Edward Gibbon Wakefield

The Matter of a Small Book

In 1829 a small book was published in London which attracted a great deal of attention, not only by reason of its charming style, and the liveliness of its manner, but also on account of the complete originality of the ideas it contained. It purported to be a letter from Sydney and it described the annoyances to be endured by a man of taste and fortune if he emigrated to Australia. He would have no intellectual society, meaning he could not enjoy the pleasures of his library, or of his picture gallery. He could hope for none of the delights of an easy retirement, seeing that he had to go forth on his land and with his own hands labour for his daily food.

Wretched Place For Men of Means

For, said Mr Wakefield, the author of this little book, you cannot long have free servants in this country. If a free man arrives in the colony, though he may for a short time work for you as a servant, he is sure to save a little money, and as land is here so excessively cheap, he at once becomes himself a land owner. He settles down on his own farm, and though he may have a year or two of heavy work, he is almost certain to become both happy and prosperous. Thus the colony is an excellent place for a poor man, but it is a wretched abode for a man of means and culture. Wakefield, therefore, proposed to found in Australia another colony which would be better adapted to those who had fortunes sufficient to maintain them and yet desired to emigrate to a new country.

Wakefield's Solution

His scheme was to charge a high price for the new land and so prevent the poorer people from purchasing it (sounds like a class system rearing its head!). The money received form the sale of the land he proposed to employ in bringing out young men and women as servants and farm labourers, for the service of the wealthier colonists. Now, said Wakefield, on account of the immense natural resources of these colonies, their splendid soils, their magnificent pasture lands, their vast wealth in minerals and their wide apread forests of valuable timber (which stands ready for the axe), a gentleman possessed of only £20,000 will obtain as large an income from it as could be procured from £100,000 in England. Yet he will be able to enjoy his learned and cultured leisure, just as he does at home, because all the work will be done for him by the servants he wmploys.

Stir in England

For three or four years his agreeable fallacy made quite a stir in England. Famous authors, distinguished soldiers and bishops were all deceived by it. Even noblemen, members of Parliament, bankers and merchants all combined to applaud this novel and excellent idea of Mr Wakefieds.


History of Australia