“The defining conflict of New Zealand history”

I don’t remember hearing anything about Maori wars when i was at school. I don’t remember learning much at all about anything to do with Maori, apart from singing Pokarekare Ana.

I have gradually learnt more since.

Today is the anniversary of what has been referred to as “The defining conflict of New Zealand history”.

NZ Herald:  154 years since Governor George Grey’s troops invaded Waikato

The colonial Waikato War began 154 years ago today, when Governor George Grey’s troops marched into the territory of the Maori King Tawhiao.

Newspapers of the time tell of around 250 soldiers crossing the border, the Mangatawhiri Stream, near Pokeno and taking control. The stream runs beside today’s State Highway 1 at the Mercer straights.

They were a precursor to an invasion by thousands of troops.

July 15, 1863. Source: the National Library

That invasion – “the defining conflict of New Zealand history” – and the other battles and events of the wars between the British/colonial forces and Maori have received relatively little attention. However, they are now set to become more familiar to New Zealanders, with the establishment of a national day of commemoration, October 28.

The first commemoration will be held this year.

Conflict, from fatal skirmishes to wars, occurred in Wairau, Northland, Taranaki, Waikato, Te Urewera, Tauranga, Opotiki and the East Coast, mainly in the 1840s and 1860s.

Maori Development Minister Te Ururoa Flavell has said: “These battles shaped our country and its people. We lost more than 2750 lives during the wars and it’s time we honour them in a similar way that we honour those who died overseas.”

The Waikato invasion, Grey’s attempt to force submission of the Kingitanga and its allies to the sovereignty of Queen Victoria, followed several years of tension after the Taranaki War earlier in the 1860s.

Grey pursued peace, while planning for war, constructing the Great South Rd to the border and building up troops and warships.

The trigger for the invasion, led by Lieutenant-General Sir Duncan Cameron, was the Maori King Movement’s rejection of the Governor’s ultimatum demanding allegiance.

After a series of battles in 1863 and 1864, the Kingitanga tribes retreated into what became known as the King Country. Cameron withdrew.

The Crown confiscated some 486,000ha of land, of which around a quarter had been returned before Royal Commission hearings in the mid-1920s.

In a $170 million settlement, including more than 15,000ha of land, the Crown in 1995 apologised to Waikato-Tainui for the unjust invasion of their lands.

Historian Vincent O’Malley’s book, The Great War for New Zealand, Waikato 1800-2000, published last year, says, “The Waikato War was the defining conflict in New Zealand history: a time when the government began to assert extensive control over the country, with devastating impacts not only for the Tainui people but for iwi everywhere.”

More from New Zealand History: War in Waikato

From Te Ara:


Q & A today

Today on NZ Q & A (TV1, 9 am):

Hawkes Bay water bottling

Whena Owen returns to Hawke’s Bay where she finds growing tension over the region’s burgeoning water bottling business.

Water bottling, especially for export, and especially with foreign owned companies involved, its a very contentious issue.

It’s also quite complex. Currently water is free for everyone in New Zealand, unless you choose to buy a supply that has cost money to provide it to you.

If water was charged for who would receive the income? The property owner where the water was sourced? The property owner of the source of the water? The Government? Iwi?

Should we all pay for all of the water we use?

Is rain free? Or could it be taxed?

Immigration and economic growth

Political Editor Corin Dann sits down with Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf – his take on the immigration debate plus the risks facing our economic growth.

Waikato War defined New Zealand History

We have the first look at a new book that claims the Waikato War was the defining battle in New Zealand history – not Gallipoli. Historian Dr Vincent O’Malley talks about The Great War for New Zealand with Dita de Boni.


I don’t think the Waikato wars can be defined as ‘the defining battle in New Zealand history, but it is a very significant period in our history that deserves more attention and commemoration.