Philip Temple


A Sort of Conscience: The Wakefields

Winner of the Montana NZ Award for Biography; the Ian Wards Prize of the Archives and Records Association of New Zealand; and the Ernest Scott History Prize, University of Melbourne, all in 2003.

At once notorious and visionary, Edward Gibbon Wakefield and his brothers played a key but controversial role in the early British settlement of New Zealand, Australia and Canada. Once famed as New Zealand’s ‘Founding Fathers’, they have since become the arch-villains of all post-colonial scenarios of the past. Philip Temple, deciding that neither myth made good historical sense, saw that, astonishingly, there was no adequate biography of the family most responsible for the establishment of the Wellington, Nelson and Canterbury settlements.

In stitching together a net of letters and documents, Philip Temple has produced the most comprehensive account yet of the Wakefield family’s role in colonial development and self-government across the old Commonwealth. He follows not only the brothers’ careers but also establishes the essential role of the Wakefield women and gives detailed accounts of Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s first elopement and his later abduction of Ellen Turner. The author explores Edward Gibbon’s tortuous career through colonial politics from the 1830s to the 1850s and shows how he and his brothers and son strongly influenced, for good and bad, the founding of new nations.

This engaging narrative, written in a strong and evocative literary style, relates a story of courage and vision, cupidity and stupidity, high risk and adventure, success against the odds and, ultimately, terrible tragedy.

A Sort of Conscience is a book we need to understand better the origins and textures of early Pakeha New Zealand. In giving it to us, Temple pays a debt to the past and provides his adopted country with a gift for the future. Michael King in the Weekend Herald.

Temple’s book is a monumental achievement, essential reading for anyone interested in the beginnings of modern New Zealand. Stuart Strachan, Hocken Library in Archifacts.

This is a very impressive achievement. The book will be essential reading for all who study both early New Zealand history and the theory and practice of early 19th century British colonisation. D.K. Fieldhouse, Jesus College, Cambridge in the English Historical Review.

This finely written, enlightening, and engrossing chronicle of remarkable though not always admirable people deserves the widest possible readership. Edmund Bohan in The Press.

Temple has produced a world-class biography of a family vitally important to the history of New Zealand - and other parts of the former British Empire. David Verran in the Sunday Star Times.

Hardback and Trade Paperback: 584 pages. Publisher: Auckland University Press 2002.

Rights Availability: World Rights except New Zealand. For rights enquiries contact agent Chris Else -

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