Origins of conflict
Several land purchases in Taranaki were negotiated during the first years of European settlement – but many Māori opposed the sales. Relations between Māori and Pākehā deteriorated after nearly 600 Te Āti Awa returned from Wellington and the Hutt Valley in 1847.
The first-ever clash between Māori and British troops took place on the Taranaki coast in 1834. The trader John Guard’s ship, Harriet, was wrecked near Rāhotu. Those who survived, including Guard’s wife Betty, their two children and several crew, were held to ransom by local Māori. A detachment of the 50th Regiment was sent from Sydney aboard HMS Alligator to rescue the hostages. They were freed, but a number of Māori were killed, and two major pā – Waimate and Te Namu – were bombarded, looted and burned.
Violent clashes over land sales occurred between divisions within the Puketapu hapū at Bell Block during the 1850s. This alarmed many Pākehā settlers, and as a result of their submissions, British troops arrived in New Plymouth in 1855. Tension further increased when some Māori under Te Teira Mānuka offered to sell the Pekapeka block at Waitara. An ultimatum from the government was ignored by Waitara Māori opposed to the sale. This led to the invasion of the block by the army, and the first Taranaki war began on 17 March 1860.
For the next 10 years – longer than in any other New Zealand region – both Māori and Pākehā society in Taranaki were fractured by wars that saw thousands of British troops garrisoned in the region. As troops began to withdraw in 1867, a locally recruited armed constabulary was established and bore the brunt of fighting in the last years of the war.
Well over 700 people were killed in total on both sides of the conflict, and many more were wounded. The legacy of those times remained with Taranaki into the 21st century.
The arrival of imperial regiments during 1855 had a major impact on the town of New Plymouth. By 1861, there were about 3,000 troops stationed in Taranaki, many of whom had recently served in India or the Crimea. To counter the usual boredom, rank-and-file soldiers drank in the many bars that sprang up in New Plymouth, brawled, arrived drunk for duty and had affairs with local Māori women. Defaulters’ registers record the details of their crimes and punishments.
The Taranaki wars
The Taranaki wars took place between 1860 and 1881. There were four main phases.
The first war, 1860–61
The first war was fought mainly around New Plymouth and Waitara. British forces sought battle either in response to an immediate threat or to Māori provocation.
The isolation of the New Plymouth settlement and its fight for survival during the winter of 1860 was a major aspect of this first phase. A truce called in March 1861 saw the fighting end – but its causes remained.
The second war, 1863–66
The second war began when the Crown reoccupied the Tātaraimaka block west of New Plymouth. An important element in the conflict was the rise of the Pai Mārire faith, founded by Taranaki leader Te Ua Haumēne. Pai Mārire (or Hauhau) was a religion blending aspects of Old Testament teaching with the traditions and priestcraft of Māori. A number of battles were fought between government forces and Pai Mārire adherents. The Crown had the upper hand by 1866 when Te Ua was captured. He died soon after.
The war was, militarily, largely strategic – there was a long-term objective to confront Māori forces by establishing fortified redoubts on the frontier. The New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 enabled the confiscation of land from ‘rebels’. Actually, all land appropriated under the act was in practice made available for Pākehā settlers. No serious effort was made to compensate ‘loyal’ or non-combatant Māori.
By 1865, 2 million acres (809,000 hectares) – the whole of the western projection of the North Island, from Pukearuhe in the north to the Waitōtara River in the south – had been seized, at least on paper.
The third war, 1868–69
The third Taranaki war (sometimes called Tītokowaru’s war) began when southern Taranaki iwi responded with force to the continued Pākehā occupation of their land. They were led by Riwha Tītokowaru, whose guerrilla campaign threatened the settlers.
Despite several humiliating defeats, including at Tītokowaru’s pā Te Ngutu-o-te-manu in 1868, Pākehā forces gained the upper hand after the collapse of Māori support for Tītokowaru. A decade of fighting in Taranaki came to an end in mid-1869.
From the 1860s the Māori settlement of Parihaka became the base for a peaceful resistance campaign against land confiscations, led by Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tohu Kākahi. In May 1879 men from Parihaka began ploughing and fencing land occupied by settlers.
Over the following months the ploughing campaign humiliated and frustrated the government. Many ploughmen were arrested and jailed without trial in the South Island.
In November 1881 more than 1,500 armed constabulary and volunteers invaded Parihaka. Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested, many houses were destroyed, and a large number of residents were forcibly evacuated. The invasion of Parihaka is often now considered part of the Taranaki wars.