Story: New Zealand wars

Page 11. Long-term impact

All images & media in this story


There are no accurate casualty figures for the New Zealand wars. Historian James Cowan suggested that over 500 British and colonial forces and about 250 kūpapa (Māori supporting the government) died. The number killed on the other side is even harder to estimate. Cowan suggested 2,000. In a population of under 80,000, this was a major loss of young men.

Those Māori who had fought the Crown lost very substantial areas of land. Under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 and later legislation, about 1 million hectares (including land later returned) was confiscated by the Crown in Taranaki, Waikato, South Auckland, Bay of Plenty and Poverty Bay. Which hapū lost land and which did not was often arbitrary and unfair.

Māori memory

The New Zealand wars left a long memory in the Māori community. Those tribes which had fought against the Crown, especially if they suffered the confiscation of their land, remained pained and at times bitter. This was reflected in the unwillingness of Taranaki and Waikato Māori to enlist in the First World War.

Kūpapa Māori who fought for the Crown and tribes that fought against the Crown remembered their historical conflicts long after they had passed.

Pākehā memory

Pākehā also did not remember the New Zealand wars with any enthusiasm. There were few memorials to the wars until the early 20th century, when some were put up as 50th anniversary commemorations. Memorials were used to encourage enlistment during the First World War by providing an example of men who had fought for the British Empire.

In the 1920s James Cowan’s two-volume history of the wars, which in one sense was a pioneering work of oral history, painted an image of the wars as full of stirring stories. Cowan hoped the wars might in this way become central to the country’s identity. Rudall Hayward was advised by Cowan when he directed the film Rewi’s last stand (1925 silent, 1940 sound).

Revival since 1986

Historian James Belich’s 1986 book and subsequent television series on the New Zealand wars helped to revive interest. Belich presented Māori as creative military strategists who came very close to defeating the British. New books on the wars, both novels and historical works, were published. New Plymouth museum Puke Ariki recognised the 150th anniversary of the Taranaki war with a powerful museum exhibition in 2011. The 150th anniversary of the Waikato war was marked by a series of commemorative events in 2013–14. Since 2016 the New Zealand wars have been officially commemorated each 28 October.

How to cite this page:

Danny Keenan, 'New Zealand wars - Long-term impact', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 5 October 2022)

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