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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



The Maori Wars

The myth of origins persists into the period of racial strife. Self-government had put the settlers in the saddle; even in the important realm of native affairs, and especially of native land purchase and policy, which was in theory reserved for the discretion of the Governor, they could, thanks to Governor Gore Browne's weakness, Native Secretary Donald McLean's responsiveness to public opinion, and to the constant pressure of the General Assembly, secure the dominance of their views. Yet the settlers and speculators remained frustrated in the North Island, notably in Taranaki and south of Auckland. Why? Patently because there were new villains to cope with – the Maoris themselves, who were, it was argued, engaged upon conspiracy against the authority of the Crown. Some of them were, in fact, acting in unison to bring land alienation to a stop – quite a different matter. Politicians in the 1860s constructed the myth of the Land League, and described it as a tightly-knit illegal conspiracy, a deliberate flouting of the law. The myth entered subsequent history; it is now clear that no such league was ever contemplated or formed, but it figures prominently in books written between the 1860s and 1940s.

Two further Maori War aspects of the myth may be noted. First, it became common form among some earlier historians to criticise the role of missionaries and clergymen as alleged instigators of Maori resistance – Octavius Hadfield in particular. Hadfield did, in fact, counsel some Maoris to hold on to their lands, but this no longer appears as a disloyal activity. But a missionary was always a fit villain for the myth of origins and pioneer virtue: missionaries, earlier, had assisted Hobson, had staffed the Protectorate Department, and had been relied upon by FitzRoy.

Secondly, it is still widely believed that Imperial troops were of no effect in fighting Maoris, that settler militia alone brought the resisting tribes to heel. Indeed, they played their part (together with Maori allies), but it was far from such a dominant role. This aspect of the myth, again, emerged in the conditions of the decade of fighting, the 1860s. Beleaguered settlers, who hated the officials, from the Governor down, for not defeating the Maoris in one swift blow and driving them from their lands, were quick to pass on to the further argument that the Imperial troops at the disposal of the Governor were, in any case, quite useless, and that colonial troops, settlers under arms, would do the job quickly if given their head. This view, which has entered subsequent history, may be classed as an extension of the antipathy to officialdom, both local and British, which characterised the 1840s. Related assertions of official incapacity, folly, and wickedness, persist into the post-war years.

Towards the end of the 1860s the British Government made plain its determination to withdraw troops from New Zealand unless the New Zealand Government made arrangements for their payment. The Liberal Government in the United Kingdom had, in fact, become reconciled to colonial self-government, believed that self-government should carry with it financial self-reliance, and was further anxious to reduce its own expenditure as far as possible. Notification of its intention to withdraw the troops prompted in New Zealand a veritable tirade of accusation – the Liberal “Little Englanders”, it was asserted, were bent upon the destruction of the Empire as a whole, and were making a start upon New Zealand. This wholly unsupportable view has found its way into many subsequent histories.