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The New Zealand Wars

The New Zealand Wars were a series of conflicts between Maori and the British colonial forces. The first armed battles occurred in the 1840s while the largest were a series of wars in the 1860s. The last major battles in the New Zealand wars were fought in the 1870s although active resistance by Maori to British rule and armed suppression of that resistance continued into the 20th century. Over the course of the wars around 3000 people died, more than 2000 of the Maori.

The underlying cause of most of the conflicts was the attempts of the British to acquire land from Maori either by purchase or confiscation. A common name for the wars for Maori is "Ngā Pākanga Whenua O Mua", or "the wars fought over the land many years ago". In some  instances hostilities were exacerbated by pre-existing tensions between rival Maori groups.

Although some ex-convicts and free settlers had been recruited into British armed forces previously, the New Zealand wars marked the first official involvement of the Australian colonies in armed warfare outside Australia.

  • Four mortars were designed and built in Sydney for use against Maori; these were soon followed by larger guns.
  • In 1860 the British 40th Regiment, garrisoned in Victoria was sent to New Zealand; local volunteer militia replaced them.
  • In 1863–64 around 2400 colonists volunteered for military service in New Zealand on the promise of land grants from the conquered territory.

Colonial Australians generally supported the New Zealand wars, mostly on a racial basis. Some people felt that the wars were being fought “the noble cause of European civilization”, others argued that regardless of the rights or wrongs of the conflict there was a duty to support “our fellow countrymen”. Opposition to send volunteers to fight was generally on the basis of the undesirability of losing valuable colonists from Australia, or the difficulty that military settlers would face in keeping and farming their promised land. A small number of people did voice public opposition to the war, and to the rights of Maori to control their own lands, including the “poet of Geelong” William Stitt Jenkins.