In 1841, nineteen-year-old Edward Jerningham Wakefield arrives on New Zealand’s shores brimming with energy and tasked with acquiring territory for the New Zealand Company and the British citizens whom the Company has recruited to colonize the remote island.
To date, the Company has done little to collaborate with the indigenous chiefs whose land it intends to purchase. But when Jerningham, with his gambler’s flair and his unbridled charisma, sets out with scouting parties, he charms entire villages, negotiates with chiefs, establishes his own commercial enterprise, and develops the respect for the Māori people that will one day put him at odds with the Company.
Jerningham is described as an account of the rise and fall of Edwin Gibbon Wakefield’s wayward son as told by the Company’s bookkeeper, Arthur Lugg, who is charged with accompanying Jerningham on his expeditions and reporting back to his uncle. This story describes those jaunts. And more.
In a creative twist, author Christina Sanders frequently introduces reasons why Lugg cannot accompany Jerningham on forays into the interior: injury, illness, Company duties. And while Jerningham is away, Lugg chronicles his own day-to-day life and expeditions, as well as his experiences with the newcomers whose ideas, struggles, squabbles, and grit shape the new colony.
The resulting novel feels less like a biography of the mercurial Edward Jerningham Wakefield than a memoir of the stolid, if fictional, Arthur Lugg. But the reader benefits, for by moving through Lugg’s daily life—at his slow, steady pace and with his careful observations and intimate revelations—we are given the opportunity to live among the colonists and examine the challenges faced by the Company as it largely ignores Jerningham’s counsel and takes its first clumsy—and, as a result, disastrous—steps toward “settling” a territory already long settled. Recommended.