The Drift to War
Some Maoris, and among them notable men, came to fear for their future in the later 1850s. Tribe and land were intimately bound together; the spread of colonisation threatened the very existence of the tribes. Wiremu Kingi, a chief of Te Atiawa, returned to Waitara in 1848; here he made himself the leader of those Taranaki Maoris who refused to sell land. Other Maoris wished to sell; thus Taranaki in the later 1850s was rent by violence between sellers and non-sellers. Not unnaturally, the influence of settlers was thrown behind would-be sellers.
In the 1850s two young Otaki Maoris conceived the idea that the tribes should unite to protect Maori life by the preservation of Maori lands. They propagated the idea throughout the North Island, especially in the largely untouched interior. From the Waikato tribe a claimant to national leadership emerged in 1858, Te Wherowhero, ruling as King Potatau I. His suzerainty was neither wide nor effective but wherever his title was acknowledged resistance to land sales grew. This movement was strongest south of the town of Auckland, the second area in the colony where settler land hunger was at its most acute, for earlier Crown purchases had been taken up and were often held by speculators waiting for high prices.
It was in these two areas, Taranaki and the Waikato, where covetous settlers faced obdurate Maoris, that the explosion came. Two New Zealands were facing each other, the one essentially Maori, the other European, expansive and aggressive, demanding control of the whole country so that it might have the use of the best parts. Inevitably the latter prevailed, but only after a decade of sporadic fighting.
The outbreak became certain in 1859, when the Governor, probably in ignorance of the consequences of his action, accepted an offer to sell the Waitara block made by a minor chief, Te Teira. The land was occupied by Kingi's Atiawa people, and he imperiously forbade the sale, not on grounds of his own claims to the land, which were real enough, but on the authority (previously respected) of the chief to veto sales of any part of tribal land whether he had personal claims to it or not. The Taranaki settlers rejoiced that a pretext for war had at length been found. Gore Browne, a touchy and rigid man, convinced himself that Kingi was defying the authority of the Queen and, after a pretence at an investigation, sent in the troops to dislodge Kingi in March 1860, just a year after Te Teira's fatal offer. That McLean, Richmond, and Robert Parris, the local land commissioner, were involved in the whole affair seems certain, but just in what manner, indeterminable.
Relations between the Taranaki Maoris and the Kingites of the Waikato were so close that this engagement in fact opened the whole Maori war, though hostilities did not begin in the Waikato until 1863. Fighting in the Taranaki region in 1860–61 ended with Kingi's defeat and his flight to the King districts. This area to the south of Auckland was the real heartland of Maori resistance, resistance which Grey, arriving for his second term as Governor in 1861, was determined to crush. With one hand, and ineffectually, Grey attempted pacification through a new law enforcement system seeking Maori cooperation; with the other he prepared for the worst and began the construction of a military road south to the Waikato. Grey ordered General Cameron's advance in July 1863 in the belief that an attack upon Auckland was under preparation. For nearly a year there was constant fighting in the Waikato, until the King Maoris were finally defeated at Orakau in April 1864. This engagement was decisive, though small-scale fighting persisted elsewhere for many years.
Under the impetus of Pai Marire or Hauhauism, an adjustment cult which blended Christian and traditional Maori beliefs and practices and stimulated resistance of a most fanatical kind, fighting flared up again in 1864 around New Plymouth, spread to the Bay of Plenty and towards Napier in the following year. There were further outbreaks in 1866 and 1868 around Taranaki and Wanganui. But the lead in the fighting of the closing years was taken by Te Kooti Rikirangi, who emerged in 1868 as a leader of striking abilities. Unfairly deported to the Chathams, he had substantial revenge in a series of small-scale campaigns in the east between 1868 and 1872. He took refuge with the Kingites in the latter year, still themselves powerful in spite of defeat, and though his continued existence was ominous, in fact neither he nor they caused more trouble.