20 January 2013

Edward Wakefield's Annotated Copy of Dieffenbach's Travels in New Zealand

The Dunedin City Library is fortunate to hold three first edition copies of Ernst Dieffenbach's two-volume Travels in New Zealand (London, 1843), possibly the most reliable early book on New Zealand's natural environment and Māori culture written not long after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (Wattie 140). One copy belonged to the Stamford Institution, Stamford, Lincolnshire. The second copy was owned by Robert McNab (18641917), who, in late 1913, donated his collection of 4,200 books to the Dunedin Public Library. The third copy was purchased by another of the Library's major benefactors, Sir Alfred Hamish Reed (18751975), whose bookplate is affixed to the front pastedown.

'Presented to Mr E. Wakefield'
The Reed copy provenance, which has remained unknown for decades and gone unrecorded until now, links the book to one of the most important and controversial families active during the early years of New Zealand's colonial period: the Wakefields.

Inscription on front free endpaper
'Presented to Mr E. Wakefield by the Director of the New Zealand Company. April 1843'.

Originally established in London in 1837 as the New Zealand Association, the New Zealand Company's expressed aim was the systematic colonising of Aotearoa. A founder, and the Director of the Company in April 1843, was the politician and colonial promoter (not to mention convicted abductor), Edward Gibbon Wakefield (1796–1862), a principal figure behind much of the early colonisation of South Australia and New Zealand.

E. G. Wakefield's father, Edward Wakefield (1774–1854), was a philanthropist and land agent. During the 1830s and 1840s, Wakefield, Sr. became what the ODNB describes as 'a warm advocate of Edward Gibbon Wakefield's colonization schemes, writing many letters to newspapers and lobbying the cabinet'. He became in some way an agent, which no doubt accounts for Dieffenbach's Travels having been presented to him by the Company rather than by his son personally.

'The Opinion He Has Given ... Seems Extraordinary'
In addition to being owned by Edward Wakefield, there are no fewer than 216 pages with some form of annotation or marginalia by him.

The sections most heavily marked up are Dieffenbach's general remarks (with attention paid mainly to New Zealand's natural resources), and his chapters on whales and whalers, geological features, Māori customs and language, and the nature and impact of disease on Māori. Nearly all of Wakefield's annotations do not comment on the text or record his thoughts about it, but serve rather as handy reference points to paragraphs or sentences of particular interest.

Wakefield's lone comment related to Dieffenbach's thoughts on the alteration of Polynesian dialects due to the influence of foreign countries, which he believed caused local traditions to be forgotten, and the impact of English (specifically through the Bible in translation) upon Pacific languages. 'New conceptions, new ideas, are pouring in upon these simple and interesting islanders, which importantly affect their language. Every day diminishes ... the chance of recording the different dialects in their purity' (2:304). Dieffenbach's astute (if somewhat condescending) observations struck Wakefield, who wrote on the opposite page:

'The opinion he has given at p. 304 seems extraordinary[.] If the dialects are now so altered then the traditions are forgotten . as a proof none but the old can give an account on the meaning of songs &c'[.]

There is one annotation of particular immediacy (in relation to the date of the gift) and poignancy. On page 94 of the first volume, Wakefield underlined, 'Up to the present time, nearly three years since the purchase, there has not been a single serious misunderstanding between the natives and the European settlers'. In the margin he wrote: 'Natives and European settlers on friendly terms'.

Two months after being given the book, one of Edward's sons, Captain Arthur Wakefield, was killed on 17 June 1843 in the first serious engagement between Māori and the British settlers after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Known as the Wairau Affray, the clash centred around the attempted arrest of the Māori chief Te Rauparaha (ca. 1760s1849), and left four Māori and twenty-two British dead.

We cannot know for certain when Wakefield read and annotated the text, whether it was before or after Arthur's death. News of the event would not have reached him for months afterwards. The evidence, however, does suggest Wakefield had a specific interest in Te Rauparaha. The first appearance of his name is underlined and is so elsewhere. The names of the Māori chiefs Te Hiko Piata Tama-i-hikoia and Te Werowero are simply noted in the margins, but we find written next to the corresponding printed text in volume one, pages 98 and 99, 'extermination of a tribe by Rauparaha' and 'an account of Rauparaha'.

Te Rauparaha could of course be singled out because he was a well known Māori figure at the time, or perhaps Wakefield wished to learn more about the man he held responsible for the death of Arthur. Either way, these and the other annotations are evidence of careful reading of one of the important early New Zealand books by the father whose sons and grandson are so intertwined with the country's early colonial history.

The Author & Text
Born in Giessen, Germany, Johann Karl Ernst Dieffenbach (1811–1855), was the first trained scientist to live and work in New Zealand. Earning a medical degree in Zurich before being expelled from Switzerland for political agitation and duelling, Dieffenbach sailed for England in 1837 where he changed his name to 'Ernest'. There he befriended such eminent scientists as Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell and Richard Owen. In 1839 Dieffenbach, along with E. G. Wakefield's brother William (18011848), and son, Edward Jerningham (18201879), set sail for New Zealand as naturalist to the New Zealand Company.

Working in a time before science was split into narrow specialisations, Dieffenbach recorded natural features, wrote of the Māori people, their language, customs and beliefs, with insightful understanding. For example, though Dieffenbach found the act of cannibalism and certain other customs detestable, he suggested that 'If one were to reckon up the crimes and gratuitous cruelties ... which civilized men have committed against the savage, the balance of humanity, and of other virtues too, would probably be found on the side of the latter' (2:131)  

Dieffenbach was not embroiled in land purchases from the Māori, and regretted as a theorist and as a man the possible extinction of a native people. Because of his non-alignment with the Company (his contract expired in 1841), missionaries or Government, Dieffenbach was able to suggest ways to protect the Māori from colonisation in his chapter 'How to Legislate for the Natives of New Zealand' (v.2 chap. 9). With remarkable foresight he also realised what the impact could be of introducing alien flora and fauna to the colony: 'what a chain of alterations ... takes place from the introduction of a single animal into a country where it was before unknown' (2:416). An environmental issue New Zealand struggles with to this very day.

In 1845, Edward Jerningham Wakefield, who became an MP in the first New Zealand Parliament, published his own account of New Zealand as Adventures in New Zealand From 1839 to 1844. The historian E. H. McCormick compared the reporting styles of Dieffenbach with that of the young Wakefield in his Letters and Art in New Zealand (Wellington, 1940). He described Wakefield's work as 'all animation and colour and youthful prejudice', which could not have been more different from Dieffenbach who was 'sober, rather heavy-handed in narrative, judicial in his views and statements and possessed of that stability and depth of character which Jerningham so entirely lacked' (McCormick 24).


Nelson Wattie. 'Dieffenbach, Ernst or Ernest (181155)' in The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature edited by Roger Robinson (Melbourne; Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1998).

For a full account of the Wakefield family, see Philip Temple's A Sort of Conscience: The Wakefields (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2002).

The text of Dieffenbach's Travels in New Zealand and E. J. Wakefield's Adventures in New Zealand are available on-line through the University of Auckland's Early New Zealand Books project:

Dieffenbach: Volume 1 | Volume 2

Wakefield: Volume 1 | Volume 2

10 January 2013

Exhibitions into the New Year

My first post of 2013 highlights some of the Australasian rare books and special collections exhibitions that opened late in 2012 and carried over into the New Year.

'Art in the Service of Science: Dunedin's John Buchanan'
Hocken Library, Dunedin
22 November 2012 to 9 February 2013

'Flowers, Fruit and Foliage: A Bouquet of Botanical Illustrations'
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Central City Library, Auckland
17 November 2012 to 17 March 2013

'From Pigskin to Paper: The Art and Craft of Bookbinding'
University of Otago, Special Collections, Dunedin
20 December to 22 March 2013

'Labels: Travel in Europe'
Monash University, Special Collections, Melbourne
14 September 2012 to 23 February 2013

'Mai i Rangiatea: The Portrayal of Maori Myth & Legend in Print'
Dunedin City Library, Heritage Collections, Dunedin
14 December 2012 to 10 March 2013

'Things: Photographing the Constructed World'
National Library of Australia, Canberra
24 November 2012 to 17 February 2013

A dynamic PDF with links to each image can be found here.

'Time in Motion: 50 Years of The Australian Ballet'
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
10 November 2012 to 10 February 2013

'To the Ends of the Earth" Bibles in the Alexander Turnbull Library'
National Library of New Zealand, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington
26 November 2012 to 19 January 2013

Ruth Lightbourne, Curator of Rare Books and Fine Printing, has added two insightful posts related to the exhibition on the NLNZ blog: 'To the ends of the earth' and 'All things to all men'. Both are well worth a read.


Know of an interesting exhibition that opened towards the end of last year and not listed above? If so, please leave a comment.