Edward J. Wakefield
A notable passenger on one of K88s early trips...
The scene - just outside a confectioners shop kept by one Peter Lang in Lambton Quay, Wellington; the time - somewhere in the eighteen forties; the characters - a group of well dressed young men on horseback, all in the most riotous high spirits. Somebody dares one of his companions to ride through the shop! The challenge is promptly accepted by the gayest of the party, who rides his horse triumphantly through the shop, to the great detriment of the goods inside, flings a cheerful, "Send me in the bill" to an irate and astounded shopkeeper, and canters away with his companions, laughing in good humour at the joke.
Such in his early day's was Edward Jerningham Wakefield, only son of the great colonizer, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, later himself politician, writer, and author of that well known record of pioneer days, 'Adventure in New Zealand.'
To help get history straight, Jerningham's Uncle, Arthur Wakefield was killed in the Wairau conflict (north of Blenheim) in 1843.
Jerningham was born on the 25th of June 1820 in London. He traveled extensively before settling in Canterbury. At the age of 43 (in 1863) he married Ellen Roe at the Riccarton Anglican Church. Ellen Roe was the daughter of Mr. Edward Roe, the proprietor of Barrett's Hotel on Lambton Quay, Wellington.
The two made their first home at Coldstream in Fendalton, Christchurch. At first things went well. The Wakefields entertained lavishly, and their house was always full of guests. Their first child, Catherine Alice, was born there in 1864; but by 1866, when a second daughter was born, christened Nina after Jerningham's dead sister (who had died in 1835 at the age of 18), reverses had already set in; Coldstream had been given up, most of the furniture sold, and the little family had removed to a small house in Worcester Street. A third daughter, Lilian Priscilla, was born in 1869 and by that time life had begun to assume a tragic aspect for the Wakefields.
Life had become a grim and unceasing struggle for young Mrs. Wakefield, not only against adverse forces, but against the political enemies who sought to destroy her husband. Though normally a brilliant and fluent debater, Jerningham was now in the grip of his besetting weakness (alcohol) and was a source of constant anxiety to his party because he could never be depended upon.
He remained in the House till 1875 and did a good deal of valuable work in urging and outlining proposals for the construction of the new railways; but he was defeated at the next elections.
It was now the beginning of the end. In despair Mrs. Wakefield agreed to her husband's entreaties to except her brothers offer of a home for herself and the children in Palmerston North until he could again make one for her. So sadly the little family separated. Always an affectionate husband and father, Jerningham took the keenest interest in his children's education. He wrote to them regularly, sending them books and music. His three daughters cherished to the end of their day's the letters he had sent to them, telling of his doings, suggesting lines of study and correcting mistakes in their own letters to him.
Very early in September 1878, Jerningham became very ill and after leaving hospital went to friends at Ashburton Forks to recuperate. One of his last letters to his daughters was written from this place; it referred optimistically to the lecture tour he planned to begin the following week in Ashburton, after which he hoped to continue it throughout New Zealand and eventually to rejoin his family at Palmerston North.
After that - silence. The letters abruptly ceased, and after a long and anxious wait, Mrs. Wakefield was horrified to learn that her husband had drifted into a home for the poor and infirm in Ashburton. In less than six months he was again taken very suddenly ill; but, never dreaming his end was so near, and hating the thought of his wife visiting him in such a place, he refused to allow her to be sent for.
The end came suddenly. Realizing too late that he could not live much longer, he requested that word be sent to his cousin, Edward Wakefield in Timaru, as being the only relative near at hand, but the message did not reach him in time, and so Edward Jerningham Wakefield, once affectionately known among his Maori friends as "Tiraweke" or "Teddy Wide-Awake" died, a sad, lonely, unhappy pauper and drunkard; all alone with only the portraits of his little girls in his hands.
We reproduce one of Jerningham's last letters:
In 1878, when this letter was written, his daughters were at the following ages:
Catherine, 15 years.
Nina, 13 years.
Lilian, 10 years.
When Jerningham mentions in his letter that he had ridden behind the locomotive, 'Washington' the day before, that day was 13th September 1878; only 1 week after the very first through express, and less than six months before he died.
We must not forget though, that the Rogers 'K's' had been running between Christchurch and Ashburton - and even further south - for some months, so it was not so very early in K88's career as one might imagine.
Spread Eagle Hotel
14 Sept. 1878.
My dear daughters,
Again I must write to you both together, in order to save time. My last letter to you was begun in the hospital, where I had been since Sunday 1st Sept., having been very ill indeed through exposure to wet and cold for three days before that. But I am quite recovered now. I finished my last letter and posted it on the day I left the hospital, 11th Sept. (Wednesday).
Yesterday I left Christchurch at a quarter to nine in the morning by express train, running 36 miles to Rakaia in 1 hour and 20 minutes without stopping at any stations.
After a stay of 5 minutes to let the thirsty "Washington" - an American locomotive of great power - have some water, we set off again; and, although a little retarded at first by the presence of one or two thousand sheep on the line, - who kept trying to race us and crossed backwards and forwards over the rails in front of the engine, - some of them indeed, being rather rudely picked up and thrown aside by the "cow-scoop" in front, even at our slowed pace we eventually reached Ashburton, 53 miles from Christchurch, at a quarter to eleven - two hours only, including the one stoppage.
I had not time to examine this town of wonderfully rapid growth. 3 years ago it had not 40 houses. Now it has more than 1000 inhabitants; 5 hotels; a large Town Hall; a small Public Library; spacious Immigration Barracks; one steam and one water mill; and a Mayor and Council: and a Gas Company has been successfully started.
My old coachman, Edward Cookson, whom Mamma will remember, is the owner and driver of the Mail Coach from Ashburton to the place from which I am now writing.
16 miles which took us 3 hours and a quarter! Is that not a contrast to the railway part of the journey?
We had three good horses, and a nice light coach; but the road has been newly metaled with that nasty round river-bed shingle nearly all the way, while the unmetaled part of the road was too heavy through the recent rains. Besides, we had 4 passengers including myself who averaged 14 stone each - (How many pounds is that?) - two lighter ones beside the driver, a young sheep dog, two bags of sugar, and one or two other pretty heavy packages. So we had to creep.
This house is kept by a Mr. Philipp Tisch, whom perhaps Mamma or Uncle George may remember as a settler at Papanui - a miller - who came from Germany to Lyttelton in 1851. He had often invited me to visit him: and he received me with great kindness and hospitality; as an honored guest and not as a customer.
He has six sons and three daughters - all, I think, born in the colony. Only two girls and one boy are at home. The girls, about 18 or 19, are twins: and it is very curious that one is very dark and the other very fair, and not like each other in features.
They are thoroughly well educated for their stations; write and speak English correctly and well - the writing very plain and legible. They play the piano tolerably well: but they do not disdain to do useful needle work, attend to the general work of the house, and wait at the table with attention and politeness, and without the slighted vulgarity or coquetry, although they are both very handsome
The son attends to the bar, and is very quiet and well educated.
The mother does the cooking herself; a pleasant, smiling matron.
The house is scrupulously clean; and I have not heard the slightest rowdiness or noise for 21 hours I have been in the house, although a good many working-men get their meals and drink at the bar here.
Now for the place. We seemed yesterday to be traveling along a level plain. But we were really ascending from an elevation of about 200 feet to one of 800 feet above the level of the sea.
The house is in the centre of a low terrace of gravel, with good ploughing land all around it.
We came through a tract of mostly rich arable land, very well fenced and farmed by a good many small proprietors, as well as two or three larger ones.
There are no trees, except where they have been planted (blue gums, poplars, willows, pine, fir, oak, elm and other English forest as well as fruit trees) near homesteads. These plantations around some of the more ancient dwellings make a great show.
All the tilled land is fenced in with mostly clipped gorse hedges: at one farm we passed I saw five double-furrow ploughs whose teams were at rest during the men's dinner time; and on another farm three such ploughs were at work later in the day.
We had forded the North branch of the Ashburton, a stream about as large as the Turakina, but quite shallow now, and our journey was afterward s entirely between the two branches of the river.
The South branch is much larger: Cookson's mail coach goes 10 miles further, to a village called Mount Somers, from a high isolated mountain of that name not far from it, but rather nearer to where I am - about 6 miles I suppose to the foot of it. The village of Mount Somers is on the North or left bank of the South branch, just where it issues through a precipitous gorge from its sources in vast glaciers within the nearest range of mountains.
To the Northward, another road branches off to Alford Forest, another village, 8 miles from here, at the edge of the "bush" which begins at the foot of the mountains, and reaches a short distance up their sides, for a length of about 7 or 8 miles, between the S.W. base of Mount Hutt, which rises abruptly to the height of 6800 feet above sea level - 6000 feet higher than this house.
Mount Somers is about 4000 feet higher, or 4800 above the sea. Mount Rickards, seen over the lower mountains between Hutt and Somers, is about 7000 feet high.
Up the gorge, through which the South Ashburton, Hinds, and Rangitata rivers all emerge from the ranges onto the great plains, are seen the sharp peaks of the Two Thumbs range more than halfway across this island, white with snow. So are Hutt, Rickards, Somers and Mt. Peel south of the Rangitata, (about 6000 feet high) quite two thirds down from their summits.
They were very beautiful yesterday, and are now, in the brilliant sunshine. They were still more beautiful in the light of the nearly full moon last night; but just before sunrise this morning, when they were all tinted a lovely blush rose colour by the sun, which shone on them though the plain below was still in shade.
The magnificent panorama was positively like fairyland. I was the only person up; and I reveled in enjoyment of the solemn beauty and silence of nature's majesty.
I am going back to Ashburton today; and next week I intend to give readings, recitations, and lectures on taxes, at that town.
You must wish me good audiences, and a favorable reception. If I succeed, I shall travel through the whole colony, and perhaps you will hear me some day at Palmerston North, or, if I earn money enough, at Wellington or Christchurch.
Good bye, best of love from your affectionate father,
E. J. Wakefield.
P.S. I forgot to say that both the letters are very well written: with very few faults; and nearly all those, I think, rather through hurry than ignorance.
Minnie Dean was another early passenger on trains hauled by K class locomotives.
She was executed in the 1890's for killing babies, a crime many believe she never did.
Her body rests in an unmarked grave at Winton, NZ.
Her husband was allowed to take her body away after she was hung in Invercargill, but was told she had to be buried 6 feet down and the grave left unmarked...
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Last Updated: Wednesday, 05 April, 2017