The British Empire

Maori Resistance to British Rule

The Treaty of Waitangi

In January 1840 Captain William Hobson, a British trader from New South Wales, landed in the Bay of Islands with the authority from the British government to negotiate a treaty with local Maori chiefs for the annexation of New Zealand. The resultant Treaty of Waitangi, signed by around forty Maori chiefs, became the basis for British authority in the islands. The decision to send Hobson to conclude an agreement  with the Maori was a reluctant one taken by the Colonial Office in London but one they believed was in the best interests of the Maori people.

The Colonial Office

The Colonial Office at the time was led by Lord Glenelg who believed it was the duty of the metropolitan government to look after the interests of local native people. The 1830s was a time when the lives of native peoples were being threatened by settlers in South Africa, New South Wales and Tasmania. The Parliamentary Committee for Aborigines heard evidence in London about atrocities committed by settler militia and soldiers which appalled them but competition for land in distant colonies and the increasing numbers migrating from Britain to escape economic depression meant that pressure on the land and lifestyle of native peoples would continue for decades in the settler colonies.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield

In 1839 Edward Gibbon Wakefield founded the New Zealand Company with the intention of founding a colony in New Zealand on scientific principles. He believed the Maori to be a barbaric people with no claim on the land. Native peoples like the Maori often had a different concept of the nature and importance of land that was at odds with the utilitarian view of British settlers. Lord Glenelg and his secretary Lord Stephen were concerned that the influx of thousands of settlers into New Zealand would upset the fine balance which existed between local people, traders, missionaries and the few settlers that existed in the mid 1830s.

Early contacts

The Maori were happy to trade with Europeans, exchanging flax for guns and trinkets, although the limited contact they had with whites and the guns they used to conduct wars of revenge against enemy tribes led to a reduction of the Maori population to 100,000 through disease and warfare. The Maori had traded with Europeans since the arrival of sealers and whalers in the 1790s and tolerated the arrival of missionaries in the Bay of Islands in 1814 but the Maori resisted any attempts to subdue or patronise them. By 1840 there had been a number of incidents, the worst being when a trading vessel, the Harriet, was wrecked off Cape Egmont and twenty four prisoners taken of which twelve were killed. The captain, John Guard, was released to return to Sydney to acquire a ransom. When he returned in a British warship, HMS Alligator, a Maori fortified village, a pa, was fired on. A week later, a force from Alligator landed under a flag of truce and then the situation got out of hand with the British firing on the Maori and destroying tow local villages.

Terms of Waitangi

Under the Treaty of Waitangi, the chiefs present agreed to grant the British government sovereignty over the islands in return for providing protection for the Maori and allowing them to keep their land. Only the Crown would be able to sell land to Europeans and buy from the Maori. Wakefield was unhappy with this arrangement as his company had purchased large tracts of land already from the Maori which he had to relinquish. In later years as more and more settles arrived in New Zealand this clause in the treaty became a source of argument between settlers and the Governor and ultimately led to the wars of the 1860s.

The Treaty of Waitangi was only signed by a handful of the Maori chiefs who had no authority to represent the remainder of the Maori people. Within a few years the arrival of thousands more settlers brought by the New Zealand Company and other migration companies led to a demand for more land and subsequent conflict with Maori people on the north and south islands.

In the South island in 1843 in the Cloudy Bay area, surveyors guarded by Captain Arthur Wakefield, brother of Edward, moved in to the Wairu valley despite the opposition of local Maori chief Te Here Rangihaeata who believed the white settlers had no right to enter the valley.  The force of surveyors and guards was pinned down by accurate firing from the Maori and forced to surrender but despite the white flag asked for firing continued by some of the guards and so incensed was Te Here Rangihaeata that he had Wakefield killed. Te Here Rangihaeata could see the threat that the whites settlers posed and so he travelled to the north island to warn the Maori there.

The first troubles

The first outbreak of violence in the north island following British annexation in 1841 came in the Bay of Islands in early 1845 where a settlement had been established at present day Russell. A local Maori leader Hone Heke angered by the settlers' presence and by the loss of customs duties which the British now administered toe down the flag pole which was a symbol of British authority and did so whenever it was replaced until soldiers were sent. The soldiers met with the opposition of Hone Heke and his men and forced the British soldiers to surrender and leave aboard HMS Hazard together with the settlers. Prior to leaving shells were fired at the beach whereupon the Maori retaliated by burning the settlement. 200 soldiers were then sent from Auckland and martial law declared. The British attacked a number of Maori pas but the Maori simply abandoned their fortified villages and attacked the British from the bush. The arrival of a new Governor, George Grey, could do nothing to subdue Hone Heke despite sending an armada with 1,300 men to the Bay of Islands. It was only after the death of Hone Heke in 1850 and the support of Maori auxiliaries that Grey was able to secure a peace in the far north although some groups of Maori continued to resist the spread of white communities.

Trouble in the Hutt Valley

In March 1846 strong resistance began to the presence of settler communities in the Hutt Valley following  illegal land grants. Settlers constructed a stockaded fort but the Maori changed their target to outlying farms. When Grey sent in soldiers the Maori, led by Te Mamaku, moved inland to areas of swamps and lagoons where the Europeans would not venture. The following year Te Mamaku began a new struggle against  settlements along the Wanganui River. A small Maori army of 500 attacked the main settlement in war canoes and despite the use of a gunboat and Maori kupapa (Maori auxiliaries) hostilities only stopped when the planting season started and the Maori withdrew. The following year Grey struck a deal with the Maori whereby the local settlers would pay a small sum in return for being able to stay and for the return of their cattle. Peace was established in the Wanganui egion but Te Mamaku would be involved in the wars of the 1860s.

The Wars of the 1860s

By the 1860s the white population had increased but the amount of land available for them to buy from the government had not. Successive governors had adhered to the policy established by the Colonial Office of restricting the amount of land bought from the Maori. Such was the demand for land by 1860 that settlers were putting pressure on the Maori to sell their land and in return there was a growing concern by some Maori leaders that the continual loss of Maori land would lead to the destruction of their culture. For much of the 1860s large areas of the central North Island were the scene for continued resistance by those Maoris who believed that to accept the peace terms offered by the British would mean an end to their way of life as they knew it. Already the status of many chiefs had been eroded by the growth of Christianity amongst the Maori. The British resorted to confiscating large areas of large used by the 'rebel' Maoris and using force to enforce the decisions of the courts but the Maori were not subject to the unlimited power used in new South Wales and South Africa where death squads were used to attempt the extermination of the local people.

Top: the Busby house at Waitangi where the treaty was signed.

Above: New Zealand Company ships arrive with settlers.

Reverend Marsden’s arriving in the  Bay of Islands

The Cloudy Bay area of the South Island where Te Here Rangihaeata opposed the attempts to settle the area by Europeans.

Hone Heke tears down the flagpole of the British in the Bay of Islands