Teaching Module

New Zealand Childhoods (18th–20th c.)

Adventure in New Zealand, from 1839 to 1844 [Book Excerpt]


E. J. Wakefield was 19 years of age when he sailed from England, in 1839, on the New Zealand Company vessel, Tory, as secretary to his uncle, Colonel William Wakefield. Wakefield was to oversee the foundation of a Company settlement in the Cook Strait region, where the country's capital city, Wellington, is now located. Land purchases from tribal owners were a priority for the colonizing agency. In their exploration of possible sites on both sides of the Strait, the Wakefields made contact with European whalers whose shore-based communities reflected their years of personal liaison with local Maori. Adventure in New Zealand was based upon the detailed journals that the younger Wakefield kept meticulously during his first visit to the country.

This source selection focuses on the ways in which children with European fathers and Maori mothers were perceived to be living a more civilized lifestyle as a consequence of European influences. Wakefield's comments are not overtly racist or judgmental. He simply reflects a contemporary British viewpoint that, of all known "native" people, Maori were the most capable of great "improvement"—providing, of course, that their exposure was to the more beneficial attributes of British society. The domesticity of Te Awaiti is in stark contrast to the widely-reported problems stemming from alcohol and licentiousness in the Bay of Islands, long a favorite harbor haven for deep-sea whaling crews.


Wakefield, Edward Jerningham. Adventure in New Zealand, from 1839 to 1844, with some account of the beginning of British colonization of the Islands.Vol. 1. London: John Murray, 1845, 44–45, 50. Annotated by Jeanine Graham.

Primary Source Text

September 1, Sunday [1839]. After prayers on board [the Tory], we landed and visited the whaling-town of Te-awa-iti [Te Awaiti, in Queen Charlotte's Sound]. . . . There were about twenty houses presented to our view; the walls generally constructed of wattled supple-jack, called kareau, filled in with clay; the roof thatched with reeds; and a large unsightly chimney at one of the ends, constructed of either the same materials as the walls, or of stones heaped together by rude masonry. Dicky Barrett's house, or ware [whare] as it is called in maori or native language, was a very superior edifice, built of sawn timber, floored and lined inside, and sheltered in front by an ample veranda. A long room was half full of natives and whalers. His wife E Rangi, a fine stately woman, gave us a dignified welcome; and his pretty half-caste children laughed and commented on our appearance, to some of their mother's relations, in their own language. He had three girls of his own, and had adopted a son of an old trader and friend of his named Jacky Love, who was on his death-bed, regretted by the natives as one of themselves. He had married a young chieftainess of great rank, and his son Dan was treated with that universal respect and kindness to which he was entitled by the character of his father and the rank of his mother. . . .

There were about twenty-five half-caste children at Te-awa-iti. They were all strikingly comely, and many of them quite fair, with light hair and rosy cheeks; active and hardy as the goats with which the settlement also swarmed. The women of the whalers were remarkable for their cleanliness and the order which they preserved in their companion's house. They were most of them dressed in loose gowns or printed calico, and their hair, generally very fine, was always clean and well-combed.

How to Cite This Source

"New Zealand Childhoods (18th–20th c.)," in Children and Youth in History, Item #93, https://cyh.rrchnm.org/items/show/93 (accessed August 10, 2021).