1 February 1842.[69] Nelson’s location in Te Rauparaha’s disputed South Island territory, which William claimed to have purchased in 1839, would soon have dramatic consequences.

Wellington’s situation complicated further when Spain arrived on 15 May 1842 to commence land investigations. William did not take the proceedings seriously, calling them “uncalled for” and predicting they would “disturb the settlers & the natives.”[70] Allowed to call witnesses, he presented just four: himself, Jerningham, his friend Dr. Dorset, and Te Puni. Questioned by William, Te Puni said he had agreed to sell his land, understanding the terms of the deed. Although he later said other chiefs agreed to sell their land, he initially stated only he and Te Wharepouri agreed to the sale. Even so, William considered his purchase “triumphantly established.” Spain felt otherwise and told him to call more witnesses. Te Wharepouri was away, so William questioned Wi Tako, the one chief from Kumutoto who had signed. Wi Tako said he never agreed to sell his land but accepted payment for the Tory’s right to anchor and as a present for marrying Te Wharepouri’s sister. Following this disaster, William refused to call more witnesses, but those called upon by Spain from Kumutoto, Pipitea, and Te Aro all repudiated the purchase.[71] Now realising the gravity of Spain’s investigation, William attempted to thwart it by stalling and not co-operating.[72] Spain wrote how William pursued an “undeviating system of opposition and annoyance […] he has done everything in his power to retard, and thrown everything in the way of, my proceedings.” William’s tactic to delay allowed more settlers to arrive and occupy land, making its return to Māori simply unfeasible. But Spain continued, and by late 1842, the Company’s position stood precariously.[73]

When Hobson died on 10 September 1842, Shortland administered the government until a replacement governor could arrive, but the situation worsened under his watch. William and many settlers considered Shortland pompous and incompetent, Auckland newspaper editor Samuel Martin calling him a “plague-spot” whose “demerits and incapacity” had “ruined New Zealand.”[74] During Shortland’s tenure, an incident occurred which local and British newspapers, called the “Wairau Massacre.”[75] Although Te Rauparaha considered the Wairau Valley his (believing he had only sold Taitapu in 1839), Nelson settlers sought to expand into it. (See Fig. 7). Te Rauparaha wanted to wait for Spain’s investigation, but surveyors began work anyway. Ngāti Toa responded by escorting the surveyors off the land and burning their hut. When Arthur led a group of armed settlers to execute an arrest warrant for arson, the confrontation turned deadly on 17 June 1843. Arthur surrendered but Te Rangihaeata killed him as utu when he discovered his wife, Te Rongo (Te Rauparaha’s daughter), had been killed in the crossfire. In total, twenty-two settlers and four Māori lost their lives.[76] For settlers and the British public this foreshadowed “a war of extermination between the Europeans and the native races.”[77] By 1844, immigration collapsed and Wellington’s population growth plateaued; annual settler arrivals was approximately 2,500 (1840), 650 (1841), 650 (1842), 250 (1843), 25 (1844).[78] The Company, already battling Crown involvement in land acquisition and disputes, faced financial ruin. Settlers felt abandoned by Shortland’s decision not to arrest Te Rangihaeata but to “warn all persons claiming land in this colony” against “exercising acts of ownership” towards “the original native owners.”[79] The CMS agreed with Shortland, as would Hobson’s replacement, FitzRoy, that Arthur should have waited for Spain’s adjudication.[80] But settlers claimed the Crown offered “official invitation” for Māori aggression, labelling any petty crimes involving Māori the “Fruits of Mr. Shortland’s Proclamation.”[81] Then on 12 September, three months after the Wairau Affray, Spain released his preliminary report. He ruled the 1839 purchases invalid, delivering the Company another heavy blow.[82]

Fig. 7. Aerial view of the modern-day Cook Strait region marked with key locations in 1843: 1) Kāpiti; 2) Wellington; 3) Taitapu (Golden Bay); 4) Nelson; 5) Wairau Valley.

By 1844, the Company’s enterprise in New Zealand sat exposed as illegal and unsafe. But sheer impracticality prevented the Crown from evicting thousands of settlers and returning the land to Māori, so Spain simply suggested the Company pay more for it.[83] Compensation as a means of resolution marked the completion of a transition, begun by the treaty, of ‘Māori New Zealand’ accommodating British intruders to ‘settler New Zealand’ tolerating Māori.[84] To help pay its debts, the Company again sought compensation for shouldering colonisation costs on Britain’s behalf. When Parliament rejected this effort in March 1844, the Company worked to establish a House of Commons Select Committee in the hopes of weakening the new governor, FitzRoy, and if possible, having him replaced with someone more sympathetic to their cause.[85]


The Company’s efforts to manipulate opinion began long before the House of Commons established the Select Committee on New Zealand on 26 April 1844 to investigate the Company’s grievances. Indeed, by the time FitzRoy’s governorship began on 23 December 1843, Company directors had already decided to try to destroy it;[86] the Committee simply gave directors a chance to “redress the wrongs inflicted on the Company” and potentially the means of forcing either a change of government policy or personnel.[87] FitzRoy’s appointment came recommended by the CMS, so the Company claimed his commitment to the “narrow philanthropy of the pure missionary system” caused him to doubt the “benefits of civilisation” were “the last hope for the natives.”[88] Certain FitzRoy would worsen their position, the Company wanted him replaced with someone who shared their agenda. However, directors in London faced a dilemma: they needed to convince the Committee of Wellington’s dire state, but they still needed to attract new colonists; they needed to ruin FitzRoy’s reputation, but not Wellington’s. Directors had two means of managing this balancing act: submitting carefully chosen evidence to the Committee and relying on their long-running propaganda campaign. To both these ends, William proved useful.

The Company submitted to the Committee nine hundred pages of appended evidence that allegedly proved the Crown’s failings. Alongside annual reports, meeting minutes, financial statements, memos, instructions to agents, deeds, correspondence, and eye-witness accounts and testimonies, approximately fifty of William’s letters and dispatches were included. The delay in sending material between Wellington and London prevented William from contributing evidence specifically for the Committee, however, what he had sent directors over the years provided a valuable service to the Company effort. While William wrote to directors in a mostly professional manner about day-to-day Company business, a clear theme did emerge when he shared personal views: the Company and its settlers were innocent and addressing Crown failings would allow Wellington to flourish.

William’s letters from 1841 to June 1843 (before the Wairau Affray) revealed his attempts to scapegoat Crown officials for Wellington’s problems, caused by their action and inaction. Regarding land issues, he wrote on 26 February 1841, “The conduct of Captain Hobson has naturally given much uneasiness” to settlers, particularly capitalists fearing “a deficiency of labour.”[89] On 12 October, he blamed Hobson and Clarke for inspiring “considerable annoyance from the natives,” describing Māori as “perfectly satisfied and quiet” until this point, as if the tension caused by the Company had not previously existed. He added, “[Māori] have been advised by Mr. Clarke […] to withstand the occupation of the land by the white population.” On 5 November, he wrote how Clarke’s “mischievous exhortations” had “frustrated my efforts to remove [Māori] to the places destined by the Company for them” and was “likely to produce great mischief and litigation.”[90] On 24 January 1842, William alleged the Crown had “always shown itself unfriendly to the rapid progress of the Company’s settlement” and that the “hostility of the local Government must either give way or be removed.”[91] On 29 August, he wrote, “Except by means of remonstrance and bribes, the natives here are unchecked in their lawless courses […] [Murphy] professes inability to interfere until the question of title has been set at rest by a grant from the Crown.”[92] Then six months before Wairau, William warned Shortland on 23 January 1843 of Ngāti Toa’s growing hostility, writing, “unless some decisive measures are adopted […] they must eventually end in collision between the two races.”[93]

William’s letters after the Wairau Affray in June 1843 show his intensified hostility towards the Crown and presentation of Māori as lawless. While not always about Wellington directly, they presented the Committee with the wider context of events surrounding the settlement. On 7 September, he wrote that if the Crown did not send troops to Nelson, it “would put the property of the settlers at the mercy of a lawless mob.”[94] He wrote on 12 December, “That this resistance, and the disposition to deny the validity of British law, by the natives, have been called into existence by the inaction of the Government respecting the late massacre, no sane man in the colony disputes.”[95] Company directors also submitted a series of letters between William and Matthew Richmond, who worked for Spain. On 22 September, Richmond requested William put a stop to a surveyor’s work in Wairau, worried of “the excitement it will create among the natives.” The next day, William informed Richmond that the surveyor in question was not a Company employee but he would instruct “the Company’s agent at Nelson in no way to sanction or countenance the progress.” A month later, Richmond warned William that the surveyor was still working and again asked him to stop “a work which is fraught with so much danger to the whole community.” William reiterated that the surveyor was not his employee and therefore beyond his control.[96] This exchange supposedly illustrated how the Company was expected to resolve matters that were the Crown’s responsibility. In the Company’s view, after being prohibited from forming militias by the Crown, they were then expected to exercise force to protect the community. The implication was that Crown officials exhibited a pattern of contradictory, ineffective, and ultimately dangerous behaviour.

William’s letters from early 1844 showed the Company’s apparent perseverance despite Crown-manufactured problems and their willingness to work with the Crown in everyone’s best interests following Spain’s report. On 12 February 1844, William wrote of five thousand acres of new land being prepared for settlement, adding, “the natives of this district are to receive further payment.” In correspondence between himself and Clarke regarding compensation the Company owed, William said he wanted to “prevent any future accusations of not having sufficiently paid for the land.” Although he doubted compensation would work, he nonetheless agreed to it:

Serious doubts are entertained by many of our most intelligent setters, whether these further payments will have the effect of ensuring quiet occupation of the land; and I cannot but participate in such doubts, after the repeated breaches of contract I have witnessed on the part of the natives. I can only, however, now follow the course pointed out by the Governor, and leave the questions it may engender to his management.

When Clarke requested information to determine what compensation the Company owed Māori, William sent him a report from the Company’s Survey Office. After Clarke calculated the Company owed £1,500, William said he was unqualified to judge Clarke’s assessment but he was “desirous to enable you to satisfy all the native claimants to these lands, and to avoid the delay of a reference to the Commissioner,” adding, “I am at once prepared to provide you the sum you have named.”[97] William’s letters to Clarke portrayed the Company as trusting and co-operative, characteristics totally absent in reality.

William had also forwarded to London accounts from other Company officials that painted FitzRoy in a negative light. William’s cousin, Francis Bell, worked as a Company secretary in Nelson and wrote a detailed account of witnessing FitzRoy’s meeting with Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata in Waikanae on 11 February 1844. Importantly, it detailed Bell’s version of Te Rauparaha’s version of events in Wairau, in which Te Rauparaha had allegedly stated Arthur was killed, despite surrendering, because it was Māori custom “after a fight to kill the chief men of their enemies.” According to Bell, FitzRoy told Te Rauparaha settlers were in the wrong but “you committed a horrible crime in murdering men who had surrendered themselves.” Bell added, “Such a proceeding was hardly calculated to impress the natives with a just idea of the course of justice of British law.” William had also shared an account by William Fox, Arthur’s replacement as Nelson’s Company agent, of FitzRoy’s visit to the settlement. According to Fox, FitzRoy expressed sympathy for Wairau’s victims. However, he also “expressed the strongest possible disapprobation” of the settlers involved, suggesting theirs was “an act of the grossest indiscretion, bearing the marks of extreme haste, and calculated to bring on a war of extermination.” Fox added, “Hence the natives justified in resisting, and the result justifiable homicide.” These accounts present FitzRoy as continuing the tradition of what the Company considered disastrous Crown mismanagement, particularly in relation to Wellington’s greatest threat, Ngāti Toa.

Further evidence of the Crown’s purported shortcomings appeared in letters William forwarded to London from Fox and John Wicksteed, the Company agent in New Plymouth. These letters illustrated how Nelson and New Plymouth faced similar problems as Wellington and suggested once more that the Crown was to blame. Written after an attack on a settler’s farm, one letter from Wicksteed to the Colonial Office in Auckland read, “That the sanction of the Government ought to be accorded to the establishment of a local militia, or that a small body of regular troops should be stationed in New Plymouth for the preservation of the public peace, is now the universal opinion of the settlers.” In Nelson, Fox highlighted the recurring theme of ongoing Crown neglect when it failed to provide relief to the widows of Wairau’s fallen. Fox wrote to William that “the probable consequence of the Government neglecting to afford relief in such cases” was “that men will not be found to regard their lives in obedience to a Government which provides no aid for their widows and families.” Fox added, “those feelings of allegiance by which protection is reciprocated will be much weakened, if not entirely dissolved, by such neglect.”[98]

Fig. 8. Left to right: George Clarke (Chief Protector of Aborigines), William Fox (Company agent in Nelson, Arthur Wakefield’s replacement), Francis Bell (Company secretary in Nelson, cousin of the Wakefield brothers), and John Wicksteed (Company agent in New Plymouth).

In sum, William provided the Company with sufficient correspondence, either written by himself or by others, that showed Crown officials as inept and therefore dangerous. According to William, the Crown carried all the responsibility for the problems facing Wellington and other settlements. William’s correspondence told those in London nothing of his own controversial decisions and actions but crafted a blatantly false image of himself as willing to co-operate with the Crown and the Land Claims Commission.

As the Company’s principal agent in New Zealand, William had influence over the creation of propaganda to help sway public and parliamentary opinion in London. While not specifically aimed at Committee members, this long-running propaganda campaign formed a crucial part of the Company’s effort to control perceptions of New Zealand in Britain. Through propaganda, William fostered an idea of Wellington and its settlers that garnered sympathy, pride, and curiosity in the imaginations of the British public.

The artwork of Company draughtsman Charles Heaphy offers an example of this propaganda. The young artist travelled to New Zealand aboard the Tory in 1839 under William’s command at the impressionable age of 19. Throughout 1840 and 1841, he explored land around Wellington, tasked by William to depict the settlement’s progress. Heaphy’s work focused on the positive aspects of the colonisation effort that William wanted to promote, such as construction, infrastructure, and commerce. Importantly, Heaphy’s artworks largely hid the presence of Māori, and if they were shown, they usually appeared in exoticist ways, placed in the frame merely for composition and geographic context. When Māori were visible in this way, they were seen loitering under the Union Jack, never doing anything productive, and nothing of their pā, cultivations, or customs were shown. As well as Māori being mostly absent, nothing of Wellington’s problems appeared in the images Heaphy created either, allowing William to showcase his settlement in favourable ways. (See Figs. 9–11).

When Heaphy’s contract with William ended, he returned to London in 1842 and published his artworks alongside an account, Narrative of a Residence in Various Parts of New Zealand, under the name “Charles Heaphy, Draftsman to the New Zealand Company.”[99] He began his account by attempting to distance himself from notions of propaganda, writing, “having been in the service of the Company […] it may be imagined that I am interested in upholding its principles, and am now writing by its dictation. This, however, is not the case.” But he added, “I must own, that from having witnessed the successful working of the Company’s plans, I am inclined to think that its system of colonization is the best, and am predisposed in its favour.”[100]

Fig. 9. Sketch of Wellington by Charles Heaphy highlighting various settler features, c. 1841. Pā are not visible and the only reference to Māori appears last in the key, which reads “x x x Native Potatoe Plantations” (outlined in red). The faint x’s appear scattered in the distant hillsides (outlined in blue).
Fig. 10. Painting of Wellington by Charles Heaphy (based on Fig. 3.2), c. 1841. No pā are visible, though several should be. Māori are seen, but merely to add exotic context and fill in the frame, taking instructions from a settler while appearing underneath a British symbol and lazily watching industrious settlers below.
Fig. 11. Painting of Wellington by Charles Heaphy, September 1841. The Māori waka visible in the foreground (outlined in red) is the only indication that an indigenous population exists. Meanwhile, Māori themselves are not visible, nor are their pā.

Whatever Heaphy’s intentions, the Company’s propaganda machine benefited from his art and writings. Heaphy wrote, “On entering Port Nicholson, one is struck with the grandeur of the view […] On examining the bay, we found an inner harbour, with a convenient site for a town on its shores.” He made sure to note “the desire of the aborigines for its settlement by white people.”[101] Of the 1839 purchase, he wrote, “In the acquisition of the district from the natives, great care was taken that they should fully comprehend the terms on which they relinquished their rights.” From his perspective, this may have seemed the case. However, it is difficult to understand how he formed the following impression if not from pure imagination or a deliberate attempt to exonerate the Company: “On being told the amount of the immediate payment, their most influential chiefs replied, ‘that they cared but little about what would be given them for their land, but that they wanted white men and women to settle amongst them, and to bring cattle, and grow corn’.”[102] For good measure, he added, “Very few of the natives in the Company’s settlements repent having sold their land.”[103] As if defending the absence of pā in his artworks, Heaphy wrote how “the fast disappearance of the native huts about Wellington” resulted from “their inhabitants discovering the superior comfort of more roomy houses built in the English mode.”[104] When describing the Hutt Road as “an ornament to the colony,” he made no mention of the destruction of Kaiwharawhara nor the displacement of its people.[105]

Unlike his artwork, Heaphy’s writing did acknowledge Wellington’s problems, but like William, he blamed them on the Crown. He suggested, “[Māori] are contented with the quantity of land reserved for them, and now never interfere with the location of the settlers on their respective property.” Māori, he wrote, “were on excellent terms with the settlers.” However, he alleged Crown officials bore responsibility for making Māori “dissatisfied with their altered condition.” Heaphy also blamed the Crown for causing undue anxiety within the settlement, writing, “the colonists were given to understand that from the Government they would have no title to the land, and that should they commence cultivation or building on the site of the town, their property would be liable to forfeiture, and themselves to ejection.” He lamented, “In the state of uncertainty caused by this system of Government, the settlers could not, of course, proceed with any degree of assurance.” Sadly, “[settlers] soon lost much of the spirit and confidence which they had manifested before the interference of Government.”[106] Noting the mood improved after settlers petitioned Gipps in Sydney in August 1840, however, Heaphy concluded, “There are now no apparent obstacles to the progress of the Colony. At Wellington, in particular, the settlers have had much to discourage them; but the crisis is now past.”[107] That events in following years contradicted Heaphy’s optimism surely engendered more sympathy for the Company and settlers and resentment towards the Crown. Company surveyor William Mein Smith (who chose the original settlement site in January 1840 in William’s absence and who drafted the new town plan in August 1840) also produced artworks of a similar utility for the Company’s propaganda purposes. Tasked by William to audit the land in preparation for its sale and development, Smith created images like Heaphy’s showcasing Wellington’s progress.[108] Using the same vantage points overlooking the city, many of the characteristics found in Heaphy’s artworks regarding the depictions of Māori also appeared in Smith’s work. Repeated motifs in these two artists’ work suggest the presence of either a shared Company consensus among them or Company oversight of the production of such propaganda, or both. (See Fig. 12).

Fig. 12. The 1845 lithograph version of an 1842 painting of Wellington by William Mein Smith that appeared in Edward Jerningham Wakefield’s Adventure in New Zealand, from 1839 to 1844. No pā are visible, but Māori are shown as marvelling at British culture, being spoken down to underneath the British flag, and generally benefiting from their encounter and trade with settlers.

The New Zealand Journal, published fortnightly from February 1840 and to which William contributed regularly, served as the Company’s loudest propaganda mouthpiece to the British public.[109] Edited by Henry Samuel Chapman, a Wakefield supporter, the journal was broken into regional columns, its content mostly comprising of carefully chosen editorials, newspaper articles, and settler correspondence.[110] The journal, generally painting a positive picture, was revealing for what it did and did not say. For example, amidst the problems with the Hutt and Porirua Roads, the journal published a settler’s letter that read, “This place is going on very finely; they are making fine roads and grand houses.”[111] Likewise, despite worsening tensions between settlers and Māori, the journal described New Zealand as “the brightest gem in Britain’s crown, her noblest effort at colonisation.”[112] Not to seem illegitimate, the journal did sometimes acknowledge Wellington’s problems. Like William and other Company associates, however, it always blamed the Crown and tried to remain positive, one editorial reading:

Spain’s court of claims has done a deal of mischief more than anticipated, and more than he can quiet. In the 3rd year a cruel stop is putting to agricultural exertions just at springtime. Whenever an Englishman sits down to clear, even on the Porirua Road or in the valley of the hill, the natives make their appearance, and claim payment for the land […] Notwithstanding these obstacles […] everyone feels assured of the profit for his labours.[113]

William’s frequent contributions to the journal pushed his ongoing narrative. The 19 August 1843 issue included a letter from 28 January 1843 from William to the Company Secretary, in which William boasted about the progress of the roads linking Wellington to the Hutt and Porirua. He made no mention of the tensions these roads caused between Māori and settlers.[114] His official account of Wairau, written on 28 June 1843, appeared in the journal’s final issue of 1843 (it was also included in the Company’s appended evidence to the Committee).[115] William suggested Spain failed to stop Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata, whom he described as alcoholics, from travelling to Wairau, where they “immediately commenced the obstruction of the survey, and finally burned down the reed house of one of the contractors.” According to William, Arthur then “put in execution the warrant against Rauperaha and Rangehaiata [sic].” When the parties met, “An accidental discharge from a musket carried by one of these then took place, and a moment afterwards a volley from both parties ensued.” He wrote that after “Repeated attempts to rally the fugitives proving ineffectual, Captain Wakefield called on [his men] to throw down their arms and surrender.” When Te Rangihaeata discovered his wife had been killed in the crossfire, he then “with his own hand and tomahawk” killed his prisoners.[116] William’s account was consistent with his other approaches to characterise the Crown as guilty of both failing to protect settlers and the Company, who were innocent, and of encouraging violence from Māori, who were peaceful until the Crown inspired resistance.

Following FitzRoy’s arrival in New Zealand in late 1843, 1844’s first journal issue published William’s 1842 letters to Hokianga Police Magistrate Arthur McDonogh, suggesting William had predicted the violence that happened in Wairau due to Crown negligence, as had his letters presented to the Committee. He wrote, “The community here deprecates a collision with the Aborigines,” adding, “It is certain, however, that to avoid it a military post should be established on shores of Cook’s Strait, and that the Police Magistrate should be instructed to repress violence and robbery by the Natives.” But, of course, the Company had been disarmed by the Crown, so William wrote, “I must, however, impress upon you, the importance of the Directors reclaiming, at the hands of the Colonial Minister, protection for the settlers at this part of the island.” The same issue printed another of William’s letters to McDonogh, furthering his presentation of Māori as marauders:

In spite of the strongest remonstrances on my part, and the expression of indignation at the total neglect of this question by Governor Hobson, no notice has ever been taken of it by him. The single Police Magistrate and twelve constables under his orders, form the whole protective force of this settlement; and whenever the public has offered to obey the Magistrate in the suppression of Native aggressions on property, their services have been declined.

Similarly, another letter read:

[Hobson] professes inability to interfere […] The predictions which I hazard in 1839, as to the mischievous practices of Rauperaha [sic] are now being realized, for want of a company of soldiers, or the formation of a militia, and the instructions to the Police Magistrate, forbidding his interference against the Natives, lease us without remedy or redress. The law, which is rigidly put in force at their instance, against the white man, has hitherto been in all these disputes dormant against the aborigines.[117]

While the letters railed against Hobson, the timing of their publication in the journal clearly aimed to imply FitzRoy was cut from the same cloth, another missionary governor soft on Māori but hard on settlers. Clearly, only a more militant governor, one prepared to reinforce William and address the issues he persistently raised, could repair the situation.


The contents of the Committee’s report reflect the Company’s success in influencing the outcome, an effort clearly aided by William. Published on 29 July 1844, the report’s first resolution described the Company’s behaviour in 1839 as “not only without sanction, but in direct defiance of the authority of the Crown,” calling it “highly irregular and improper.” However, there the reprimand ended. The second and third resolutions condemned the Treaty of Waitangi as “part of a series of injudicious proceedings” that “was an error which has been productive of very injurious consequences.” Resolutions four to ten, and resolution twelve, offered solutions to land disputes and the tenths, all of which benefitted the Company. Resolution eleven condemned Spain and echoed William’s narrative, stating, “it appears by Evidence, that the non-settlement of the Land Claims has been productive of great confusion and mischief in the colony.” Resolutions thirteen and fourteen dealt with the issue of security that William constantly raised, stating, “the Governor should have more effectual means of enforcing obedience to his authority” and “the settlers should be organized as a militia, under the orders and control of the Governor.” Resolutions fifteen to seventeen focused on Māori, of whom a “trustworthy” force should be raised, “officered in general by Europeans.” Māori employment in civil service was described as “highly desirable,” but “efforts should be made gradually to wean the Natives from their ancient customs.” This last point cited South Australia Governor George Grey’s report on how to introduce civilisation to indigenous Australians. This point warrants mention as Grey, far more militant in his approach, would eventually replace FitzRoy in New Zealand on 18 November 1845. The last two resolutions simply praised the Company for the tenths system and mourned Arthur Wakefield’s fate in Wairau.[118]

While historians agree on the favourable nature of the report, debate remains over its impact on FitzRoy’s governorship. The report’s immediate outcome disappointed the Company, Burns writes that their initial feeling of vindication was quashed when “little or no practical effect” eventuated. The report’s condemnation of the Treaty of Waitangi left Colonial Secretary Lord Stanley and FitzRoy little option but to ignore it; they could not abandon their agreement with Māori, nor did they want to. News of the report’s outcome reached New Zealand in December 1844, but FitzRoy, unable and unwilling, implemented none of its resolutions.[119] Temple agrees that while the Company celebrated the report’s “public triumph,” the treaty dashed any hope of implementing its resolutions.[120] FitzRoy survived the report’s immediate aftermath, and on 4 February 1845, Stanley wrote to him, saying, “I do not think the Report of the Committee renders it necessary that I should in any way modify the instructions which you have already received.”[121] By April, however, Stanley had changed his mind, and on 5 May, the decision to recall FitzRoy was announced in parliament.[122]

Interpretations differ as to the report’s contribution to Stanley’s rapid change of heart and FitzRoy’s demise. Johnathan Adams’ 1986 article detailing FitzRoy’s recall does not mention the report but cites FitzRoy’s economic decisions as Stanley’s motivation.[123] Wards also shies away from elevating the report’s role, suggesting FitzRoy’s recall and replacement with Grey came about because “Few of the problems confronting [FitzRoy] during his term could be solved within the limits of his means or his instructions […] almost every decision he made, was technically, a wrong one.”[124] In other words, though the Company sought FitzRoy’s ruin from the outset, circumstance had already done much of their bidding. Wards does accept, however, that by presenting FitzRoy with resolutions he had no choice but to ignore, the Company underlined his connections to the ‘failed’ governments of Hobson and Shortland.[125] Temple and Burns go further, arguing the report became a valuable piece of propaganda that FitzRoy could not endure.[126] Bruns quotes W. P. Morrell, who wrote in 1930 that the report “raked over the ashes of every controversy of the past in such a way as to add fuel to the wrath of the Company against the Government.”[127] Burns suggests that in early 1845, encouraged by the report and also by the recent success of Jerningham’s Adventure in New Zealand, Company propaganda and lobbying reached its height, forcing Stanley’s hand.[128] This dispute goes beyond the scope of my research, but there clearly remains more opportunity for historians to explore both William’s and the Committee’s roles in bringing about a fundamental change to the course of New Zealand history.


In 1839, Te Whanganui-a-Tara’s complex tribal arrangement collided with cunning colonisers, and while ignorance ran both ways and trouble ensued, it was the British who benefitted from the encounter. As the principal agent of the New Zealand Company, William Wakefield’s actions between 1839 to 1844 helped cause that trouble. However, in his varied communications relaying the situation on the ground in Wellington to London, he never acknowledged any wrongdoing. Instead, William scapegoated the Crown, especially after the Wairau Affray in 1843, blaming it for Wellington’s problems and for pitting settlers and Māori against each other. Company artists depicted Wellington as mostly lacking an indigenous presence, while William’s correspondence to London increasingly presented Māori as a lawless threat; the presentation of Māori clearly dependent on William’s changing propaganda needs. When the House of Commons established the Select Committee on New Zealand in 1844, William’s correspondence and contributions to the Company’s ongoing propaganda campaign helped push the narrative that if New Zealand had a Company-friendly government, Māori and settler populations would flourish. A comparison of William’s assertions versus the reality shows how far he bent the truth. A far more accurate description of the situation was that the Company’s behaviour forced Crown intervention, and once both embroiled, neither party acted in ways entirely beneficial to the colony’s inhabitants, indigenous or immigrant. William, for his part, helped ensure that Wellington, a city prone to earthquakes, stood upon unstable foundations in more ways than one.

[1] Michael King, The Penguin History of New Zealand (Australia: Penguin Books, 2003), p. 171

[2] Edward Gibbon Wakefield, ‘Appendix: Outline of a System of Colonization’, A Letter From Sydney, the Principal Town of Australasia ed. Robert Gouger (London: Joseph Cross, 1829), pp. iii–xxiv.

[3] ‘South Australia Act, or Foundation Act, 1834,’ Museum of Australian Democracy, foundingdocs.gov.au/item-did-1.html; accessed 16 March 2021.

[4] Edwyna Harris and Sumner La Croix, ‘When Colonization Goes South: Understanding the Reasons Behind the Failure of Wakefield’s Systematic Colonization in South Australia,’ Lecture, ASSA Meetings, Atlanta, GA, 3 December 2018.

[5] EGW, The British Colonization of New Zealand; being an account of the principles, objects, and plans of the New Zealand Association (London: John W. Parker, 1837), pp. 28–9.

[6] Patricia Burns, Fatal Success: A History of the New Zealand Company ed. Henry Richardson (Auckland: Heinemann Reed, 1989), pp. 44–5.

[7] Dandeson Coates, The Principles, Objects and Plan of the New Zealand Association examined, in a letter to the Right Hon. Lord Glenelg, Secretary of State for the Colonies (London: 1837).

[8] ‘Parliamentary Intelligence: New Zealand Bill,’ Times, 21 June 1838.

[9] Burns, p. 64.

[10] Edward Betts Hopper, ‘Diary of Edward Betts Hopper,’ 1839, Alexander Turnbull Library, in Burns, pp. 13–4.

[11] Louis E. Ward, Early Wellington (Wellington: Whitecombe & Tombs, 1928), p. 23.

[12] Burns, p. 33.

[13] ‘Wednesday, July 12, 1843,’ New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, 4/262, 12 July 1843, p. 2.

[14] ‘Report from the Select Committee on New Zealand; Together with the Minutes of Evidence, Appendix, and Index,’ House of Commons, 29 July 1844, in British Parliamentary Papers: Colonies, New Zealand, Vol. 2 (Shannon: Irish University Press, 1968), p. ii.

[15] Rebecca Burke, “Friendly relations between the two races were soon established”?: Pākehā interactions with Māori in the planned settlements of Wellington, Nelson and New Plymouth, 1840–1860 (PhD Thesis: Victoria University of Wellington, 2014), p. 32.

[16] Ian Wards, The Shadow of the Land: A Study of British Policy and Racial Conflict in New Zealand 1832–1852 (Wellington: Department of Internal Affairs, 1968), p. 93.

[17] Burns, p. 254.

[18] Philip Temple, A Sort of Conscience: The Wakefields (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2002), p. 375.

[19] R. P. Boast, ‘Ngati Toa Lands Research Project: Report One, 1800 to 1870,’ Waitangi Tribunal, 2007, p. 131.

[20] ‘Te Whanganui A Tara Me Ona Takiwa: Report on the Wellington District,’ WT, 2003, § 2.7, p. 44.

[21] Burns, p. 113.

[22] WT, 2007, § 2.7, pp. 44–9; Rosemarie V. Tonk, The First New Zealand Land Commissions, 1840–1845 (Master Thesis: University of Canterbury, 1987), p.143.

[23] Edward Jerningham Wakefield, Adventure in New Zealand, from 1839 to 1844: Vol. I (London: John Murray, 1845), p. 71.

[24] Burns, p. 113; WT, § 3.5.1, p. 52.

[25] William Wakefield, ‘Colonel Wakefield’s Journal,’ ATL, AAYZ 8971, NZC 3/1/1, Dispatch No. 2, Folios 54–128, 6 September–9 October 1839, p. 29; Angela Caughly, The Interpreter: The Biography of Richard ‘Dicky’ Barrett (Auckland: David Bateman, 1998), p. 269.

[26] Caughly, p. 15.

[27] Burns, p. 113; WT, § 3.5.1, p 52; WW, p. 13; Caughly, p. 269.

[28] WW, p. 24.

[29] Instructions to Colonel Wakefield, in BPP,p. 579.

[30] EJW, Vol. I, p. 85.

[31] WT, 2003, § 3.5.5, pp. 57–8.

[32] Port Nicholson Deed of Purchase, 27 September 1839, in WT, 2003, p. 497.

[33] WW, p. 29.

[34] WT, 2003, § 8.6.1, p. 176.

[35] EJW, Vol. I, p. 85.

[36] WT, 2003, § 8.6.1, p. 176.

[37] Ibid, § 3.2.4, p. 48.

[38] Richard Barrett to William Spain, ‘Richard Barrett’s evidence in the Court of Land Claims Commission,’ 8 February 1843, ATL, f-88-103, Case 374b; Tonk, p. 337.

[39] WT, 2003, § 3.5.5, p. 57.

[40] Ibid, § 3.7.3, pp. 63–4.

[41] WW, p. 35.

[42] Ibid, pp. 42–6.

[43] WT, 2003, § 3.6.1, pp. 58–9.

[44] Ward, pp. 23–9.

[45] WT, 2003, § 3.8.3, p. 67.

[46] Ibid, § 5.3.2, p. 85.

[47] WW, p. 68.

[48] WT, 2003, § 3.5.4, p. 56.

[49] ‘Treaty signatories and signing locations,’ New Zealand History, nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/treaty/nga-tohu-treaty-signatories; accessed 15 April 2021.

[50] ‘The Provisional Constitution,’ New Zealand Gazette, 18/2, 18 April 1840, p. 2.

[51] Ward, p. 51.

[52] A. D. W. Best, Journal of Ensign Best, 1837-1843, ed. Nancy Taylor (Wellington: Government Printer, 1966), p. 409.

[53] WT, 2003, § 5.2.1, p. 82.

[54] EJW, Vol. I, p. 360–1.

[55] Ibid, pp. 346–7.

[56] EJW, Vol. I, pp. 354–8.

[57] Tonk, p. 40.

[58] ‘Saturday, Nov. 14, 1840,’ New Zealand Gazette and Britannia Spectator, 1/31, 14 November 1840, p. 2.

[59] Temple, p. 278.

[60] WT, 2003, § 5.4.1, p. 91.

[61] ‘Notice,’ New Zealand Gazette and Britannia Spectator, 1/21, 29 August 1840, p. 1.

[62] Ward, p. 68.

[63] WT, 2003, § 5.3.4, p. 87.

[64] WT, 2003, § 5.4.2, p. 92.

[65] EJW, Vol. I, p. 440.

[66] ‘Te Kaeaea Biography,’ Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1t38/te-kaeaea; accessed 17 April 2021.

[67] Ward, pp. 89–90.

[68] Temple, pp. 291–4; EJW, Vol. II, p. 44–6, 53–4.

[69] Burns, p. 187.

[70] Temple, p. 300.

[71] WT, 2003, § 3.7.1, p. 61.

[72] Burns, p. 214.

[73] Ibid, p. 224–5.

[74] Raewyn Dalziel, “The Politics of Settlement,” in The Oxford History of New Zealand: Second Edition ed. Geoffrey W. Rice (Auckland: Oxford University Press), p. 89; S. M. D. Martin, New Zealand; In A Series of Letters (London: Simmonds & Ward, 1845), p. 24.

[75] ‘Massacre at Wairau,’ New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, 4/259, 1 July 1843, p. 2; ‘Wairau Massacre,’ Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 2/92, 9 December 1843, p, 365; ‘Massacre of English Colonists at New Zealand, by the Natives,’ Hull Packet, 22 December 1843, p. 4; ‘Horrible Massacre in New Zealand,’ Waterford Mail, 23 December 1843, p. 1; ‘New Zealand – The Wairau Massacre,’ Glasgow Citizen, 21 September 1844, p. 2; ‘New Zealand – The Wairau Massacre,’ Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 23 September 1844, p. 1.

[76] ‘Wairau affray, 1843,’ Te Ara, teara.govt.nz/en/artwork/28561/wairau-affray-1843; accessed 12 April 2021.

[77] ‘Wairau Massacre,’ New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, 4/304, 6 December 1843, p. 2.

[78] Ward, p. 75, 471; King, p. 172.

[79] Willoughby Shortland, Proclamation, in Robert Stokes, A Letter to the Right Hon. The Earl of Devon, on the late Massacre at Wairau (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844), pp. 81–2.

[80] Paul Moon and Peter Biggs, The Treaty and its Times (Auckland: Resource Books, 2004), p. 85; King, p. 182.

[81] ‘The Fruits of Mr. Shortland’s Proclamation,’ New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, in Stokes, p. 85; ‘Proclamation,’ New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, 4/269, 5 August 1843, p. 3; ‘Shortland’s Proclamation,’ New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, 4/280, 13 September 1843, p. 2; ‘More Fruits of the Proclamation,’ New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, 4/283, p. 3.

[82] WT, 2003, § 3.7.3, pp. 63–4.

[83] Temple, p. 309.

[84] Claudia Orange, The Treaty of Waitangi (Wellington: Allen and Unwin, 1987), p. 31.

[85] Burns, pp. 252–4; WT, 2007, p. 315.

[86] Paul Moon, FitzRoy: Governor in Crisis 1843-1845 (Auckland: David Ling Publishing, 2000), p. 77; Wards, p. 71.

[87] New Zealand Company Minutes, HL CO 208/179, p. 32, in Temple, p. 374.

[88] EJW, Vol. II, pp. 470–1.

[89] BPP, p. 638.

[90] BPP, pp. 546–7.

[91] Ibid, p. 551.

[92] Ibid, p. 693.

[93] Ibid, p. 685.

[94] Ibid, p. 727.

[95] Ibid, p. 745.

[96] Ibid, pp. 414–5.

[97] BPP, pp. 417–20.

[98] BPP, pp. 421–9.

[99] Charles Heaphy, Narrative of a Residence in Various Parts of New Zealand: Together with a Description of the Present State of the Company’s Settlements (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1842), p. i.

[100] Ibid, pp. vii–viii.

[101] Briar Gordon and Peter Stupples, Charles Heaphy (Wellington: Pitman Publishing New Zealand, 1987), pp. 3–5.

[102] Heaphy, p. 4.

[103] Ibid, p. 65.

[104] Heaphy, p. 52.

[105] Ibid, p. 78.

[106] Ibid, pp. 5–10.

[107] Ibid, p. 115.

[108] ‘Smith, William Mein,’ Te Ara,teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1s16/smith-william-mein; accessed 23 August 2021.

[109] ‘The New Zealand Journal,’ Te Ara, teara.govt.nz/en/zoomify/44366/the-new-zealand-journal; accessed 18 May 2021.

[110] ‘Chapman, Henry Samuel,’ Te Ara, teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1c14/chapman-henry-samuel; accessed 23 August 2021.

[111] The New Zealand Journal, 7 January 1843 to 20 December 1845, microfilm, Kelburn Library, Victoria University of Wellington, p. 44.

[112] Ibid, p. 66.

[113] NZJ, p. 116.

[114] Ibid, pp. 213–4.

[115] BPP, pp. 693–5.

[116] NZJ, p. 331.

[117] NZJ, p. 342.

[118] BPP, pp. xii–iv; Wards, pp. 172–3.

[119] Burns, p. 255; D. Moore, B. Rigby, and M. Russell, ‘Old Land Claims,’ WT, 1997, § 8.20, p. 210.

[120] Temple, pp. 375–6.

[121] Lord Stanley to Robert FitzRoy, 4 February 1845, in The Westminster Review: Volume XLV; March and June, 1846 (New York: Leonard Scott & Co, 1846), p. 114.

[122] House of Commons Debate, 5 May 1845, vol. 80, cols. 172–3, UK Parliament, hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1845-05-05/debates/6b68de1b-1c11-4a55-8d5c-2fff2b6e5551/NewZealand%E2%80%94CaptainFitzroy; accessed 17 September 2021.

[123] Johnathan Adams, “Governor FitzRoy’s Debentures and their Role in his Recall,” New Zealand Journal of History, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1986, p. 44.

[124] Wards, p. 72.

[125] Ibid, p. 94.

[126] Temple, p. 377.

[127] Burns, p. 255.

[128] Ibid, pp. 263–6.

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