October 28: Remembering 19th Century Wars

Need for accurate information

By Roger Childs

Otorohanga College students Leah Bell and Waimarama Anderson proposed the idea after a visit to Orakau seven years ago.

Their feeling was that the public needed to have a better understanding of the conflicts of the 19th century and that students should learn about them as part of the school curriculum.

Today is the first commemoration, and it is vital that there is accuracy and objectivity.

Let’s start with one important fact: the Wars were not just between Maori and Crown forces representing white settlers. In reality there were more Maori fighting with the government (kupapa), than against it.

What’s in a name?

Historians have struggled to come up with a universally acceptable name for the battles and skirmishes which occurred after the Treaty of Waitangi.

  • Maori chiefs ceded sovereignty of New Zealand to the British crown

    Maori Wars? No, because there were plenty of British and some settler troops fighting as well.

  • Land Wars? No, because although there some disputes related to selling or retaining land, there were other issues such as the Maori “king” claiming sovereignty over territory in the Waikato.
  • James Belich has suggested “wars of sovereignty” but this is nonsense as the sovereignty of all New Zealand was ceded by Maori chiefs in the Treaty of Waitangi. The British government, which had been reluctant to intervene in the country at all, was not going to accept sovereignty of just part of the country.
  • New Zealand Wars? Not really as there were no battles in the South Island or in many regions of the North.
  • Vincent O’Malley has used the title The Great War for New Zealand for his book on the 1863-64 Waikato War. But this a preposterous name, as that conflict was a rebellion and limited to the central North Island.

Wars of Rebellion?

Tawhiao the second Maori “king”. He would not accept the sovereignty of Queen Victoria.

Historian John Robinson has suggested Wars of rebellion and this comes closest to the reality of what happened.

The First Taranaki War occurred after the Governor attempted to introduce the law and order which settlers and most Maori leaders wanted.

And the Waikato War began as a consequence of threats of aggression by some Maori against white settlements such as Auckland, and the Maori “king’s” refusal to accept the sovereignty granted to Queen Victoria in the Treaty.

Many history books refer to the latter conflict starting as the result of British troops invading the Waikato. Wrong word, governments don’t invade parts of their own country.

The small number of tribes who took up arms, were rebelling against the legitimate government. Most Maori leaders wanted to accepted the rule of the Crown and live in harmony with the new settlers. This came through strongly at the 1860 Kohimarama Conference – the largest gathering of Maori chiefs in the 19th century.

It was also the view of the first Maori “king” Te Wherowhero, but he could not control the more aggressive of his followers.

What to remember?

This website presents aspects of the New Zealand Wars fought between Māori and the Crown throughout most of the 19th century. Ngā Pākanga Whenua O Mua

We should all remember the conflicts of the 19th century that occurred in New Zealand and we are entitled to get accurate information from historians, websites and official sources. (The statement quoted above is flawed, because there was no Crown before 1840 and no fighting in the last 18 years of the century.)

The battles and skirmishes from the 1840s to the 1870s probably killed 3,000 – 4,000 people, whereas the inter-tribal wars of the 1800s to 1840 are estimated to have caused the deaths of at least 40,000, many of whom were innocent men, women and children, as well as prisoners.

Wars are always regrettable and any casualties are too many. One of the big tragedies of the early 19th century tribal wars was the killing of thousands of women and girls, which set back the recovery of the Maori population for a generation or more.

Remembering peace

Rewi Maniapopto

This, the great meeting of June 1878, (at Waitara), was a festival occasion.  It was a time of meetings between former enemies, a time to heal old wounds, to enjoy peace and friendship. Here is the answer to the current call for a day of remembrance of the nineteenth century wars.  Historian, John Robinson

Leah Bell and Waimarama Anderson proposed the idea of a day to remember the 19th century wars after a visit to Orakau. This was where Rewi Manaipoto the warrior chief, fought government forces in 1864.

Hopefully the girls are also aware of Rewi the peacemaker, who greeted Governor Grey at Waitara in 1878 like a long lost friend, and reached an agreement over the land that had led to the First Taranaki War.

In recalling the conflicts in New Zealand in the 19th century, it is vital that we remember peaceful outcomes, as well as battles.

I’m looking forward to the commemoration because it will give our nation the opportunity to learn a part of our history that has been silent for too long,” Former Māori Development Minister, Te Ururoa Flavell

I’m sure we would all agree, but let us remember all the 19th century conflicts and their outcomes, and ensure that there is an accurate and balanced understanding of this important part of our nation’s history.