Philip Steer, “On Systematic Colonization and the Culture of Settler Colonialism: Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s A Letter from Sydney (1829)”
In 1829, Edward Gibbon Wakefield published his first statement of a “systematic” theory of settler colonization, A Letter from Sydney: The Principal Town of Australasia. Wakefield offered a novel economic theory of the relationship between population density and successful colonization, hinging on the establishment of a minimum or “sufficient” price on colonial land, and he spent the next few decades at the forefront of efforts to promulgate and profit from it. The theory of systematic colonization was first put into practice in 1836 in the new colony of South Australia, and then more extensively in New Zealand in 1839; in both cases, speculative mania in Britain precipitated the invasion of thousands of settlers, even though the settlements were as yet unmapped. Wakefield’s theories were also at the center of a new imperial imaginary that emerged in Britain by the 1850s, which established Australia and New Zealand as pastoral locations capable of restoring damaged British subjects. In spurring the vast expansion of migration to Australia and New Zealand, contributing to the genocide and dispossession of indigenous populations, and accelerating the destruction of local ecosystems, systematic colonization constitutes one of the most powerful and destructive examples of the ability of Victorian representations to permanently reshape the globe.