The New Zealand Wars 1845-1872
September 14, 2017 5:26 AM   Subscribe

For a time in the 1860s there were more British troops in New Zealand than almost anywhere else in the empire outside India. And the Waikato war was the defining conflict in New Zealand history – a battle between two competing visions of the nation’s future. British victory paved the way for settler and European hegemony, casting aside Māori aspirations for partnership and shared prosperity for at least the next century. Instead, sweeping and indiscriminate land confiscations pushed Māori tribes to the margins of colonial society, condemning generations to lives of poverty.

The New Zealand Wars were a series of armed conflicts that took place in New Zealand from 1845 to 1872 between the New Zealand government and the Māori.

Though the wars were initially localised conflicts triggered by tensions over disputed land purchases, they escalated dramatically from 1860 as the government became convinced it was facing a united Māori resistance to further land sales and a refusal to acknowledge Crown sovereignty. The colonial government summoned thousands of British troops to mount major campaigns to overpower the Māori King Movement and also acquire farming and residential land for British settlers.


James Belich's excellent 5 part documentary series The New Zealand Wars (1998) on Youtube
Part 1 The War Britain Lost (49’20)
Part 2 Kings and Empires (50’14)
Part 3 The Invasion of Waikato (50’15)
Part 4 Taranaki Prophets (50’24)
Part 5 The East Coast Wars (51’02)

And in Te Reo Māori (Māori language with English Subtitles), Waka Huia’s The New Zealand Land Wars (2014)
The Battle of Rangiriri (29’09)
Battle of Rangiaowhia (29’15)
Ōrākau (28’58)
Gate Pa (28’58)


If you're in the country, although many sites are dilapidated and overgrown,you can visit some battle sites managed by the Department of Conservation.


The Government has so far resisted making teaching of the NZ Wars mandatory but has left it up to schools to decide. However, 28 October 2017 has been set as a national day to remember the New Zealand Wars.
posted by Start with Dessert (11 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Great post. The difference between "uncultivated" and "uninhabited" is huge in terms of the outcome for these two cultures. My heart is with these people and the struggles that they endure.
posted by unliteral at 5:58 AM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by doctornemo at 7:02 AM on September 14, 2017

So... these wars offered the British a clear demonstration that attacking entrenched prepared positions was a futile waste of resources, even if you had artillery and overwhelming numbers on your side...? Should have made a note of that.
posted by Segundus at 7:04 AM on September 14, 2017

While it is technically just after the period referred to here, i can't think of the NZ wars without thinking of Parihaka, which is especially awful because it was such a moving example of non violent resistance and yet ended so horribly.

The bit quoted below is only the final part of the story. The earlier stages, where they resisted by ploughing farmers' land and fencing it, is also worth reading.
On 1 November Te Whiti prepared his people with a speech in which he warned: "The ark by which we are to be saved today is stout-heartedness, and flight is death ... There is nothing about fighting today, but the glorification of God and peace on the land ... Let us wait for the end; there is nothing else for us. Let us abide calmly upon the land."
Shortly after 5am on 5 November, long columns emerged from the two main camps to converge on Parihaka, encircling the village
At 7am a forward unit advanced on the main entrance to the village to find their path blocked by 200 young children, standing in lines. Behind them were groups of older girls skipping in unison.
When the advance party reached the marae at the centre of the village, they found 2500 Māori sitting together. They had been waiting since midnight. At 8am Bryce, who had ordered a press blackout and banned reporters from the scene,[51] arrived, riding on a white charger. Two hours later he demanded a reply to the proclamation of 19 October. When his demand was met with silence, he ordered the Riot Act to be read, warning that "persons unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together, to the disturbance of the public peace"[52] had one hour to disperse or receive a jail sentence of hard labour for life. Before the hour was up, a bugle was sounded and troops marched into the village.
there was "a good deal of looting – in fact robbery" of greenstone and other treasures[50] and claims were later made that women were also raped
soldiers amused themselves by aiming their rifles at the crowd.
"Consider, here are 2000 people sitting still, absolutely declining to give me any indication of where they belong to; they will sit still where they are and do nothing else."
Each day brought dozens of arrests, and from 15 November officers began destroying whare that were either empty or housing only women
North Taranaki Māori, including children, were then separated–"like drafting sheep," one newspaper reported–and then marched under guard to Waitara. To starve out the remainder, soldiers destroyed all surrounding crops, wiping out 45 acres (180,000 m2) of potatoes, taro and tobacco, then began repeating the measure across the countryside.[9] By 18 November as many as 400 a day were being evicted and by the 20th 1443 had been ejected, their houses destroyed to discourage their return.[54] Te Whiti's meeting house was destroyed and its smashed timbers scattered across the marae in an attempt to desecrate the ground.
The largest, most prosperous town in Māori history had been reduced to ruins in a little under three weeks, not long by ordinary time, but the first gunpoint ultimatum had given the people one hour to disperse.
As with the land confiscations of the mid-1860s, Māori were effectively forced to pay the government for the cost of the military invasion of their land
posted by lollusc at 7:53 AM on September 14, 2017 [5 favorites]

Perhaps worth mentioning is Utu!, a film from 1983 about the NZ Wars (Trailer; Making of; Clip about the 2013 re-release). I found it pretty impressive at the time.
posted by elgilito at 8:14 AM on September 14, 2017

There was a recent trend in historical/sociological analysis that argued that the success of western civilization was due to middle class values ( Niall Ferguson being one I can bring to mind). It focused on the positive values - industriousness, innovation, hard work, planning and so on. The whole time I was reading I was thinking about slavery and colonialism and thinking "What if the driving factor behind the sucsess was that western European people have a culture or genes that promotes a more vicious and ruthless assholery than anywhere else?"
posted by srboisvert at 9:20 AM on September 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Thanks very much - as well as a great post, this is very conveniently timed for me. Last night I was reading Tent Life in Siberia and came across the following passage, which takes place in 1865:
We took up our quarters at the house of the "starosta" (stah'-ro-stah) or head man of the village, and spread our bearskins out on the clean white floor of a low room, papered in a funny way with old copies of the Illustrated London News....

Dodd and I, notwithstanding our fatigue, devoted the evening entirely to literary pursuits; searching diligently with tallow candles over the wall and ceiling for consecutive numbers of the Illustrated London News, reading court gossip from a birch plank in the corner, and obituaries of distinguished Englishmen from the back of a door. By dint of industry and perseverance we finished one whole side of the house before bedtime, and having gained a vast amount of valuable information with regard to the war in New Zealand, we were encouraged to pursue our investigations in the morning upon the three remaining sides and the ceiling.
I'd never heard of the New Zealand Wars per se, although of course I knew that New Zealand was taken by force and mendaciousness by the British, and I made a note to investigate this. Thanks for helping me correct this shameful gap in my knowledge.
posted by daisyk at 10:02 AM on September 14, 2017

Some things never changed. The British Empire was the product of a private sector corporations business growth strategy. You can see the replication of admin, hr, and logistics across continents.
posted by infini at 10:12 AM on September 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

The other question is whether this should be taught in British schools. I knew we treated the Maori people badly, but I had no idea it was this bad. Thanks for a shameful but important post.
posted by YoungStencil at 11:00 AM on September 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

No 'whether' about it, this should be taught in British schools. *All* of it should.

Then we need to work out how we educate the rest of the non-school going population about it.
posted by Helga-woo at 8:10 PM on September 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

Fantastic post, thank you!
posted by hatchetjack at 8:34 AM on September 18, 2017

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