Story: New Zealand wars

In the 1840s and 1860s conflict over sovereignty and land led to battles between government forces and some Māori tribes. The most sustained campaign was the clash between the Māori king and the Crown. Land confiscations to punish tribes that fought against the Crown have left a long legacy of grievances.

Full story by Danny Keenan
Main image: Attack on Tītokowaru's village, Te Ngutu-o-te-manu

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The New Zealand wars were a series of 19th-century battles between some Māori tribes and government forces (which included British and colonial troops and their Māori allies, known as kūpapa).

Northland

In March 1845 Ngāpuhi led by Hōne Heke Pōkai attacked and destroyed Kororāreka (later Russell). His men fought British troops and other Ngāpuhi led by Tāmati Wāka Nene, until January 1846.

Wellington

In July 1846 Governor George Grey arrested Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha, whom he blamed for attacks on settlers. A rescue attempt failed, and government forces pursued Ngāti Toa and their allies into the hills behind Pāuatahanui.

Whanganui

Tensions between Whanganui Māori and settlers were heightened in 1846–47 by the arrival of British troops, the wounding of a chief and the hanging of Māori who killed four Europeans. Upriver Māori attacked Whanganui town, and after a battle at St John’s Wood a peace agreement was reached.

Taranaki

Many Taranaki Māori opposed land sales, and in 1860 there was conflict over a land purchase at Waitara. The British army invaded, and there was fighting until March 1861.

In 1865 there were battles in South Taranaki, and Major General Trevor Chute led troops around Mt Taranaki, destroying Māori villages.

Waikato

The Waikato was the home of the Māori king. The government wanted to punish his followers who had fought in Taranaki, and to make Waikato land available to settlers. Troops invaded in July 1863. War continued until April 1864, when King movement followers withdrew into what became known as the King Country.

Tauranga

British troops were sent to Tauranga in 1864. Rāwiri Puhirake’s men repelled a British attack on Pukehinahina (Gate ), but were later defeated.

Prophetic movements

Māori prophetic movements emerged to resist land loss. Some tribes opposed these movements, and numbers of kūpapa increased. The British government also began to withdraw troops.

In 1864 supporters of the Pai Mārire faith attacked British forces in Taranaki, and were defeated on Moutoa Island by lower-river Whanganui Māori. Pai Mārire spread to the East Coast, where its supporters were defeated by the armed constabulary.

Tītokowaru

Ngā Ruahine leader Riwha Tītokowaru wanted to defend Māori land in South Taranaki as settlers moved in and land was confiscated. He fought government troops and Whanganui Māori in 1868–69.

Te Kooti

Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Tūruki had been imprisoned on the Chatham Islands, where he developed the Ringatū faith. In July 1868 he escaped and returned to Gisborne, with 268 followers. He fled inland, and was pursued by the armed constabulary for almost four years.

Long-term impact

Figures are uncertain, but about 500 British and colonial forces, 250 kūpapa and 2,000 Māori fighting the Crown may have died in the wars. Māori who had fought the Crown lost large areas of land – about 1 million hectares in total.

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How to cite this page:

Danny Keenan, 'New Zealand wars', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/new-zealand-wars (accessed 25 September 2016)

Full story by Danny Keenan, published 20 Jun 2012