A Sort of Conscience: The Wakefields

Philip Temple

‘His touch is sure and his grasp of historical detail scholarly.’
– D. K. Fieldhouse, English Historical Review

A Sort of Conscience is a remarkably engaging study of the Wakefield family and the early settlement of British colonial societies. It draws on a rich store of sources to paint a portrait of a complex family whose influence crossed the globe.

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. Deciding that neither myth made good historical sense, Philip Temple decided to produce a biography. In stitching together a net of letters and documents, Temple has produced the most comprehensive account of the family's role in the development of the Commonwealth. 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 gripping family story, A Sort of Conscience provides an accessible history of British colonial settlement in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The work comes complete with scholarly apparatus, including an introduction, extended notes and a bibliography.


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Philip Temple is an award-winning New Zealand author with 40 novels, non-fiction works and children's books to his credit. At various times, he has been the Robert Burns Fellow at the University of Otago, the Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton and National Library Fellow in Wellington. His longstanding interest in New Zealand colonial history yielded many books on the history of mountaineering and exploration. He lives in Dunedin.

Montana Book Award for Biography, 2003; Ernest Scott History Prize, 2003; ARANZ Ian Wards Prize, 2003.


June 2002, 240 x 170 mm, 592 pages, illustrations, genealogies
Hardback, ISBN 9781869402761