Brickbat for Jerningham

For his 199th birthday

Today is Jerningham Wakefield’s 199th birthday. Happy Birthday, you old thing.

Jerningham came to Wellington with the New Zealand Company in 1839, the thin edge of the colonial wedge.  For that we can throw many brickbats. And hey, it’s his birthday! So here is my favourite Jerningham brickbat: a letter to the editor from a missionary, in reaction to Jerningham’s recently published Adventure in New Zealand.

It’s a hell of a book review. Jerningham and the missionaries never did see eye to eye

To the Editor of the Wellington Independent.


With respect to Mr. Wakefield’s work in general, we would simply remark, that from beginning to end, it is one strange commixture of truth and falsehood, plagiary and exaggeration, egotism and vanity: the vehicle of slander and peevishness, and the caricature or exposure of every man’s character —except his own.

… we shall content ourselves, for the present, in making a few brief remarks, which may serve as a glossary for the better understanding of the work.

  1. That most of the information contained in it, is a mere abridgment of local newspapers and public documents, distorted Into every shape, with here and there a long extract from official but without the least acknowledgement.
  2. That the Author’s boasted influence amongst the natives, is not known to have existed, except within the precincts of his own imagination. What influence he possessed was of an unenviable kind, and generally exerted for a disreputable purpose.
  3. That his general intercourse with the natives had but a poor tendency to raise and civilize them. Ridiculing the Missionaries — scoffing at religion — breaking the sabbath — sauntering about in a blanket — singing lewd hakas and waiatas — galloping about with the females on horseback — and squatting in the warm baths of Taupo, with both sexes, in a state of nudity, for hours together — may be taken as simple specimens of our Author’s “anxiety” to civilise the aborigines of New Zealand….
  4. That so far from having the least tendency to civilize the maories, our Author’s general conduct in New Zealand, was profligate and debasing in the lowest degree. Perhaps no one man has done more to corrupt the morals of the natives on this coast, than Mr. “Terawake” and that with his open house and midnight orgies at Wanganui, his residence there was considered by the settlers as nothing less than a public nuisance. There are now living in this very place three native girls, with whom he held illicit connection at the same time: and if we compute the number of females whom he has debauched at the awful amount of half-a-hundred, we believe our calculation will be found too low. He himself will recollect a disgraceful scene which took place on the banks of the Waitotara river— but we desist—for to unfold all we know of such civilising expeditions, would be neither modest nor useful. Suffice it to say, that with reference to his libidinous propensities, our Author obtained for himself the disreputable cognomen of “Toa” …

From the above facts may be inferred the reasons,

  1. Why the Missionaries, and their operations, are so continually ridiculed and maligned by our adventurous writer:
  2. Why the customs of the Heathens are so constantly contrasted with, and preferred to those of the Christians, and
  3. Why the Author and his book are so little respected in New Zealand, and his own personal absence from the colony so little regretted.

I remain, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
R Hanton Turson.
Mission House, New Plymouth, April 15, 1846.

It’s the sauntering about in a blanket that really gets me.

R.I.P Jerningham.

Author: Cristina Sanders Blog

Novelist, trail runner, book reviewer and blogger.

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