To what extent was it one or the other?

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New Zealand in the Nineteenth Century – An Overview


When Cook first made contact in 1769 there were approximately 100 000 Maori, living in distinct hapu and iwi groups, without a sense of being a single, unified nation. Rules of tapu controlled society. Resources were hunted, gathered or gardened. Competition for remaining resources and desire for utu led to inter-tribal wars and internal migration, especially around Tamaki Makarau. Mana or prestige was gained through inheritance, political skill, and success in war.

Earlier, more Eurocentric historians such as Wright saw contact as having a ‘fatal impact’ – Maori were passive and unable to stop the destructive effects of European contact. More recent historians, such as Orange, say that Maori were active in choosing and adapting new technology and ideas – ‘acculturation’.

To what extent was it one or the other?

According to Belich, different trade goods were more important at different times – a changing ‘currency of mana’. This went through 4 phases:

-1790s-1810s – Iron goods

-1810s-1820s – Pigs and potatoes

-1820s-1830s – Muskets

-1830s-1840s - Literacy
The first visitors soon found that Maori were enthusiastic traders who readily accepted and adapted European technology. Maori also took opportunities to travel to England, Australia and elsewhere. Europeans also quickly saw commercial opportunities in New Zealand, leading to the development of significant development of flax, timber, whaling and sealing industries. Orange describes the relationship that developed as a ‘workable accord’. Maori could supply food, protection and sex, while Pakeha could supply employment and technology.

The arrival of muskets led to significant conflict between tribes in the 1820s. These Musket Wars were extensions of existing disputes, but led to substantial loss of life – up to 20 000 dead. It was not until all tribes had guns that (as Judith Binney puts it) they reached a ‘balance of terror’ in the 1830s.

The arrival of missionaries in 1814 led to considerable changes. Missionaries did not initially have success converting Maori. However, factors such as war-weariness, the death toll from disease, decreased reliance by missionaries on Maori and greater knowledge of the Maori language led to some Mari converting after 1825. Some Maori did not fully convert, seeking only the literacy that missionaries could teach. Others converted to semi-Christian cults, such as Papahurihia. For some, the Christian message was only acceptable once Maori missionaries delivered it. King (2004) argues that Maori ‘converted Christianity’ rather than converting to it.

Historians debate the reasons for the different meanings between the English and Maori versions of the Treaty. It was hastily drafted, but treaties were common between colonisers and indigenous peoples at this time. Lord Normanby instructed Hobson to gain the free consent of the natives, but also to give them gifts if they did not consent.

To what extent was the Treaty a product of incompetence or deliberate deception?
During the 1830s pressure on the British government increased. Some northern Maori invited the British government to send an official representative, and James Busby arrived as Resident in 1833. The Crown became a protector of New Zealand under the 1835 Declaration of Independence. Pressure for further action came from several areas. Missionaries sent alarmist reports about the threats to Maori from lawless Pakeha. Busby found he was under-equipped to govern them effectively, or regulate all land sales. The New Zealand Company planned for colonisation and sent its first batch of settlers in 1839. Sydney capitalists wanted to exploit New Zealand’s natural resources further.


In 1840 New Zealand had approximately 50 000 Maori and 2 000 Pakeha. Being outnumbered and outgunned, Pakeha residents could not afford to disregard Maori rules. Although New Zealand had a flag, a Maori nation was still an idea and not a reality. Most Maori had come in to contact with Europeans, and some had converted to Christianity. A few could speak English. Even fewer could read it.

The Treaty of Waitangi was not satisfactory solution for either Maori or British. Governors, starting with Hobson, began legislating. Maori saw them as going outside their jurisdiction when they forbade the felling of kauri trees and applied British law to Maori, such as in the Maketu case. The failure of the Treaty to meet its expectations was the primary cause of the Northern War 1845-6.

The post-Treaty period also saw the beginning of large-scale organised immigration. Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s New Zealand Company brought settlers to Nelson, Wellington, Wanganui, and New Plymouth. Similar schemes run by the Canterbury Association and Free Church of Scotland led to settlements in Christchurch and Dunedin respectively. Subsidised fares, company propaganda, opportunities for social promotion and to escape harsh lives in Britain all attracted settlers. They soon began to call for settler government, leading to the New Zealand Constitution Act in 1852 and responsible government in 1856. New settlers also were less willing to accept Maori, leading to conflicts at Wairau (1843) and Wellington (1846).


Historians have tried to explain the New Zealand Wars in several ways. Sinclair (1959) focussed on settler greed for land. Belich (1986) focussed on the government establishing substantive sovereignty. However more recent Maori scholars, such as Keenan (2002) have again placed the emphasis on land, due to its importance to Maori.

To what extent was land or power the cause?
By 1858, Pakeha outnumbered Maori. An elected parliament represented all those over 21 who owned land individually, therefore not representing Maori. Facing similar problems, several tribes had combined under the Kingitanga – the first pan-tribal movement.

During the 1860s the North and South Islands had very different development. The North Island had conflicts in Taranaki 1860-61, Waikato 1863-4, and various campaigns in South Taranaki and the East Coast 1864-72. These, together with land acquisition under the 1863 NZ Settlements Act and through the Native Land Court, caused the northern Maori economy to shrink. By 1874 it was only one-third of its pre-war strength. Although much of this passed to Pakeha farmers, the North Island provinces had to pay for war costs, eventually passing the bill to central government. Meanwhile, the South Island experienced a financial boom, due to the discovery of gold in 1861 and the rise of pastoralism. The southern provinces could act independently, running successful assisted immigration schemes. This divergent development was one main reason for calls for separation.

Only one book has been written about the abolition of the Provincial Councils (W. P. Morrell, The Provincial System in New Zealand, 1932). Why?
However, Julius Vogel’s economic development plan shifted power to central government and ended the separation debate with the abolition of the Provincial Councils. Vogel’s scheme borrowed £20 million to build infrastructure and stimulate development. Although government debt was not new, Vogel did not control the spending and planning was haphazard. This led to Atkinson dropping him in 1876.

A similar culture exists in other frontier societies – Australia, the United States, Canada. How can it be such a central part of the New Zealand identity if it is not at all unique?
The nature of the colonial economy led to the development of a distinctive culture. Timber fellers, gold diggers, bush clearers, rail and road workers concentrated in small, exclusively male ‘crews’. This culture valued drinking, swearing, hard work, and disliked female intrusion. The pioneer culture persisted, even after more men were employed in urban jobs.


The combined effect of immigration due to the gold rushes and the Vogel scheme meant that by 1880 Maori had been ‘swamped’ by Pakeha, outnumbered more than 2 to 1. Political power was centralised in Wellington, and a network of banks linked the regional economies. Vogel’s development meant that by 1880 there were 1172 miles of railway by 1880, and the area of cultivated land had quadrupled. Maori had increasingly turned to the Pakeha system to resolve their grievances. Nevertheless, even with the four Maori MPs granted in 1867, they were still marginalised within the Pakeha system. Te Whiti’s passive resistance at Parihaka seemed to be an isolated incident amongst a population that was now separate from Pakeha.

A recession followed the boom of the 1870s. Issues such as poverty, welfare and sweating became more important. However, the economic downturn did not affect everyone to the same degree. It affected the old, and those in single-parent families worst. For pastoralists the drop in wool prices hit incomes hard, until the development of refrigerated shipping in 1882. The development of meat and dairy exports to Britain created a steady income and allowed New Zealand to rely on primary industries.

Reeves (1898) stated women woke up one day with the vote. Dalziel argued that at the time it was thought that a good wife would vote the same as her husband, gerrymandering votes in favour of the middle class. Grimshaw states that voting was only one in a collection of rights given to women through the actions of the first-wave feminists. Was enfranchisement accident, reward or hard-won victory?

Was the election of the Liberal government a sign of emerging nationhood (Sinclair, 1959), strengthened ties with Britain (Belich, 1996) or merely a similar version of what was happening overseas (Fairburn, 2006)?
The election of the Liberal government in 1890 marked a significant shift in New Zealand politics. One of their main aims was to break up large estates, and they did manage to reduce the number of estates with more than 10 000 acres from 262 to 171 while in government. Work conditions improved with the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act. State welfare began with the 1898 Old Age Pension Act.

Temperance was a concern in the 1890s and women received the vote partially because of this campaign. Women were seen as agents of virtue and thus able to ‘clean up’ society through political action. However, women’s enfranchisement and temperance were also international concerns, especially in the United States and Britain. That they only narrowly passed the Electoral Act, 20 votes to 18, shows that the idea of women voting did not enjoy universal support.

By 1900 New Zealand had 900 000 Europeans and 35 000 Maori. However, the Maori population was beginning to increase. The government prided itself on being ‘98.5% British’ and anti-Chinese legislation protected the racial balance. Britain was the cultural and economic centre. The Treaty of Waitangi was a legal nullity.

Different Phases in New Zealand Historiography

If you are aiming for higher grades or Scholarship it is important to be able to place historians in their context. Think about the situation historians were writing in as well as the situation they were writing about. It affects what they choose to study and how they explain past events.

Early historians (writing up to the 1920s) saw New Zealand history as having little importance. The University of New Zealand had to send its exams to Britain for marking, so it did not offer courses in New Zealand history. Research and writing was therefore done outside the academy. Histories from this period, such as William Pember Reeves’s Aotearoa:The Long White Cloud (1898) focussed on the hard work of the pioneers establishing civilisation. This emphasised the idea that the New Zealanders were a special breed, being able to progress from an untamed space in 1840 to a full-fledged parliamentary democracy in 1900, ready to have an empire of its own. General histories were nationalist and national. Race relations had a small mention. The Treaty was unambiguous, the New Zealand Wars were only a short-lived affair, and Maori were either assimilating or dying out. Cowan’s The New Zealand Wars (1925) makes more of the conflict to inject some wild frontier excitement in to New Zealand’s history. Therefore, he compares the Pai Marire with the jihadist fighters in the Anglo-Afghan Wars. However, it is only thanks to Cowan that we have recorded interviews with veterans of the New Zealand Wars. In all cases, historians saw New Zealand history as part of the wider British imperial story. It was not until the 1970s that it could become a stand-alone subject.

The 1940 centenary celebrations led to a large amount of state-sponsored research to produce commemorative publications. These included Cowan’s Settlers and Pioneers (1940) and Webb’s Government in New Zealand (1940). Areas such as sport and women received attention for the first time. New Zealand history was becoming a more acceptable topic. However, the focus was still very much on the 19th century.

The next major change was the publication of new general histories in 1959 and 1960 that marked a maturing of academic study of New Zealand’s past. Keith Sinclair’s A History of New Zealand (1959) remained influential for more than forty years. He challenged New Zealanders with a history that showed previous generation to be less than perfect. Early contact had a fatal impact on Maori culture, as ideas brought by missionaries were ‘more destructive than bullets’. Although the Treaty was permission for British to assume sovereignty, Sinclair showed it to be an imperfect document, with Hobson being pressured to act quickly to control settlers, and some tribes, such as Tainui, refusing to sign. He emphasised land as the cause of conflict between the races, driven in part by greedy land speculators. After the wars Maori withdrew in to ‘sullen isolation’. His history sought to define and explain the New Zealand identity, which in his view developed at the end of the 19th century. The adoption of a national flag and anthem, the Liberal reforms, rejection of union with Australia and the 1905 All Black side, were in his view all signs of this identity. This focus on identity remained central to New Zealand history writing through the 20th century and historians have only recently moved away from it.

International and internal developments affected New Zealand in the 1970s and 1980s. Class and gender became topics of study. A notable example was Jock Phillips’s A Man’s Country? (1987) that examined the shaping of the male gender identity in New Zealand. The rise of anthropological history and indigenous studies internationally, coupled with the creation of the Waitangi Tribunal, led to a much greater focus on Maori-Pakeha relations. Additionally, Maori were seeking redress for Treaty grievances, such as through the 1975 Hikoi. As Maori became more active in the present, the history writing showed them to be more active in the past. This was when Binney developed the acculturation thesis – Maori were no longer seen as passive victims of European contact. New computer technology allowed Miles Fairburn to create his atomisation theory, by compiling many street directories and other sources. He argued that patterns of migration showed that New Zealanders lacked social bonds – lone atoms moving independently of each other.

From the 1990s onwards there have been significant shifts in New Zealand history. James Belich’s Making Peoples (1996) was a significant re-examination. He argues that the Treaty only passed nominal sovereignty to the British. As a result, the New Zealand Wars were a contest between Maori and British for substantive sovereignty. He emphasises the importance of the ‘progress industry’ – immigration, bush clearing, and road and rail construction – not just for developing the economy, but also the male ‘crew culture’. Furthermore, the development of refrigeration allowed Britain to remain New Zealand’s main export market, binding New Zealand more closely to ‘Home’. For him the issue is still identity, because he argues this ‘recolonisation’ restricted the development of a distinctive nationhood until the 1980s. Historians have also started examining other areas, such as environmental history, leisure and health. The rise of cultural history has been shown in the recent New Oxford History of New Zealand (2009, edited by Giselle Byrnes), which focuses explicitly on culture instead of national identity.


AS 90656 – 3.3 Resource Interpretation

For this section you will be assessed in three areas:

  • Demonstrate an informed and perceptive understanding of historical ideas and/or points of view. This means being able to find historical ideas within the source.

    • These can include social class, religion, power and leadership, authority and dissent, colonialism etc.

  • Provide an informed and perceptive analysis of historical relationships indicated by the evidence provided. This means being able to explain how multiple sources or events are linked. This could be by:

    • cause and effect - how did one event lead to another?

    • past and present - how did the situation in the past lead to the situation today? (like cause and effect)

    • specific and general – how is the source an example of a wider trend?

    • Continuity and change – why did some things change while others stayed the same?

  • Make valid, informed and perceptive judgement(s) about the usefulness and/or reliability of the evidence. This means being able to say how and why a source is useful in researching a topic, and how and why it is trustworthy or not. Points to consider are:

    • Confirmation – does the source match what you know about the topic? Remember at Year 13 you can decide if the information in the source is correct based on your own knowledge

    • Author – what expertise does the author have in this area (for secondary sources)? Were they a witness (for primary sources)? Are there any biases evident?

    • Purpose – why was the source created? To inform or persuade?

    • Answers – does the source directly address the topic of your research?

    • Detail – how much information does the source give you?

It’s important to have a good understanding of the whole century because you may be given sources about any topic within it. To attain Merit or Excellence you need to be able to bring in your own knowledge to help answer the questions. Greater content knowledge, especially of the relevant historiography, will also help you show a perceptive understanding and make insightful comments.

AS 90657 – 3.4 – The Decision Essay

For this essay you need to be able to:

  • Accurately and perceptively explain factors that contributed to the decision

    • Describe events in detail

    • Say why they made someone make the decision

  • Comprehensively evaluate the consequences of the decision

    • What were the effects?

    • Argue for the overall effect, as shown by evidence and historiography

Some of the decisions have included:

  • by Maori to accept Christianity/by Pakeha to introduce Christianity

  • by Maori or Pakeha to create/accept the Declaration of Independence/Treaty

  • by Hone Heke to cut down the Kororareka flagstaff

  • by settlers to emigrate to NZ

  • by Maori to join the Kingitanga

  • by the government to invade Taranaki/Waikato

  • by the government to implement the Vogel plan

  • to enfranchise women

  • to abolish the Provincial Councils

AS 90658 – 3.5 – The Situation Essay

For this essay you need to:

  • Describe the situation in comprehensive detail

  • Comprehensively evaluate the ways the situation changed over time

    • Areas of change and continuity

    • Patterns over time,e.g. land ownership, political power

  • Comprehensively evaluate the ways the situation affected people

Some of the situations have included:

  • Early contact

  • Developments in race relations 1830-50

  • Postwar race relations

  • Gold

  • Developments in farming/pastoralism

  • Demographics and settlement patterns

  • Developments in transport and communications

  • The economy 1880-1900

  • Roles of women

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