Kōrero: Northland region

Whārangi 6. First Māori–European encounters

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero


Northern Māori were some of the first in the country to encounter Europeans – explorers and their crew, arriving in ships:

  • James Cook’s first expedition (1769–1770)
  • Jean François Marie de Surville (1769)
  • Marc Joseph Marion du Fresne (1772)
  • Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville (1824).

Māori provided produce, water and labour in exchange for European goods. The trade served both groups, but was not without violent episodes. Most notable was the massacre by Māori of Marion du Fresne and 24 of his crew at the Bay of Islands, which was followed by revenge attacks which killed hundreds of local Māori.


In 1788 a British penal colony was set up in New South Wales, Australia. As a result, Māori at places such as Hokianga began to trade timber and flax and make visits across the Tasman Sea. In 1805–6 the northern chief Te Pahi visited Port Jackson (Sydney), where the missionary Samuel Marsden introduced him to agricultural skills and new crops such as fruit trees. Other chiefs soon followed.

In 1814–15, New Zealand’s first missionaries, from the Anglican Church Missionary Society – William Hall, Thomas Kendall and John King – settled in the Bay of Islands.

These events led to a revolution in Māori agriculture and the Māori way of life.

Musket Wars

Māori saw the arrival of traders and missionaries as a chance to gain access to European goods and skills, and to enhance their power and influence. Northern iwi were the first to seize the advantage, acquiring muskets in return for food and protection.

Under the leadership of the rangatira Hongi Hika, they travelled south to attack other iwi – notably Ngāti Pāoa, Ngāti Maru, Waikato, Te Arawa and Ngāti Whātua – from 1819 through the 1820s. These wars avenged previous defeats. Through conquest, the northern iwi acquired slaves who helped them grow crops such as potatoes for sale and export.

Religion and literacy

In 1823 Church Missionary Society missionaries Henry and Marianne Williams arrived at Paihia, where a press was founded to print religious literature in the Māori language. New mission stations opened in the area: Wesleyan missions at Kaeo (1823) and Mangungu (1828), and another Anglican mission at Kaitāia (1833).

In 1839, Bishop Jean Baptiste François Pompallier began a French Catholic mission at Kororāreka (present-day Russell). His priests ranged widely in the north in the next decade.

By the 1830s, Māori in the north had started to adopt Christian ways (it was called ‘going missionary’). Their reasons included:

  • a willingness to experiment with change
  • a desire for literacy
  • war-weariness
  • the hope of eternal life, despite demoralising European diseases.

Converts often became keen teachers, taking the Christian message and Māori-language literature into remote districts, ahead of the missionaries.

Whalers, traders and sailors

British and American sperm whalers had first used sheltered northern anchorages in the 1790s, and these visits increased in the 1830s. Northern Māori moved to coastal settlements, organised a supply of labour, and cultivated crops suitable for ships’ crews. Sometimes taken on by whalers as crew, they travelled the Pacific Ocean and beyond. By the mid-1830s Kororāreka was a bustling port, refitting and refreshing American, French and British whaling vessels, and attracting Pacific traders.

First impressions

Early traveller John Liddiard Nicholas described Muriwhenua Māori in 1814, at a time when Europeans usually considered other races inferior:

‘I never thought it likely they could be so fine a race of people as I now found them. In their persons they generally rose above the middle stature, some were even six feet and upwards, and all their limbs were remarkable for perfect symmetry and great muscular strength. Their countenances … were pleasing and intelligent … Though too often ill-treated by Europeans, they shewed not the least distrust of coming among us.’ 1

British protection

Trade brought a few hundred permanent settlers: retired ships’ captains, deserters, traders, artisans, escaped convicts and drifters. They coexisted with Māori in a working relationship, but in the 1830s some appealed for British law and order.

The British government’s representative, James Busby (known as the British Resident), took up his appointment at Waitangi in 1833. The following year he organised the selection by Māori of a national flag, primarily to be flown by ships being built at Hokianga. Northern Māori appealed in 1835 for British protection of their country’s independence, as other countries showed colonising ambitions. But Busby lacked the means to assert British authority. New Zealand did not become a British colony until 1840.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Quoted in Anne Salmond, Between worlds. Auckland: Viking, 1997, p. 454. › Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Claudia Orange, 'Northland region - First Māori–European encounters', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/northland-region/page-6 (accessed 14 June 2024)

He kōrero nā Claudia Orange, i tāngia i te 12 Dec 2005, updated 1 May 2015