The Great War for New Zealand?

A grandiose title

By Roger Childs

Vincent O’Malley

Historian Vincent O’Malley book The Great War for New Zealand Waikato 1800-2000 takes its name from a quote by Wiremu Tamihana in 1865. It’s unfortunate that O’Malley perpetuates this exaggeration in writing about the Waikato Wars.

He spoke recently at a Ministry of Culture and Heritage session, and seemed surprised that some in the audience challenged a few of his conclusions and sweeping generalisations.

The book takes a very sympathetic line to Maori involved in the Kingite rebellion, and the book has been well received in the Waikato and among many other Maori groups.

The timing for the session was appropriate as the first annual commemoration of the NZ Wars occurred on Saturday. (Scroll down to October 28  to see KIN’s story.)

Below is a summary of his talk. (Direct quotes are shown in italics).

The importance of Maori in the economy of the 1840s

Te Wherowhero in later life

O’Malley started by saying that most New Zealanders don’t understand what he calls the New Zealand Wars and that students don’t get taught about them in school. According to him there is a perception among many teachers that New Zealand history is boring and that is what his history tutor had to say.

All Kiwis should know about the wars as they were important for the country and the world.

In the 1840s after the Treaty had been signed, produce from Maori tribes, such as the Waikato people, kept settlers alive.

The great chief and later first “king”, Te Wherowhero, pledged to defend Auckland and called it the hem of my cloak.

Changing attitudes

However, in the 1850s new settlers were eying the fertile lands to the south of Auckland. They were not prepared to play second fiddle to a bunch of natives. In fact whereas the Maori wanted peace and harmony, the Pakeha wanted unbridled power.

Rewi Maniapoto

The settler government was hostile to Maori interests. So Maori came up with new ways to think of themselves. One was the Kingitanga movement which was a challenge to the sovereignty of Queen Victoria.

In 1863 the Waikato was “invaded” and what followed was a deliberate war of conquest. According to O’Malley there was no evidence to support the idea that there was an imminent Maori attack planned on Auckland.

There were atrocities committed by government troops after the Battle of Orakau and at Rangiaowhia. (Our resident historian, John Robinson, disputes that and we publish his views early next week.)

In the end Kingitanga was not destroyed and chiefs such as Rewi Maniapoto and Wiremu Tamihana were heroes.

Reasons for the book

The NZ Wars are a survival story and Kingitanga still persists today. (The present “king” is impressed with the book.)

We can no longer hide from the truth of the New Zealand Wars. They are something we should celebrate.

Hopefully The Great War for New Zealand Waikato 1800-2000 will contribute to the conversation about remembering the wars.

The Waitangi Tribunal says only one side remembers the wars.

O’Malley feels that various things should happen:

~ battle sites need to be protected

~ the NZ wars should be taught in schools

~ the public should be made more aware that this is our story, our history.

How have the wars been remembered in the past?

In 1914 5000 people commemorated the 50th anniversary of Orakau. There was special train put on from Auckland. A cenotaph was erected to remember 50 years of peace.

In the 1920s James Cowan wrote The New Zealand Wars: a history of the Maori campaigns and the pioneering period: this was the first book devoted to the topic.

Rewi’s Last Stand is the title of two feature films directed by pioneering New Zealand filmmaker Rudall Hayward: a 1925 silent movie, and a 1940 remake with corrections.

The centenary of the Battle of Rangiriri was remembered in 1963.

An expensive series The Governor played on television in the 1970s and this portrayed Governor George Grey as scheming and duplicitous.

James Belich book on the New Zealand Wars was published in 1986 and was followed up with a TV series in 1998. According to O’Malley, there was a strong backlash reaction from non-Maori.

Making an impact

Vincent O’Malley is very proud of his book and hopes that it will fill a large gap. Many people have been oblivious to this history.

(To gain a very different perspective, KIN recommends The Kingite rebellion by John Robinson, printed by Tross Publishing. We will be reviewing it early next week.)