18 May 2014

My favourite parliamentarian

Edward Jerningham Wakefield
image via Te Ara
From the early days [Parliament's bar] Bellamy's had been the centre of parliamentary conviviality. C.W. Richmond described in 1862 how members got together nearly every night in Bellamy's for 'singing and joking and drinking whisky toddy'.

The 'widespread suspicion that much of the legislation of the period was being considered and carried in a miasma of whisky fumes' had some truth to it. Bellamy's featured as a weapon in the political struggles and in the stories of the time.

The most notorious incident involved [Edward] Jerningham Wakefield, whose fondness for alcohol was well known. In 1872, Fox's government whip attempted to secure Wakefield's vote by locking him in a committee room. Stafford's whip, hearing of this, 'got up on the roof, and lowered a bottle of whisky with a loosened cord down the chimney. When the division bell rang, the Whip rushed up to the committee room to get his sure vote, but, alas, it was "paralytic" under the table'. The government whip continued to ply Wakefield with alcohol, but he nonetheless voted with Stafford to throw out the ministry.

- John E. Martin, The House: New Zealand's House of Representatives 1854-2004, Palmerston North, 2004, p.47-49. 

Ronda Cooper's biography entry for Wakefield in the DNZB describes him thus: 'He was marked throughout his life, and beyond it, by a damning reputation for flawed and wasted brilliance. Most commentators, including his own father, dismiss him as a wastrel and a failure, talented and intelligent, but reckless, weak-willed, contentious, promiscuous and generally unstable'.

The New Zealand Herald of 31 March 1879 contains a brief paragraph on Wakefield's death, earlier that month, in Ashburton - 'Mr. Edward Jerningham Wakefield, formerly M.H.R. [Member of the House of Representatives] for the city of Christchurch, died at the Destitute Persons' Home, Ashburton, on March 3 where he had been staying there some time. He refused to allow his friends to be telegraphed for till the last moment, when it was too late. His last days were clouded by the same blot that had obstructed his later life, and the money obtained by writing articles for the local papers and other means was all devoted to the same purpose'.

See also:
History: E.J. Wakefield, Adventure in New Zealand from 1839 to 1844 (extracts)
History: NZ Company ship Tory arrives (1839)
HistoryThe last sight of old Plymouth, 6 April 2009

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