This article, with amendments to the long paragraphs, is from Percival Searle's Dictionary of Australian Biography, Angus and Robertson 1949, freely available at

WAKEFIELD, EDWARD GIBBON (1796-1862), colonizer, was born on 20 March 1796 at London. He came of a family of some distinction and his father, Edward Wakefield, who had married Susanna Crash, a farmer's daughter, when he was 17, was well known as a writer and educationist. His Account of Ireland, Statistical and Political was published in two volumes in 1812.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield, his eldest son, was largely brought up by his grandmother. He was educated at Mr Haigh's school at Tottenham, and though lovable was a wilful and difficult child. His father was over-indulgent and unable to impose any authority on the boy, who at 11 years of age was sent to Westminster School. When he was 14 he returned to his home and refused to go back to his school. He was then sent to the high school at Edinburgh, but unsatisfactory reports of him were received and his father had to bring him home.

In 1813 he was admitted to Gray's Inn, it being intended that he should take up the legal profession, but in the following year he abandoned this and became secretary to the Hon. William Noel Hill, envoy at the court of Turin. He held other appointments at Paris and London, and in 1816 became acquainted with Eliza Pattle, a wealthy ward in chancery only 16 years old. A few months later they ran away to Scotland and were married in July 1816.

On their return Wakefield's charm not only brought about their forgiveness, but the Lord Chancellor agreed to a settlement on him of between £1500 and £2000 a year. The marriage proved to be very happy, but soon after the birth of her second child the young wife died on 5 July 1820. She had had a great influence for good on her husband, who was distracted at her loss.

For several years he was connected with the English embassy at Paris and played his part there as a young man of fashion.

In 1826 he made a second runaway marriage by decoying a schoolgirl, Ellen Turner, a young heiress, from her school, taking her to Gretna Green, where he married her, and then escaping to Calais. The marriage was purely nominal, and Wakefield no doubt hoped to win over the parents as he had done in the case of his first marriage. But the Turners were implacable, Wakefield and his brother, William, had to stand their trial for abduction, and both were sentenced in 1827 to three years imprisonment.

Wakefield's career was apparently over, yet it led to his greatest work, the encouragement of colonization in Australia and New Zealand.

In Newgate he busied himself with educating his two children and thinking out social reforms. In 1829 a series of his letters appeared in the Morning Chronicle which were in the same year published anonymously, A Letter from Sydney . . . together with the Outline of a System of Colonization, edited by Robert Gouger (q.v.).

The population of England was increasing and there appeared to be little hope of improving the miserable conditions of the poor. Wakefield's remedy in brief was to send workers to Australia and provide the cost from the sale of the land. An essential part of his scheme was the granting of self-government to the oversea possessions.

When Wakefield left his prison in May 1830 he obtained the support of Charles Buller, Sir William Molesworth, R. S. Rentoul, George Grote and John Stuart Mill. A "National Colonization Society" was formed of which Robert Gouger became secretary.

Various schemes were considered and were wrecked by the conservatism of the colonial office. In 1833 Wakefield again brought forward his theories in his England and America: a Comparison of the Social and Political States of both Nations, published anonymously in two volumes.

Gradually opponents were won over, and on 10 August 1834 the bill for the foundation of South Australia was passed. It was not a satisfactory act for there had been too many compromises, but though at times it seems to be a failure, the fact remains that within 10 years 300,000 acres of South Australian land were sold for £300,000, and 12,000 emigrants were sent out.

Less than 10 years after the founding of the colony it was paying its way. A new province had been added at a cost to England of considerably less than £250,000.

However much credit may be given to George Fife Angas (q.v.) and Robert Gouger it was the guiding mind of Wakefield that was primarily responsible for this success. He worked unceasingly, and the evidence contained in the Wakefield papers at the colonial office shows that the foundation act was the result of this work.

He had been helped by his daughter, Nina, who afterwards acted as his amanuensis. She was delighted when the South Australian act was passed but soon afterwards became ill. In a last hope to save her Wakefield took her to Lisbon where she died in February 1835. Wakefield was in great grief but soon took up his work again.

He fought strongly the intention to sell Australian land at 12s. an acre, and succeeded in raising the price to 20s., an amendment most important in its effects...................

Irma O'Connor, Edward Gibbon Wakefield The Man Himself; A. J Harrop, The Amazing Career of Edward Gibbon Wakefield; R. Garnett, Edward Gibbon Wakefield; A. Grenfell Price, Founders and Pioneers of South Australia; R. C. Mills, The Colonization of Australia (1829-42); R. C. Mills, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XV, pp. 121-42; S. H. Roberts, History of Australian Land Settlement.