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New Zealand Land Wars

During Captain Cook's earlier visits, he had recommended New Zealand as ideal for settlement by Europeans. Cook had described the Māori as “intelligent and adaptable, in spite of their inter-tribal wars.” Cook particularly recommended the Bay of Islands in the far North, for settlement.


The British Government did not pay much attention to Cooks recommendations, but by 1810 American and European whalers and traders began invading the Bay of Islands, creating a settlement called Kororareka (known today as Russell). The first missionaries also arrived. New Zealand, left to its own devices and not yet a colony, became a country without law and order.

Kororareka, later to become the first capital of the country, became the fifth largest settlement in New Zealand, turning into a shantytown inflated with brothels and grog shops. The Ngapuhi tribe, from the north Auckland region, were able to trade with Europeans for the much needed and devastating inter-tribal war weapon, the musket. The Ngapuhi became the first tribe to obtain this new and devastating weapon.

The inter-tribal wars in the North, between 1818 and 1833, became known as “The Musket Wars”. This new weapon caused wholesale massacre among the rival tribes. The northern tribes, being the first to obtain the musket from the many traders in the Bay of Islands, immediately sought “utu” (revenge) with enemy tribes. Many other tribes further south had not yet seen the musket.

The Māori population in Kororareka became reduced, due not only to the inter-tribal musket warfare, but also to European introduced diseases and depravity. It was because of this lawless situation that both Māori and the 2.000 odd British settlers scattered around the coast requested Britain to intervene.

The British Government was at first reluctant to act, but reports by Missionaries of the degradation of the country, coupled with rumours that the French were establishing plans to colonise New Zealand led the British to appoint an Official British Resident by the name of James Busby to Kororareka, in 1833, with the aim of exercising some sort of order.

Busby's particular statute did not invest him with much authority, and he therefore had little success in his mission.

In the meantime, back in Britain, Edward Gibbon Wakefield was working out a “systematic colonisation” theory for New Zealand. He created “The New Zealand Association” in 1837, later to become The New Zealand Company in 1839. The Colonial Office did not approve Wakefield's plan, feeling it would not be in the interest of the Māori and their land.

Eventually, the unstable situation in New Zealand forced the British Government to intervene, at James Busby's request. Captain William Hobson was nominated as British Consul in 1839, and commenced negotiations for the “annexation” of New Zealand, which lead to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Treaty was signed between representatives of the British Government and Māori Chieftains of the different tribes on the 6th February 1840, at Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands. Not all Māori Chiefs signed the Treaty, but the majority was considered sufficient. It was Tamati Waaka Nene, Hokianga Chief and a converted Christian who swayed the day with his pro-treaty speech.

Waaka Nene reminded the Māori of their intertribal destructiveness, and of the benefits of living in harmony with the “pakeha” (European), with peace and order for both European and Māori. Waaka Nene asked Hobson to preserve Māori customs and to stop Māori land from being stolen. The Chiefs signed the Treaty, and New Zealand became a British colony.

At first things went well. Māori population was approximately 115.000 by 1840. Missionaries had succeeded in converting around 30.000 Māori to Christianity by 1841.

The Wars

The New Zealand Wars, sometimes called the Land Wars and also once called the Māori Wars, were a series of armed conflicts that took place in New Zealand between 1845 and 1872. The wars were fought over a number of issues, the most prominent concerning Māori land being sold to the settler population.

The Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840, guaranteed that individual Māori iwi (tribes) should have undisturbed possession of their lands, forests, fisheries and other taonga (treasures) in return for becoming British subjects and selling land to the government only. The majority of Māori were keen to sign to consolidate peace and end of the long inter-tribal Musket Wars 1807-1842.

All pre-treaty colonial land-sale deals had been completed directly between the two parties. In the early period of contact, Māori generally sought trade with Europeans. Mission stations were established, and missionaries receiving land for houses, schools, churches and farms.

Some traders acquired large tracts of land prior to 1840, and the British government was concerned to protect Maori from exploitation. Following the 1840 Treaty of Waitaingi, the newly constituted British colonial authorities decreed that Māori could sell land only to the Crown (the Right of Pre-emption). However, often new settlers did not appreciate that Māori owned their land communally under the mana of a chief and that permission to settle on land did not always imply sale of that land. Likewise they had very little understanding of the widespread redistribution of land during the bitter musket wars. This meant that conquering chiefs were keen to profit from these newly acquired assets by selling them to settlers while the original, defeated owners, were,if they had survived the onslaught, bitterly against this. Sometimes the reverse happened, as in the Hutt Valley where the conquered Rangitane sold their land to the New Zealand company,much to the anger of the great conqueror Te Rauaparaha. Under pressure from settlers, the colonial government tried to speed up land sales and permitted settlers to settle in areas where ownership was still disputed between Maori hapu. This included huge areas of the North Island that had been depopulated, and in many cases repopulated with new hapu and iwi, following the musket wars of 1805–1842.

Kingitanga Māori in particular began resisting the purchase of their land by British settlers, and started using violence against those Maori who wished to sell. The Kingitanga refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the crown. The crown honoured the treaty by protecting loyal Maori, who were British citizens, from attacks by rebels who were attempting to set up an alternative government. This sowed the seeds of eventual war between loyal Maori and the British and New Zealand government on one hand and the minority rebel Kingitanga on the other.


The first battle of the New Zealand Wars was the 1843 Wairau Affray at the north end of the South Island. It was a massacre caused by the Nelson settlers deputized by the local magistrate trying to arrest Rangatira Warrior Chief after he had burnt down a whare (a Māori house) on land claimed by settlers. The settlers had a title to the land which had been originally sold to a British sea captain. This legal but rash action lead to 22 settlers being killed. News of this victory spread north and gave Hone Heke confidence to attack a British force.

The Flagstaff War took place in the far north of New Zealand, around the Bay of Islands, in March 1845 and January 1846. This was about mana—tribal prestige—and customs duties. It was also a war between rival Māori chiefs, with the British fighting on one side to maintain the rule of British law.

This was followed almost immediately by the Hutt Valley Campaign, where a small number of soldiers attempted to protect farmers and isolated settlers from marauding attacks between March and August 1846. British soldiers did not realise that Te Rauparaha,who had befriended the settlers and the government, was at the same time orchestrating the Hutt attacks. When the military intercepted secret letters sent by Te Rauparaha he was captured in a surprise attack and taken prisoner of war. This ended the Hutt war but lead to the Wanganui Campaign, April to July 1847, in the south-west of the North Island. The Wanganui conflict was caused by the Maori demand for utu (a Māori concept involving payback or revenge) when one of the ringleaders of the Hutt valley campaign was hanged. The take (just cause) for a new war was the accidental injury of a Maori by a British soldier. Maori felt confident in taking on the settlers as they vastly out numbered them.

In the first three conflicts, Māori proved to be warlike and at times treacherous opponents, who fought by their own rules which appeared barbaric to the settlers. Maori targeted isolated British settlers but many had no wish to drive them from New Zealand as they were the only source of money and trade goods. From the engagements emerged a purely Maori understanding: English law prevailed in the townships and settlements, and Māori law and customs elsewhere. The government believed the rule of law prevailed everywhere but the Wairau massacre had taught them that Maori felt they could do as they pleased. There followed a period of intermittent threats and haphazard economic cooperation from 1848 to 1860 although even during this time there were very serious threats to Pakeha such as the threatened attack on Auckland at Mechanics Bay by 250-300 Ngati Paoa in 1851 that was only prevented by the arrival of British troops and a warship and the stealing of a large amount of gunpowder from Kawau Island in 1856 by the same iwi.

During this time, European settlement accelerated and in about 1859, the number of Pākehā came to equal the number of Māori, at around 60,000 each. Settlers were keen to obtain land and some Maori were willing to sell but were prevented by Kingitanga Maori wishing to exert their mana. Settlers and the government tried to avoid involvement in these largely inter Maori squabbles until settlers were harmed. The result was the First Taranaki War. Once again, the local British forces were evenly matched by Kingitanga Māori, and after 12 months there was no decisive result. The government became aware that a large number of the toa (warriors) were from the lower Waikato tribe, Maniatoto.

However, the Government was not prepared to countenance the rebel Māori kingitanga controlling and ruling most of the central North Island. War broke out again in 1863 with the ambush and killing of British soldiers taking soldier to court Invasion of the Waikato. Wiremu Tamihana previously considered a moderate, as he had sold tribal land to Scottish settlers, sent a series of 18 threatening letters to Grey. Rewi Maniapoto attempted to kill a missionary, Mr Gorst, in Te Awamutu. Rewi stole the printing press and burnt down the school. Farmers and missionaries who had bought land in the Waikato and helped Maori establish a prosperous farming area where threatened and forced to leave. Settlers were continually smarting under a sense of wrong as Maori grew insolent filled with an overweening confidence in their own power and contemptuous of the British. These acts convinced Grey that the Maori rebels posed a serious threat. The Waikato War, including the Tauranga Campaign, was the biggest of all the New Zealand Land Wars but pales into insignificance alongside the Musket wars. The outcome of the War of Suppression of the Kingitanga was the confiscation of Māori land, totalling 4% of Nz's land area, which quickly provoked the Second Taranaki War. By the mid 1860s, the conflict had forced the closing of all the native schools.3 months after the confiscation,in 1865, large amounts of land were returned to both rebel and loyal Maori.By 1873 120,000 acres were returned to rebel Kingitanga. They also received large amounts of cash in 1926 and even more cash in 1946.

The period from the second half of 1864 until early 1868 was relatively quiet. Possibly the most notorious incident during this time was the murder of the missionary Carl Volkner. There were also two serious intra-tribal conflicts, civil wars in Māori tribes, between adherents and non-adherents of the Pai Marire or Hau Hau sect—a vehemently anti-Pākehā religious group which was intent on destabilizing the developing cooperation between the Māori and Pākehā. These are sometimes known as the East Cape War, but that label oversimplifies a complicated series of conflicts.

The last major conflicts were Te Kooti's War and Titokowaru's War. These were fought at the same time but were not related to each other and should be considered separate conflicts. This virtually ended the major, violent conflicts between the British and colonial government and the rebel Maori.

There were later incidents that were a part of the overall conflict, but are not usually seen in the context of the New Zealand Wars. One of these was the police raid on Parihaka in 1881 to arrest the prophets Te Whiti and Tohu, leaders of a campaign of passive resistance to land confiscation. Another was an incident in the 1890s that became known as the Dog Tax War. Another was the arrest of Rua Kenana in 1916.


In 1859, the Europeans population in New Zealand was about 10,000 less than the Maori Population. However, neither population was stable. The Māori population had declined so fast during the Musket Wars that some people saw their extinction as a distinct possibility.It is estimated that at least 20,000 Maori were killed but more importantly many iwi were driven from their traditional lands and Crosby says that 8 complete iwi were wiped out by their fellow Maori. Meanwhile, immigrant ships were arriving from Britain almost every week. Surprised by the hundreds of settlers arriving at Wellington, Māori chiefs asked if the whole English tribe was moving to New Zealand.[1] The imperial troops were supplied and paid for by Britain and not by the fledgling colony. So rebel Māori were fighting against the economic base of industrial Britain. Additionally, Māori had an agrarian economy—their warriors were also their farmers and food gatherers. As such, they were limited to periods of only two or three months of campaigning each year before they had to return to their home base although during the Musket Wars they had managed to leave their turangawaiwai(home territory) for a year at a time . They developed a system of rotating shifts for the longer conflicts, but were never able to deploy their entire force.

The Invasion of the Waikato was the largest conflict. The colonial side mustered some 18,000 men, with a peak deployment of possibly 14,000. Opposing them were 4,000 to 5,000 Māori, of whom only about half were actively involved at any one time.

None of the wars were simple two-sided conflicts. To some degree there were four sides to each war.

There were always Māori on both sides of the conflict—fighting for and against the British. In the Flagstaff War, the Māori allies were wholly independent of British command; Tāmati Wāka Nene was at war with Hone Heke. Indeed, the Battle of Waimate Pa, where the two forces met and fought with determination, did not involve the British at all.

By the 1870s, in Te Kooti's War, there were Māori fighting as part of the colonial forces. Ngāti Porou formed their own regiment. In the latter stages—the hunt for Te Kooti through the Urewera Ranges—some incidents were once again Māori fighting Māori. Usually though, these Māori were allies only while fighting. When their interests diverged from Pākehā interests, they tended to go their own way.

The Pākehā can also be divided into two groups. One was the British imperial forces—the combined forces of the British Empire, including Australians going overseas to war for the first time. The other consisted of the various militia formed from the settlers, answerable to the New Zealand government, not to London. (These units eventually evolved into the New Zealand Army). The first war was fought by imperial forces, probably assisted informally by a few settlers and loyal kupapa Maori. The Taranaki War involved organized units of settler militia. The British government was increasingly reluctant to become involved in New Zealand wars. To get its support for the suppression of the Kingitanga rebels, Governor George Grey had to present a picture of the seriousness of the situation to the Colonial Office in London. What became known as the Second Taranaki War was the reaction of the Māori to the confiscation of their land by the colonial government, which originally used imperial troops for this. The commander, General Duncan Cameron, worn out and tired of arguments with the colonial government, retired to England .

In 1870 the last British troops were withdrawn from New Zealand; this was in line with both the “self-reliant“ policy of Premier Frederick Weld and the Cardwell reforms of the Army in Britain.

There was one British ex soldier who fought for Māori, known as Kimball Bent,who was actually an American by birth. He had been convicted of theft and desertion. Kimball Bent, who acted as Titokowaru's armourer and later became a noted tohunga (priest). However the majority of Maori either supported the government or fought alongside the government. In 1864 the total rebel Kingitanga population who went into hiding, was estimated at 15,000 or about 25% of the Maori population, although this number is uncertain as the rebels killed Pakeha who went into the King Country and refused to complete the census. At that time half caste Maori-many of whom lived in Pakeha settlements, were included in the European population statistics in the census which distorts population figures. Demographer professor Ian Poole estimates that this boosted the nominal European population by as much as 5 to 10,000.

There was also a significant anti-war movement among the British settlers. Led by the Anglican Church Missionary Society and a number of prominent humanitarians, this group opposed government aggression and the confiscation of land. Members included Bishop George Augustus Selwyn, Archdeacon Octavius Hadfield, Sir William Martin, South Island politicians like James Fitzgerald and other public figures. Most active during the First Taranaki War, the group divided over the government's invasion of the Waikato and response to the Kingitanga. Eventually, some chose to support the government, a decision they immediately regretted as the Māori backlash placed missionary lives in danger. Selwyn, in particular, suffered from his association with the invasion and had to leave the country in disgrace. Some missionaries later tried to prevent wholesale confiscation of Māori land, but were ignored by the government.

Source: Wikipeadia:

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