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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.

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“If the blood of our people only had been spilled, and the land remained, then this trouble would have been over long ago.” Ngapora Tamati, 1872.

The Maoris interpreted the wars of the sixties as a struggle for land. The beginning of the war in 1860 over the Waitara dispute, its resumption in 1863 over Waitotara, the invasion of the Waikato and the announcement of Government plans for the confiscation of the “rebels” land all helped to confirm their suspicions. Though volunteers from outside tribes often joined in, giving the Maori forces the semblance of a national front, the wars were mainly a series of pitched battles in which each tribe made a final, desperate stand on its tribal domain: Atiawa at Waitara, Waikato at Rangiriri, Ngati Maniapoto at Orakau, and Ngai-te-Rangi at Gate pa. In such circumstances defeat and perhaps death were honourable. No Maori patriot hesitated to fight to the last for tribal land. But for the survivors the future was clouded with bitterness: they had to endure confiscation, the permanent loss of their valued land. Many tried to avert the final catastrophe by prolonging the campaigns. Some accepted the delusion of Hauhauism – “a new and precious thing by which we shall keep our land” – and when this failed others, like Te Whiti's supporters in Taranaki, reoccupied confiscated land and passively resisted the European occupation. But the European victory was final. Time and numbers were on their side and the confiscated lands were gradually settled by European farmers.

Land Confiscations

Altogether 3,215,172 acres of Maori land were confiscated in the Waikato, Taranaki, and the Bay of Plenty. Of this area 1,341,362 acres were subsequently purchased or returned, mainly to “friendly” or “loyalist” Maoris. In confiscating the land, little heed was paid to the degree of “guilt” of the “rebels”, and it was noticeable that the best of the confiscated land was retained by the Government for European settlement. Some tribes like Ngati Maniapoto lost no land, though equally involved in the conflict with Waikato who lost almost all their land. Ngati Haua, who fought at Rangiriri, lost very little; and Ngai-te-Rangi, the defenders of Gate pa, had most of their land returned. This unequal treatment had its sequel in differing tribal attitudes after the wars. Ngati Haua and Ngai-te-Rangi surrendered and cooperated with the Government, only to sell most of their land recklessly within a few years. Waikato were irreconcilable but Ngati Maniapoto eventually agreed to the opening of the King Country (q.v., despite the intransigent opposition of Tawhiao and the Waikato Kingites.

After the wars the struggle for land entered a new and, in some respects, more dangerous phase. Under the Native Lands Acts of 1862 and 1865 the Crown's right of pre-emption was abolished, a Maori Land Court was established to individualise Maori land titles and European settlers were permitted to purchase land directly from the individuals named in the Court's orders. This was part of a wider policy designed to fulfil the promise of the Treaty of Waitangi to grant Maoris the rights and privileges of European citizens, including representation in Parliament. But it was the land legislation which had the most disastrous results for the Maoris who became involved. The legislation could not be introduced in the unsettled districts, and in any case King Party supporters would have nothing to do with land transactions; consequently it was the “friendlies” like Ngati Kahungunu of Hawke's Bay and the surrendered Ngati Haua, both possessing valuable pastoral land, who were first involved in land dealings. The upshot was that most of the land passed into the hands of European squatters, often in return for the debts incurred in taking the land before the Court. In Hawke's Bay a “Repudiation” movement arose in the seventies as the Ngati Kahungunu attempted to contest the transactions in the Supreme Court. This was unsuccessful; it was decided in the Courts and by a subsequent Commission that the transactions were sound in law. The Ngati Haua tribe was sadly divided by the transactions in land, one section dealing with Europeans the other adhering to King Party proclamations against doing so. In 1873, as a direct result of a land dispute, T. Sullivan, who was employed by a European purchaser, was murdered by the Kingite section of Ngati Haua. Land transactions were coming dangerously close to provoking a renewal of the war, and moreover the Maoris involved were paying a bitter price for their loyalty.

There were other dangers. Land transactions and the proceedings of the Maori Land Court gave rise to social and economic disturbances. Agricultural production declined as Maoris lived off the proceeds of land sales; tribes were divided as individuals defied chiefs to sell land and, prompted by interested Europeans, carried their disputes into the new arena of the Maori Land Court; and a wave of drunkenness and demoralisation swept over the districts concerned. Significantly, Maori population declined most rapidly in land-selling districts. The peace of the Pakeha was becoming more dangerous than his war.

The King Country

Where tribes could refrain from dealing with land, they escaped the social consequences. The supporters of King Tawhiao, by withdrawing behind the confiscation line and preventing European penetration, escaped for 20 years. Despite the bitterness over the confiscation this was no mere “sullen isolation” of “degenerate exclusiveness”. The agricultural production which had made the Waikato the granary of the North Island in the fifties was revived in the upper Waipa Valley. A considerable border trade emerged from 1868 and continued unabated until the opening of the King Country in 1885. The King Party traded grain, tobacco, hops, cattle, and pigs for European steel mills, agricultural implements, and clothing. Old forms of communal organisation and activity persisted though modified by the use of European implements and crops, and trade. A pacifist, predominantly Christian, religious cult, the Tariao (Morning Star) faith, emerged with Maori preachers taking over tasks previously performed by missionaries. As this tended to deify the personage of Tawhiao, it added social and political cement to the movement. The King Country became a kind of Mecca for hundreds of outside visitors who made an annual pilgrimage to attend King Party meetings. Here they took part in the traditional hakari, haka, and korero. The debates were mainly about land and usually ended with demands for the return of the Waikato and proclamations urging the tribes to refrain from selling land. The King Party was pursuing the pre-war policy of coexistence, territorially separate and politically independent, but cooperating with Europeans as far as this was possible without sacrificing land. The wars had in fact decided that Europeans were to be supreme but the King Party could continue in independence for some years because in 1869 Donald McLean had introduced a policy of pacification, instead of more war and confiscation. Although McLean and then Sir George Grey conducted a series of formal negotiations with the King Party in the seventies, in an effort to open the King Country to the Main Trunk railway and European settlement, failure was inevitable because the King Party would accept nothing less than the return of all the confiscated land as its quid pro quo. Nevertheless the slow but more certain activities of land-purchase agents and the Maori Land Court were gradually breaking down the unity of the King tribes. By the turn of the eighties some of the tribes fringing the King Country were beginning to deal with land independently and soon afterwards John Bryce, the Native Minister, was able to break the Waikato-Ngati Maniapoto alliance by persuading the latter to place their land before the Court. In 1885 Stout symbolically opened the King Country by turning the first sod of this section of the Main Trunk railway. A display of force by 200 militia was sufficient to prevent Tawhiao and the Waikatos from making more than a verbal protest.

Taranaki and the Urewera

In Taranaki a similar movement had been developing under the leadership of Te Whiti, who rallied the dispirited sections of the Taranaki tribes to his Parihaka settlement. Te Whiti was a biblical prophet but, unlike his atavistic Hauhau predecessors, a pacifist. His prophecies and the success of his followers in disrupting Government attempts to survey the confiscated Waimate Plains, provided a last ray of hope that the European occupation of the confiscated land could be avoided. This too proved a delusion. In 1881 Bryce sent 1,500 militia to Parihaka, arrested Te Whiti and his lieutenant, Tohu, and dispersed their followers.

With Te Whiti's resistance broken and the King Country open, there remained only one more large area under Maori control: the Urewera Country, home of Te Kooti's Ringatu followers. Inaccessible and bush clad, it held out little attraction for European settlers, but it was opened to surveyors in the mid-nineties. By the turn of the century communications had penetrated well into the interior of the North Island and behind these came the European settlers. Land transactions, particularly in the King Country, led to the same sort of social disturbances that had helped to further depopulation among the “friendly” tribes a decade earlier, although these were less severe in the King Country, because the Government prohibited private purchase of land and the sale of liquor.

The New Leadership

The failure of the King Party and Te Whiti to save the land meant that all hope of an independent Maori existence was doomed. The implications of the European victory in the wars had, by the turn of the century, become a matter of fact. It was difficult for the old wartime leaders to look forward from the grievances of war to an uncertain future in a predominantly European society, although Te Whiti made an effort to do so after his return from imprisonment. Maori leadership passed to a new generation, unconnected with the bitterness of war and confiscation. In the nineties a Young Maori Party emerged from a group of talented schoolboys of Te Aute College who subsequently went on to practice law and medicine among their own people and then turned to politics. They were the first to make effective use of the rights and privileges promised to Maoris by the Treaty of Waitangi and the legislation of the sixties. And before long they were able to persuade a predominantly European Parliament that positive Government aid was necessary if the Maori people as a whole were to make proper use of their rights and privileges. Ngata was responsible for the first real attack on the numerous tenurial knots which had developed from 40 years of legislation designed to individualise Maori land tenure, and for introducing a scheme to consolidate ownership. He made strenuous efforts to encourage Maori farming and eventually succeeded in obtaining Government assistance for land development. He persuaded the Urewera and the Waikato Kingites to adopt his land-development schemes, thus providing new hope for the tribes defeated in the wars. Pomare and Buck, both graduates in medicine, persuaded Maoris to adopt European remedies to combat European diseases. Their efforts coincided with and helped to further a slow but steady increase in Maori population.

The young leaders succeeded in promoting European ideas because they could do so within a Maori context: they were familiar with their own language and culture, men of both worlds who were just as effective on the marae as they were in Parliament. In later life both Ngata and Buck turned to studying and encouraging Maori and Polynesian arts and crafts. It was largely through the efforts of these men that the Maori rehabilitation of the twentieth century was both cultural and economic. This was also assisted by a more generous generation of Europeans who not only provided the financial means but also, as in the 1928 Royal Commission on Confiscated Lands, showed a willingness to admit to the errors of the past and make some effort to compensate for them.

by Maurice Peter Keith Sorrenson, M.A.(N.Z.), D.PHIL. (OXON.), Senior Lecturer in History, University of Auckland.

  • New Zealand in the Making – a study of economic and social development, , Condliffe, J. B. (1959)
  • Politics in a Small Democracy, (1961), Chapman, R. M. (ed.), “The Maori King Movement, 1856–1885”, Sorrenson, M. P. K.
  • Jnl. of the Polynesian Society, Sep 1956, “Land Purchase Methods and their Effect on Maori Population, 1865–1901”.