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The Maori and Colonial New Zealand

Around the year 1000, give or take a century or so, Polynesians today called the Maori arrived in what today is called New Zealand. They came in long twin-hulled canoes, each said to carry several hundred warriors, perhaps beginning their journey around Taiwan. The Maori settled in the Bay of Islands area, and soon they were moving to new locations in the land they called Aoterroa (the land of the long white cloud), and the more peaceful people who had been in Aoterroa before them disappeared as an identifiable people. The Maori hunted the ostrich-sized moa bird and also the greatest of eagles, the Harpagornis Moorei, into extinction. And, from their excessive harvesting, the large shell fish that the Maori found also disappeared, the Maori having to resort to the eating of smaller shell fish.

Maori is a Polynesian word meaning common or normal, used by the Maori to distinguish themselves from foreigners. In the 1700s, Europeans came in their sailing ships, and the Maori traded with European whalers and those who were taking seals from Aoterroa's coasts. The Maori traded fish and sweet potatoes for cloth, glass bottles, beads and nails. The Europeans and Maori usually got along well enough for trade, but in 1810, the captain and some crew members of a British ship, The Boyd, who had gone ashore at Whangoroa Harbor, were killed and eaten by Maori who were retaliating for cruelty to one of their number, the British not having learned to be very careful about the sort of incident that led to the death of Captain Cook.

The Maori acquired a reputation among Europeans as dangerous savages, which delayed the arrival of an Anglican mission from Australia until 1814. The missionary, Samuel Marsden, sent two missionaries ahead of him and arrived shortly afterward with six Maori chieftains who had been staying with him in Australia – New South Wales, to be exact. In New Zealand's Bay of Islands area, on land that was received in trade for axes, the mission built a church and a mission school. The mission made little progress, but with its agricultural tools, farming developed around the settlement, and the local Maori chief, Hongi Hika, was friendly.

The Maori were living in tribal groupings. Sometimes these tribes feasted together, and often they fought each other. Hongi Hika suggested to other chiefs that rather than war with each other it was best to unite politically. But he found other chiefs unwilling to follow his suggestion. The Maori, like others since the ancient Egyptians, were more likely to find unity through conquest.

In 1820, Hongi Hika visited England and met with King George IV. King George gave him gifts in recognition of Hongi's help in introducing Christianity to the Maori people. On returning to New Zealand, Hongi Hika stopped at Sydney, and there he exchanged King George's gifts for muskets and ammunition. He used his muskets in a war with a neighboring chief: Te Morenga. Hongi Hika won with the greater range provided by muskets and bullets over the traditional weapons of bone and hardened wood. Across New Zealand an arms race developed, and what were called the Musket Wars continued among the Maori. The British government was not yet in control of New Zealand's coast and was unable to stop the trade in muskets. The British were, however, able to diminish the trading of heads from New Zealand to Australia.

Hongi Hika's warriors killed more than 5,000 and enslaved many more of his fellow Maori before his death in 1828. Meanwhile, by 1825 more Church of England missionaries had arrived, their number having reached 60 including wives and children. The Maori associated the healing power of the European medicines that they received from the Christians with their own spirituality. Taking aspects of Christianity that suited them Christianity was spreading among them. Also, the Maori were growing weary of the slaughter of the Musket Wars, and by 1835 the Musket Wars were ended.

The Maori and Chatham Islanders

On Chatham Island (pronounced CHAT-ham), 800 kilometers east of New Zealand, lived the Moriori, who were related to the Maori. They were hunters and gatherers, sparse in population and, perhaps because they were few in number and isolated they were unpracticed at warfare. In late 1835 about 900 Maori from New Zealand landed on Chatham Island. The Maori were armed with guns, clubs and axes. They announced to the Moriori that they were their slaves. Moriori chiefs conferred with each other and drew from their religious heritage. They offered the Maori friendship and a share of the island's resources. The attempt to appease the Maori failed. The Maori began killing the Moriori, including women and children. The Maori put people in pens and feasted on the tender meat of Moriori children. A Maori conqueror described it:

We took possession …in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. Not one escaped. Some ran away from us. These we killed, and others we killed – but what of that? It was in accordance with our custom.

The Treaty of Waitangi

In 1839 it was feared in Britain that France was planning to colonize New Zealand's South Island. The British wanted to keep the French away from what some of them believed God had willed to the British. In Britain, a private company, the New Zealand Company, formed in 1839, and in January 1840 the company transported settlers to New Zealand. And Queen Victoria's government claimed New Zealand on the ground of Captain Cook's discovery.

The British preferred a peaceful arrangement to taking control of New Zealand by force, and the queen's government offered the Maori chiefs its support and all privileges as the queen's subjects. This was the Treaty of Waitangi, signed by 46 Maori chiefs on February 6, 1840. The treaty guaranteed the Maori possession of their "lands and estates, forests, fisheries and other properties" in exchange for their accepting the Queen of England as their sovereign. One of the Maori chiefs, Tamti Waska Nene, under the influence of the Wesleyan missionaries, argued with his fellow chiefs that accepting the treaty would put an end to warring between tribes for the benefit of all. On February 6, forty-six Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi. The British then went elsewhere in New Zealand to collect signatures, including sparsely populated South Island. Some chiefs refused. But by May 21 the British had more than a hundred signatures.

More White Settlers

Some Maori were learning English and converting to Christianity, and a few among them became evangelists. The French settlers who had arrived on South Island were to become British subjects. In 1841, Great Britain made New Zealand a colony separate from Australia's New South Wales colony, and the British built a capital for its new colony and called it Auckland.

Thousands more from Europe came to New Zealand. Some Maori sold them land while some other Maori were offended by the incursions into their territory. In the Wairau Valley, Maori set a surveyor's hut afire. Armed settlers tried to arrest the Maori responsible. Violence erupted and twenty settlers were killed.

A rebellion among the Maori followed in 1844. Hone Heke (a nephew of Hongi Heke) who had lapsed from Christianity was angry at the high price of tobacco and blankets and the duties that the British had imposed on imported goods. He cut down a flagpole – a symbol of British authority. The governor of New Zealand, Captain Robert FitzRoy arrived in December and was sympathetic with the Maori and ready to take their side in disputes. He re-erected the flag pole, abolished customs duties and imposed a property tax on settlers but not on the Maori. He also gave into Maori demands for the right to sell their land to European settlers. Hone Heke was not mollified. He cut down the flagpole again. The governor ordered his arrest. War resulted – called the First New Zealand War. Some Maori tribes sided with Heke, and some sided with the British.

In 1845 a new governor arrived at Auckland, George Grey, who intended to restore peace and rescue the colony from bankruptcy. He was the first governor to New Zealand who knew the Maori language. He studied their traditions and was recognized for his scholarship on Maori culture. He tried to develop close ties with the Maori chiefs, and he distributed gifts among them. He had Maori hired for road building, and he paid them almost as much as the European settlers were receiving in their towns. He encouraged missionary education among the Maori, and he established four hospitals in which the Maori and settlers were treated on equal terms. Grey also pursued military action against the Maori rebellion, and the First New Zealand War dwindled and was largely over by 1847.

The settler economy grew. By 1850 there were 70,000 sheep in the Nelson settlement (in the north of South Island) and 42,000 sheep across the channel at Wellington. By 1852 Wellington had around 6,000 settlers, and more than 8,000 settlers were on South Island – mainly in at Nelson, Christchurch and Duneden. Auckland was populated by almost 10,000 Europeans, and around Auckland almost 100,000 sheep were being raised.

In 1852, Britain's parliament passed the New Zealand Constitution Act, which allowed for the setting up of a General Assembly and representative government in New Zealand. And by 1856, New Zealand had control over its internal affairs, while Britain's governor maintained control over defense and relations with the Maori.

The Maori were developing agriculturally, selling food to the European settlers and exporting food to California. But Maori unrest continued. Maori chiefs met in the Taranaki area in hope of halting further sales of land to settlers. Gray left New Zealand and his position as governor, and settlers more hostile toward the Maori became prominent in New Zealand politics. The Maori felt more threatened. Their sale of food to settlers was declining as settlers were growing more of their own.

In 1859, New Zealand's government attempted to force a land sale in the Waitara area, and the Second New Zealand War erupted. Grey returned as governor in 1861, and again he pursued both war and better relations with the Maori. Many Maori chiefs remained allied with the British. Some of the Maori combatants belonged to the Hau Hau, who were anti-Christian and believed that their spirituality gave them a power greater than the white man's bullets. Another movement among the Maori, the Pai Marire, advocated the preservation of Maori identity and self-rule. Rebel Maori fought 5,000 British regulars, settler forces and Maori loyalists. The rebel Maori combatants suffered, and in 1866 the British withdrew their regulars. The war, meanwhile, was damaging New Zealand's economy. Industry was depressed. The cost of the war encouraged the settlers to a greater conciliation toward the rebels, and the war ended in 1872. The rebel dead since 1845 was counted at more than 2,000. The British lost 560 killed and loyal Maori (Kaupapa) forces suffered 250 dead. note48

In 1865, the capital of New Zealand had been moved to Wellington – a more central location. By now gold had been discovered, at Otago. The influx of miners to South Island doubled the population there. Gold and wool became New Zealand's leading exports. The economic boom that began in 1871 was followed a bust in 1879, with the usual banking crisis.

According to a 1881 census the total population of New Zealand was 534,030. Of the whites in New Zealand, 40 percent were British – most from laboring and lower middle-class backgrounds. The rest were Scandinavians, Germans and a few who came from Australia and the United States for gold prospecting in the 1860s. According to the 1891 census the total population had risen to 668,632, and the Europeans outnumbered the Maori by 14 to 1 – another instance of Europe's boom in agriculture and population producing migrations by Europeans to a less densely populated area, as had happened in the Americas.


Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.