Past Māori and Pākehā conflict

There have increasing calls for more Aotearoa New Zealand history to be taught in schools. When I was at school it was sadly lacking, and it is still deficient.

Kennett Watkins’ painting of the death of Gustavus von Tempsky during a battle against Tītokowaru at Te Ngutu-o-te-Manu, 1868.

Vincent O’Malley: Why we need to open up about past Māori and Pākehā conflict

It began with a single musket shot, fired perhaps by accident, in Wairau, near Nelson, in 1842. It ended with desultory gunfire in a steep and sodden gorge south of Waikaremoana in 1873.

Bookended by these two inglorious events, the New Zealand Wars claimed the lives of an estimated 2250 Māori and 560 British and colonial troops. Records are far from complete, but, including the wounded, the number of casualties could be more than 6000. The result was the transfer of nearly 1.5 million hectares of land into European hands, most commonly through the 1863 New Zealand Settlements Act. They changed the social, economic and political landscape forever.

Still, says Wellington historian Vincent O’Malley, we barely talk about it. Commemorations are few, many of the war sites are degraded and unmarked, the myth of a chivalrous and noble battle, sowing the seeds for the “best race relations in the world”, has been shattered. Today, students can go through school without learning any New Zealand history.

“Which is staggering to me,” says O’Malley. “This is our story, our history. It happened here, in this place, relatively recently, and it had profound consequences for what New Zealand would become. These were defining conflicts of New Zealand history and, as a nation, we need to take ownership of them.”

He argued the point in his 2016 book, The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000. The defining conflict in New Zealand history, he wrote, “did not take place on the Western Front, or at Gallipoli, or in North Africa”, but rather, in Waikato, 1863-64, in a premeditated war of conquest and invasion on the part of the Crown.

A bloody trail

Now, in his new book, The New Zealand Wars: NgāPakanga o Aotearoa, he walks us through the causes, course and consequences of the New Zealand Wars as a whole. It is a story played out on a ragged map, zigzagging across the North Island and the top of the South, from Northland, down to Wairau, Wellington, Whanganui, up to Taranaki, over to the Tauranga, then to the North Island’s West Coast, back to Tairāwhiti, then to South Taranaki and finally into the dense bush of the central North Island, where the hunt for Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki was finally abandoned.

Land, power and ideology

The obvious impetus for the New Zealand Wars was land – Māori had it, the British wanted it, the New Zealand Company overpromised on it. But land was not the sole cause. For a start, imperial troops were not always sympathetic to settlers’ land hunger. In 1855, Governor Thomas Gore Browne complained that many of the settlers were “insatiably greedy for land”, and when land could not be procured honestly, “still they desire to have it”.

The wars were also about power and hierarchical ideologies. The increasing number of settlers – by 1858, their population equalled that of Māori – arrived in New Zealand with deeply entrenched Victorian assumptions of racial superiority. They were certainly not willing, says O’Malley, “to defer to a bunch of people they dismissively called ‘natives’”.

At the heart of this was the tension inherent in Te Tiriti o Waitangi/The Treaty of Waitangi itself. In the English version, the British Crown proclaimed sovereignty over New Zealand. The Māori version stopped short of ceding sovereignty, referring instead to “kāwanatanga”, commonly translated as “governorship” or “governance”. Māori communities were promised “tino rangatiratanga” (chiefly authority) over their lands and resources.

The wars tipped the scales. The government did not achieve the total victory it wanted, but in the battle between two competing ideas of what the treaty stood for, it was the Crown’s version that won. This envisaged a treaty of cession and unbridled sovereignty, notes O’Malley, not mutual partnership and dialogue.

Like most Kiwis, O’Malley, now 51, went through school without learning any of this history. After all, his teacher assured him, “nothing really interesting ever happened here.” But when he took a New Zealand history course as an easy filler at university, “I was blown away – the idea nothing interesting ever happened in this country couldn’t be further from the truth.”

O’Malley is making an urgent call for this history to be more widely known. “It is about taking ownership of our history, binding us together as a nation that can honestly confront its own past. We need to own this history. Doing that is not intended to sow the seeds of division or disharmony. It is actually the basis for genuine reconciliation.”

I think we have quite a way to go to learn about the history of our own country. And quite a way to go with reconciliation.

Timeline of key events related to New Zealand’s 19th-century wars.

  • About 1807: First use of muskets in battle in New Zealand, by Ngāpuhi
  • 1809: Crew of Boyd killed by Ngāti Uru at Whangaroa
  • 1818–25: Ngāpuhi raids across North Island
  • 1821–6: Ngāti Toa and other iwi migrate from Waikato to Wellington area
  • 1829–37: Ngāti Toa and allies fight Ngāi Tahu in South Island
  • 1835: Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama invade Wharekauri/Chatham Islands
  • 1840: Treaty of Waitangi; first large-scale British settlement
  • 1843: Twenty-two Pākehā and 4 Māori die when land dispute between Ngāti Toa and Nelson settlers turns violent at Wairau
  • 1845–6: Inconclusive Northern War which splits Ngāpuhi for and against government
  • 1846: Fighting near Wellington as Ngāti Toa resist expansion of settlement
  • 1847: Fighting around Whanganui as up-river tribes attack settlement
  • 1858: Coronation of Māori King symbolises opposition to further land sales
  • 1860–1: First Taranaki War ends in stalemate between government and local iwi
  • 1863–4: Waikato War – Kīngites expelled from lower/mid-Waikato and Tauranga
  • 1863: Suppression of Rebellion Act enables confiscation of land of ‘rebel’ Māori
  • 1864–8: Many small conflicts, most between Pai Mārire followers and other Māori
  • 1865, 1866: Campaigns in south Taranaki by imperial troops
  • 1868–9: Titokowaru’s War threatens settler control of Whanganui area
  • 1868–72: Te Kooti raids across central North Island and is pursued by kūpapa
  • 1881: Māori autonomy in south Taranaki ends with occupation of Parihaka
  • 1884: Survey of King Country; Pākehā no longer excluded
  • 1890s: Urewera Māori resist land surveys
  • 1898: Hokianga Māori assert rights in ‘Dog Tax Rebellion
  • 1916: Arrest of Rua Kēnana at Maungapōhatu ends Māori autonomy in Urewera

– New Zealand History: New Zealand’s 19th-century wars

Waitangi Day or Aotearoa Day?

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is a big deal in New Zealand’s history as well as at present. Annual commemorations and celebrations and discussions and debate are an important tradition, as well as a way of trying to deal with things better now and in the future.

A problem though is that most of the attention is in Waitangi, in the far north of the country. And most of the interest and involvement seems to be from far north Māori , Nga Puhi. Many New Zealanders see it mainly as a Northland thing in the main.

I think that Waitangi Day will and should continue. But do we also need a more general, national celebration, perhaps an  Aotearoa Day?

Incidentally Waitangi means ‘weeping waters’, although most of the annual commemorations there are positive, despite protester and media efforts to highlight tioronei hoki tōna reo and ki ngā niho e tetē haere ana (that’s supposed to mean speaking in strident or shrill voices, and gnashing of teeth).

Waitangi Day is supposed to be ‘the national day of New Zealand’.

NZ History:

Every year on 6 February, New Zealand marks the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. In that year, representatives of the British Crown and over 500 Māori chiefs signed what is often considered to be New Zealand’s founding document. The day was first officially commemorated in 1934, and it has been a public holiday since 1974.

For some people, Waitangi Day is a holiday; for many, and especially for Māori, it is the occasion for reflecting on the Treaty. Since the 1970s the style and mood of the commemorations on Waitangi Day have been influenced by the increasingly heated debate surrounding the place of the Treaty in modern New Zealand.

Waitangi Day is recognised as New Zealand’s national day, but the long-standing tensions associated with it are always likely to surface in one form or another. The date is an important marker in the country’s history. Recognition of the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi as the nation’s founding document will continue to encourage leaders, communities and individuals to mark the day in new ways.


Waitangi Day is the national day of New Zealand, and commemorates the signing, on 6 February 1840, of the Treaty of Waitangi. Ceremonies take place at Waitangi, Northland to commemorate the signing of the treaty, which is regarded as New Zealand’s founding document.

It may officially be recognised as our ‘national day’, but it doesn’t have a national feel about it for me, and I think probably for many if not most New Zealanders. It is more a distant gathering albeit with some national significance.

The first Waitangi Day (NZ History):

In 1932 Governor-General Lord Bledisloe gifted the Treaty House and grounds at Waitangi to the nation. He hoped that the site would become a national memorial, symbolising that the Treaty of Waitangi had initiated a unique relationship between the indigenous and the colonising peoples.

In February 1934 Bledisloe’s gift was marked by celebrations. A pattern for subsequent events was set. It involved two sites – the Treaty House grounds (where the whare rūnanga would be built) and Te Tii marae close by – several organising bodies (Māori, Pākehā and government), and Bledisloe’s prayer that ‘the sacred compact made in these waters may be faithfully and honourably kept for all time to come’. A second prayer hoped that the two races might unite as one nation through Christianity – Bledisloe’s interpretation of Lieutenant-Governor Hobson’s words at the 1840 signing, ‘He iwi tahi tātou’ (Now we are one people).

The Christianity goal seems to have largely been dropped, fortunately.

The events had special meaning for many as they looked back to their independent status before the signing of the Treaty: 1834, when northern tribes chose a national flag at Waitangi, and 1835 when they issued a Declaration of Independence.

Māori and Pākehā perceptions of past and present events were clearly at variance in 1934. Waitangi became a stage on which the interplay of relationships – past and present – was repeated.

1940 Centennial

In 1940 New Zealand marked the centennial of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The government made a great show of national pride and unity at Waitangi. Newspapers talked of Waitangi as the ‘cradle of the nation’ and the Treaty as the ‘foundation of nationhood’. The Treaty and Waitangi began to find a place in the national consciousness, although for most New Zealanders they were of historical interest only.


The annual ceremonies at Waitangi expanded through the 1950s. Thousands attended, and the governor-general’s speech became a feature. Forging one nation from the partnership of two races by a sacred compact was a common theme, but the often expressed ideal of ‘one people’ provided an excellent opportunity for Māori to protest at the shortfall between promise and practice in race relations.

Waitangi Day Act 1960

In 1957 the Labour Party promised that 6 February would be declared a public holiday in view of the Treaty of Waitangi’s historical significance and its influence on Pākehā–Māori relations. Labour won the 1957 election and the four Labour Party Ratana Māori MPs (Tiaki Ōmana, Tāpihana Paikea, Iriaka Rātana, Eruera Tirikātene) tried to hold it to its promise.

The Waitangi Day Act 1960 declared that 6 February would be known as Waitangi Day, and would be observed throughout the country ‘as a national day of thanksgiving in commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi’. The act did not provide for a public holiday, although any locality could substitute Waitangi Day for any public holiday it already observed.

Northland Anniversary Day

 In 1963 the National government passed the Waitangi Day Amendment Act. Waitangi Day now supplanted the Auckland provincial anniversary day for Northland. This reinforced identification of the day with the north.

New Zealand Day – “a day for each New Zealander to enjoy as they saw fit”

The Labour government made the most of Waitangi Day 1973, with Prime Minister Norman Kirk announcing that from 1974 it would be a national holiday known as New Zealand Day.

Minister of Māori Affairs Matiu Rata, who had introduced a private member’s bill for this in 1971, indicated the government’s intentions. The day, he said, was to be neither ‘a symbolic nor religious occasion’ but a day for each New Zealander to enjoy as they saw fit, and the forerunner of an effort to achieve a ‘full sense of nationhood’.

Rata was also working towards making legislative provision for the Waitangi Tribunal in the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. He saw that it would be useful to separate the struggle over Treaty claims from the issue of a national day. The two acts were intended to be complementary.

A New Zealand Day, still on 6 February and with a wide appeal, might build public support for Māori Treaty rights, especially if communities became more informed about the Treaty’s part in New Zealand history.

Kirk wanted the first New Zealand Day in 1974 (which involved a royal visit) to acknowledge the country’s multicultural identity. A two-and-a-half-hour extravaganza was organised, watched by 20,000 people at Waitangi and screened on television.

The show, Aotearoa, depicted the country’s journey towards nationhood and the part played by people of many cultures.

Waitangi Day again

New Zealand Day 1975 passed quietly at Waitangi, perhaps because of Norman Kirk’s recent death. Elsewhere there was little of the celebration of the national day by local communities that Labour had hoped for.

The concept of a national day needed time to take root. It was not to be given this by the National government that took office at the end of 1975. The Waitangi Day Act 1976 reinstated the name Waitangi Day. The government argued that a number of representations had emphasised that the name recognised the significance of the Treaty and its spirit.

The name change repositioned the public holiday as a Māori–Pākehā event – no matter what the content of commemorations – and underscored the likelihood that Waitangi would continue to be the focus for protests.

From 1975, the organisation of annual events reverted, in the main, to northern groups, and the day was very much a northern affair, despite the national holiday.

And that is largely how it is today. There are more events marking Waitangi Day around the country, but they are either unknown or ignored by most people.

The 1990 sesquicentennial

New Zealand marked the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1990. The 1990 Commission, in charge of co-ordinating and promoting activities for the sesquicentennial year, was convinced that the Māori–Pakehā partnership concept had to be broadened to embrace the many cultures of the nation. The Treaty and Waitangi Day had their place, but they were not the only factors in the national identity equation.

Protesters were not absent, but it was Anglican Bishop of Aotearoa Whakahuihui Vercoe who made the most telling public statement. His speech signalled that no matter what the programme, the day was bound to produce tensions.

Those tensions have continued. For some it is more a day of expressing grievance than of expressing national unity.

The pattern of attendance by dignitaries, speeches and Māori and navy involvement at Waitangi resumed after 1990. There was no clear vision of what the day would mean were it ever to be a day for the nation as a whole; it often proved difficult to co-ordinate the various players in the event.

The Waitangi National Trust Board saw the day as the one time in the year when New Zealanders could be one people.

The formal Waitangi Day programme in 1991 and 1992 was intended to reflect the Māori–Pākehā partnership of tangata whenua (people of the land) and tangata tiriti (people of the Treaty), the latter being a concept that aims to give non-Māori partners a feeling that they have a right to call New Zealand their tūrangawaewae (a place to stand).

That didn’t really work out, there have been tensions, issues and protests since then, often political in nature.

The difficulties associated with events at Waitangi and Te Tii marae raised questions about whether official commemorations should continue to be held there. Cabinet decided that in 2001 there would be no official representation at Waitangi, but, in the end, two cabinet ministers were present.

The Crown returned to Waitangi in 2002, with the governor-general, attorney general and prime minister all in attendance. Protesters disturbed the welcome at Te Tii marae and an early church service in the whare rūnanga on the Treaty House grounds, but other events were held in a celebratory atmosphere.

Protests have continued at Waitangi, and the prime minister has not always attended events there on Waitangi Day.

Last year new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a big impression at Waitangi Day, but Leader of the Opposition Bill English stayed away. Not long after that Simon Bridges replaced English as Natikonal’s leader.

This year Bridges has taken part in Waitangi events alongside Ardern. Perhaps this marks a change for ongoing unity.

Moves to commemorate Waitangi Day across New Zealand have expanded in the early 21st century. Functions and events are now held throughout the country.

Māori communities have used the day as an opportunity to discuss the Treaty. Some marae hold open days or run talks on the place of the Treaty in New Zealand. New Zealanders elsewhere also now mark the day. There have been concerts in London, as well as less formal activities.

But it is still largely a Northland event, dominated by far north Māori and politicians, and a magnet for protesters wanting to attract attention.

Waitangi Day has changed a lot over the years since it started ion 1934. perhaps it will eventually evolve into more of a national day. Or perhaps it will always be just Waitangi Day, largely about the Treaty of Waitangi.

So should we also have a national Aotearoa Day at a different time of year?

Jami-Lee Ross – political history

Jami-lee Ross is political history, just about. He may resign from the National Party before he is dumped. He may do the honourable thing and resign from the Botany electorate, or he might hang on in disgrace until the next election.

There is no way he will be nominated to stand for National again. No other party would want to touch him with a 12.19 metre barge pole. His only option would be to set up his own party, but it’s hard to see voters supporting him.

Ross chose politics as a career. He joined the National Party in 2003, aged 17, and was elected to the Manukau City Council a year later. He worked as an electorate secretary for Maurice Williamson in Pakuranga. After unification he was elected to the Auckland City Council in 2010, but dumped that job just a few months later when selected to stand for National in the vacant Botany electorate.

His selection to stand for National was aided by Simon Lusk and Cameron Slater, who (wearing his paid political mercenary hat) promoted Ross on Whale Oil, and attacked and smeared opponents. I think Ross and Slater later stopped dealing with each other.

Ross was re-elected in the very safe Botany seat later in 2011, in 2014 and in 2017. He rose through the National ranks as Third Whip, Junior Whip and then Senior Whip in 2017. He was promoted to the front bench by Bridges.

Ross is still showing on the National website at #7  and as Botany MP, but with no responsibilities (since he took medical leave). But the View Website link redirects to a party sign up page.

I must admit I never liked Ross. He came across as smarmy and shifty looking – his look reminded me of a 1930s US gangster.

Ross has stuffed up big time now. It is just a matter of when he leaves Parliament, and it is unlikely he will ever return given his recent history. He will also struggle to get anywhere in local body politics.

Some people who choose politics as a career from a young age do well – take Jacinda Ardern for example. also Nikki Kaye (she started a bit older). And Chloe Swarbrick looks to have good prospects. So it isn’t generally a bad thing for people to become career politicians. Others, like Todd Barclay, quickly crash and burn.

Ross became a local body councillor at age 18, and an MP at age 26. He rose steadily in the National ranks. But at 33 he has failed badly.

He actually helped Bridges win the leadership earlier this year, but according to his tweets yesterday: “Some months ago I fell out with Simon. I have internally been questioning leadership decisions he was making”.

It now seems very likely that he started deliberately trying to undermine bridges by leaking. The expenses information that was leaked was trivial, about to be officially released anyway. But the act of leaking was serious.

We don’t know whether the subsequent pleading for the inquiry into the leak to be called off because of ‘risks to mental health’ was a genuine albeit poor reaction, or a trumped up ploy.

We do know from yesterday’s actions that Ross is not a fit and proper person to be a Member of Parliament. If he jumps he will be political history, and not flash at that (ironically he looked a bit like a flash harry). If he refuses to budge that will just prolong the period until he is dumped by National as a candidate and becomes an unemployed politician.


Hansard history to go online

All the available (virtually all) Hansard records of what has been said in Parliament have been digitised and will be available online.

This is not just a comprehensive record of New Zealand business in Parliament, it is also a valuable record of New Zealand democratic history.

For the record: 150 years of Hansard

A century-and-a-half ago, a team of independent reporters began writing down everything politicians said in debates at Parliament. They stood for truth and accountability and their work continues to this day. The team and their written record is known as Hansard.

More than just words on a page, Hansard is an account of New Zealand, its politics, society and history. Through it we can track the changes of our nation and see how our priorities and positions have developed or, in some cases, remained the same. Join with us in celebrating Hansard and its role in our democracy.

Happy anniversary Hansard

Hansard is more than just a fact checker. It is one of the longest running narratives in New Zealand’s history and presents the raw and often passionate opinions of political representatives from era to era. Its format is that of a dialog or script. No wonder then that playwrights, journalists and cartoonists have found it such a source of inspiration for their work.

Hansard is our history

If you’re interested in finding out more about Hansard, its origins, who writes it and why we need it, you can read all about Hansard in our series of online articles.

Coming soon: Some of Hansard’s best bits

We’re putting together an online exhibition of political cartoons, memorabilia. Watch this space!

Labour Day

Today is Labour Day, although to many people it is just a day off giving them a long weekend, and to quite a few others it’s a busy working day as businesses milk the weekend shoppers as much as they can.

NZ History has some history on Labour Day:

Fighting for the eight-hour working day

Labour Day commemorates the struggle for an eight-hour working day. New Zealand workers were among the first in the world to claim this right when, in 1840, the carpenterSamuel Parnell won an eight-hour day in Wellington. Labour Day was first celebrated in New Zealand on 28 October 1890, when several thousand trade union members and supporters attended parades in the main centres. Government employees were given the day off to attend the parades and many businesses closed for at least part of the day.

Early Labour Day parades drew huge crowds in places such as Palmerston North and Napier as well as in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Unionists and supporters marched behind colourful banners and ornate floats, and the parades were followed by popular picnics and sports events.

We are more likely to see streams of people heading to the shops today.

Currently there is no sign of the Labour Party acknowledging Labour Day on their website – the last news posts there are dated 24 October.

The PSA marks the occasion on Twitter:

We hope you all have a great Labour Day on Monday, a day off thanks to workers and our unions!

Labour on Twitter tells me:

You are blocked from following @nzlabour and viewing @nzlabour’s Tweets

I must be seen as a danger to their surge in popularity.

Which is lame because I can check their Twitter anyway, which shows no Tweets since retweeting Andrew Little congratulating the All Blacks and reporting from his trip to China.

The latest Labour Party post on their Facebook page is also All Blacks. They may not get a day off today, they should be training in preparation for the Rugby World Cup final against Australia..