There is much being said about how New Zealand has memorialised historical figures who have contributed to our past. Of concern is the role and glorification of these people and their impact on our country. Like many, what I knew about these famed men and their accomplishments was mostly from what I’d learned in school, and that wasn’t much.
As it turned out, what school did teach me regarding New Zealand’s history and our founding fathers, was neither accurate nor complete. In fact, even today, historical websites in New Zealand still detail incorrect information about our history.
It was while researching for my New Zealand historical fiction novel, For Want of a Shilling, that I first became aware of these inconsistencies and I decided to investigate further. I researched original documentation from New Zealand’s national archives, and this is how I came to author the novel, Boundary, which details the exploits of the New Zealand Company.
Were we deceived by unscrupulous scoundrels and snake oil salesman?
Simply answered, yes. During the early days of our colonization, newspapers were how most people were kept up to date with the latest happenings. However, and typically, newspapers were not unbiased, they were essentially a useful medium to spread misinformation and advance political agendas – Fake News.
First published in England by the New Zealand Company, The New Zealand Gazette was our first newspaper, and was simply created to promote company interests and to ensure that colonists’ sympathies were in total alignment.
They could also target people who opposed or resisted them. Respected Māori chief, Te Rauparaha, Isaac Featherston and Lieutenant Governor William Hobson, to name only a few, certainly fell victim to the paper’s untruths and were unfairly smeared. To some degree, that bias still exists.
Convicted Felons lead the way.
The New Zealand Company board of directors were determined to circumvent the English government’s request to not to buy land from Māori – and did so anyway. They’d already sold one-hundred-thousand acres of New Zealand land to colonists before ever having set foot on New Zealand soil. While the English government’s motives can be
questioned, none-the-less, the New Zealand Company ship, The Tory, left England with haste and before legislation was passed preventing them from doing so. Certainly, commercial enterprise, and presumably greed, motivated them to covertly set sail for New Zealand without the English government knowing.
Two New Zealand Company principals, Edward Wakefield, and his younger brother, Colonel William Wakefield spearheaded the company’s efforts to purchase land here. Both were convicted felons and been incarcerated after being found guilty of kidnapping in England. Because of their criminal record, they were unable to hold directorships in the New Zealand Company, but that minor inconvenience did not prevent them from asserting themselves unfairly, not just on Māori, but on colonists as well. As a result, New Zealand’s first land court hearings were held in Wellington in 1845 where the court ruled in favour of Māori.
Names to honour and memorialize?
Who were these men? Think about the landmarks, street names, towns and even islands who are named after them.
The New Zealand Company board of directors;
The Earl of Durham, Governor; Joseph Somes Esq.,
Deputy-Governor. Directors: Lord Petrie,
Hon. Francis Baring M.P.,
Messrs. John Ellerker Boulcott,
John William Buckle,
John Brodie Gordon.
Thos. Alers Hankey,
Wm. Hutt M.P.,
Sir Wm. Molesworth. Bart., M.P.,
Mr. Alexander Nairne.
Alderman John Pirie,
Sir George Sinclair. Bart., M.P.,
Mr. John Abel Smith M.P.,
Alderman Thompson M.P.,
Sir Henry Webb, Bart.,
Arthur Willis Esq.,
Geo. Frederick Young Esq.”