Wakefield and Featherston duel

25 March 1847

Isaac Featherston, 1860 (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/1-003163; G)

Dr Isaac Featherston, the editor of the Wellington Independent, strongly attacked the New Zealand Company’s land policy in his newspaper on 24 March 1847.

Colonel William Wakefield, the Company’s Principal Agent in New Zealand, interpreted this editorial as a thinly disguised accusation that he was a thief. He challenged Featherston to a duel that apparently took place at Te Aro the following day.

Eyewitnesses apparently reported that Featherston fired first and missed. Wakefield then fired into the air, saying that he ‘would not shoot a man who had seven daughters’ (this often repeated account is probably apocryphal as Featherston only had two daughters at the time of the duel).

Featherston had arrived at Wellington in May 1841 as surgeon superintendent on the New Zealand Company ship Olympus. He practised medicine and became heavily involved in local affairs. In 1853 he would be elected unopposed as the first superintendent of Wellington province.

After becoming the first editor of the Wellington Independent in 1845, Featherston used the paper to attack the New Zealand Company for deceiving migrants. He himself had been bitterly disappointed on arrival in Wellington: ‘Did those mud hovels scattered along the beach, or those wooden huts which appeared every here and there … represent the City of Wellington?’ Where, he asked, were the hundreds of acres of ‘fine fertile land which shall produce such astounding crops?’ His own landholding was ‘a useless swamp worth nothing’. As Principal Agent, Wakefield bore the brunt of Featherston’s complaints.