Causes of The New Zealand Wars
The New Zealand Wars lasted for about 30 years, though conflict between Maori people and new European settlers lasted much longer. It is therefore difficult, and certainly arguable, to suggest at what point we might say that the 'wars' were finally over.
And so it with 'causes'. What caused the New Zealand Wars? Why was New Zealand engaged in such an internal civil war for so long?
The purpose of this page is to suggest some of the reasons why Maori people and new European settlers resorted to armed conflict after 1843, literally forcing New Zealand onto a war footing for a generation or longer. In New Zealand today, it is not generally realised that a New Zealand war was waged across the North Island for so long.
What caused these wars? Some of the answers may appear below, or on the other pages that comprise the 'Causes' section of this website. However, again, the point is made that it is difficult to be too definitive about issues like 'causes'.
A single war, or a series of wars?
Whenever the term ‘the New Zealand Wars’ is used, the Maori–settler conflicts that occurred between 1843 and 1872 are generally being referred to. ‘The New Zealand Wars’, to some, suggests a single war or at least a single series of engagements that can be unified into a common ‘war,’ with any number of common themes based around aspects like participants, geography, outcomes and causes. So, the term 'the New Zealand Wars' suggests many conflicts making up a single war (somewhat paradoxically, since 'Wars' plural is being used).
That being the case, the question is sometimes asked, why do we then not talk about a ‘New Zealand War’ (i.e. 'War' as a singular word). The short answer is that most historians do see the wars as in fact comprising many distinct and different engagements. The element of difference is often emphasised. However, together, these different engagements do have much in common - hence the ‘New Zealand Wars’, a name which is used to convey difference and unity. In the end, however, as with all historical interpretation, it does come down to personal preference.
Emphasis on Local Conflicts
To some historians, the New Zealand Wars were in fact a series of discrete conflicts that can be connected but only tenuously. There was, it is argued, a significant difference between all of the engagements. In this regard, it is possible to point to at least fifteen individual fields of engagement, each comprising a distinct time period; distinct groups of Maori and allies; unique and important landscapes; varying combinations of British Army, New Zealand Armed Constabulary and other settler contingents; consequences – and causes. Where this preference for local difference is concerned, local names are also preferred and remain in use.
Those historians who perceive the wars as little more than a series of discrete engagements tend to point to a complex variety of causes, with causes focusing closely on local issues and conflicts. The experiences and tensions of local peoples are very much brought to the fore.
A National Conflict
To others, however, the Wars did definitely constitute an overall ‘war’. Much of the literature is predicated on the fact that the New Zealand Wars were a series of conflicts unified by many things – especially causes.
Where the Wars are perceived to have been a part of a whole, then broad causes and overarching reasons for war are suggested. This section of this website will examine causes in both local and national contexts.
Any number of overall causes might be suggested for the New Zealand Wars. Two of these are briefly discussed below; Colonial Settlement from 1839, and the Treaty of Waitangi.
This is far from a complete discussion, and should include the Missionaries, the rise of Settler Government from 1852; and the advent of the Maori King in 1858.
A complete accounting of causes may well be difficult to agree on, given the nature and enormous scope of the subject; and given the nature of history itself - as most historians will point out, ‘history is argument’.