Story: Taranaki region

Page 8. Māori–Pākehā conflict

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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 Hutt Valley in 1847.

First clash

The first-ever clash between Māori and British troops took place on the Taranaki coast in 1834. When trader John Guard’s ship, Harriet, was wrecked near Rāhotu, the survivors, 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 – Waimate and Te Namu – were bombarded, looted and burned.

Violent clashes over land sales occurred 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 a faction of local 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. The block was occupied 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 – Māori and Pākehā society in Taranaki was fractured by periodic fighting that saw several thousand British troops garrisoned in the region. As these began to withdraw in 1867, a locally recruited Armed Constabulary was established. This and allied Māori bore the brunt of fighting in the last years of the war.

More than 700 people were killed in total on both sides of the conflict, and many more were wounded. The legacy of those times remains with Taranaki in the 21st century.

Imperial impact

The arrival of the first British troops in 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 fought in the Crimean War. 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 in March 1861 ended the fighting – 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’. All land appropriated under the act was made available to 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 ongoing Pākehā occupation of their land. They were led by Riwha Tītokowaru, whose campaign threatened the settlers.

After several humiliating defeats in 1868, including at Tītokowaru’s pā Te Ngutu-o-te-manu, 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 volunteers and members of the Constabulary Field Force invaded Parihaka. Te Whiti and Tohu were arrested, many houses were destroyed, and most of the residents were forcibly evicted. The invasion of Parihaka is often now considered part of the Taranaki wars.

How to cite this page:

Ron Lambert, 'Taranaki region - Māori–Pākehā conflict', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 July 2024)

Story by Ron Lambert, published 11 Dec 2009, updated 1 Aug 2015