Story: New Zealand wars

Page 1. New Zealand wars overview

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The New Zealand wars were a series of 19th-century campaigns involving some Māori tribes and government forces, which included British and colonial troops and their Māori allies. The two major periods of conflict were the mid-1840s and the 1860s.

Naming the wars

Though ‘New Zealand wars’ is the most common collective name for these campaigns, a number of others have been used. Originally Europeans called them the Māori wars. This echoed the tendency of the British to name wars after their enemies – as in Boer War and Zulu War. In the late 1960s thought was given to renaming the wars. One popular suggestion was land wars, due to the importance of land in the disputes. Another was Anglo–Māori wars to indicate the two major groups involved. Other less common suggestions included New Zealand civil wars and sovereignty wars. Māori names for the wars have included Ngā pakanga o Aotearoa (the great New Zealand wars) and Te riri Pākehā (the white man’s anger).


The first series of wars took place in the 1840s, when Māori were still a majority of the population, although Pākehā dominated the towns. A precursor to the wars was the 1843 Wairau incident, in which Nelson settlers clashed with Ngāti Toa at Tuamarina over a land dispute. The 1840s wars began with fighting between Ngāpuhi and government troops at Kororāreka (Russell) in 1845. A series of battles were fought in the Bay of Islands until early 1846. Later that year there was fighting between government and Māori in Wellington, and there were skirmishes in Whanganui in 1846 and 1847.

1860s and 1870s

The most sustained and widespread campaign was the clash between the British Empire and the Kīngitanga (Māori King movement) fought in Taranaki, Waikato and Bay of Plenty between 1860 and 1864. The last period of the wars, from 1864 to 1872, was largely fought by colonial troops and their Māori allies against followers of Māori prophetic leaders. These wars occurred in Taranaki, East Coast and the central North Island.

Confiscations and impact

After the wars, significant areas of Māori land in the North Island were confiscated by the government. Reactions against the confiscations saw a period of continued tension. In Taranaki peaceful protests against land confiscations were led by prophets Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi at Parihaka. Parihaka was occupied by government forces on 5 November 1881 and the settlement was partially destroyed. Protests against land confiscation continued.

After the wars the Kīngitanga established an aukati (boundary) which prevented Pākehā crossing into the King Country. The King Country was autonomous until negotiations saw it opened up from 1883.

Final confrontations

In the 1890s Ngāi Tūhoe people opposing surveying in Te Urewera were forcibly arrested in actions later described by Māori politician Apirana Ngata as a small war. In the late 1890s some Ngāpuhi led by Hone Tōia who opposed council dog taxes were arrested by a military force and imprisoned.

The last skirmish between the government and Māori occured in 1916 with the arrest of Rua Kēnana at Maungapōhatu. Two Tūhoe men were killed during a firefight.

How to cite this page:

Danny Keenan, 'New Zealand wars - New Zealand wars overview', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 September 2022)

Story by Danny Keenan, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 8 Feb 2017