[John Key doesn't worry about anything, so I don't suppose he'll be fazed by the fact that many of this country's intellectuals have been twittering scornfully about his recent claim that New Zealand was 'settled peacefully' in the nineteenth century.*
Key made his foray into historiography after being asked about the Waitangi Tribunal's recent report on Nga Puhi's Treaty claim. The Tribunal has decided that, when they signed on the dotted line in 1840, Nga Puhi chiefs did not believe they were giving away their sovereignty to the British Empire.
Chris Trotter is no friend of John Key but, as he explains in this blog post
, he didn't join in the recent cries of derision on twitter. Chris believes that, by and large, the colonisation of New Zealand was remarkably peaceful. Over the years I've argued repeatedly - here
, and here
, at least - against Chris' interpretation of New Zealand's nineteenth century wars, so it's no surprise that I don't agree with his latest words on the subject. Here are some comments I left under his blog post.]
I appreciate the way you interrupt your
analyses of quotidian political life to consider the deep history of our
country. In twenty-first century New Zealand, it's rare to find a political commentator with such respect for the past.
I have to disagree, though, with your
interpretation of the motivations of the Maori signatories of the treaty, which
seems to me to owe much less to the scholarship of our historians than it does
to the press releases of Muriel Newman, John Ansell, and some of their friends on the far right
of the political spectrum.
I agree with you that the Musket Wars
devastated many iwi and redrew the map of the North Island. But the notion that Maori turned to British
power to help them end the Musket Wars ignores the fact that the wars had
almost petered out by the 1830s, as iwi achieved military parity, as
traditional methods of peacemaking achieved results (consider the peace that Te
Wherowhero brokered between the iwi of the upper and middle North Island), and
as Maori interpretations of Christian ideology spread.
By the end of his life Hongi Hika, the chief had once led raiding parties of thousands across the country, had
become a lonely anachronism, whose calls for new campaigns of plunder were scorned by younger Nga Puhi. W
hen, in the middle of the 1830s, two northern Taranaki iwi decided to wage a war of conquest
they found so few prospects in our two main islands that they had to sail off
to the Chathams
Far from being exhausted by the Musket
Wars, northern Maori showed that they were capable of stalemating an imported
British army just a few years after 1840.
There's also the difficult fact that, in
1840 and for many years afterwards, representatives of the British crown had
almost no way of imposing their will on their fellow Pakeha, let alone Maori.
When Muriel Newman and her ilk claim that
the Crown was able to step into the breach and prevent one iwi attacking
another, and thereby prevent the supposedly imminent extinction of much of the
Maori people, they are falsely imagining that the Hobson and his comrades possessed the
resources of a modern state, like a standing army and a police force. All the
British really had in 1840 was a printing press and the seal of their faraway
I think Matthew Wright's book Guns and Utu
gives a very credible picture of the balance of political and military forces
in New Zealand at the end of the Musket Wars period. Wright ridicules the
notion that the British had much agency in New Zealand in the early 1840s,
but he also criticises ideas that anything like a unified Maori nation existed back then. Wright warns against a tendency to see the signatories of the Treaty,
whether Maori or Pakeha, as far-sighted nation-builders rather than as small-time opportunists fixated on accumulating money and mana.
Another of Wright's arguments is relevant to this discussion. He points out that the Treaty of Waitangi
cannot in any way be equated with the settling of New Zealand. In 1840 only a
tiny number of Pakeha existed, and no Maori could have possibly imagined the
tens of thousands who would arrive, courtesy of Wakefield and other impresarios
of imperialism, later in the nineteenth century.
But it seems to me that, while discussions
about the signing of the Treaty are obviously interesting and
important, they're not really relevant to John Key's claim that New Zealand was
As the history of imperialism and the
histories of the various parts of the Pacific show, there is an enormous
difference between symbolic acts like running up a flag and making marks on an official document and the real work of settling new lands.
Even if your interpretation of the Treaty
were correct, then Key's claim would still be very problematic, because almost
as soon as it began the settling of New Zealand provoked bloodshed. From the
Wairau affray of 1843, which saw some of the first would-be settlers dying on the blades of Te Rauparaha's men, to the invasion of the Waikato by a British army controlled by Auckland property investors in 1863, to the shootout at Rua Kenana's headquarters in the Ureweras in 1916,
attempts of Pakeha settlers to acquire, build on and farm land again and again provoked conflict.
It is battlefields like Rangiriri, Orakau
and Te Porere, and not a few marks made on a piece of paper in 1840, that offer
a verdict on Key's claim that these islands were settled peacefully.
You anticipate some of these criticisms, of
course, by acknowledging the conflicts between Maori and the Crown, and by arguing
that the death toll they produced was relatively modest.
You say that thirty thousand Maori were
killed or exiled as a result of the Musket Wars, and contrast that figure with
the four thousand Maori and Pakeha who died in battles between Maori and the
Crown between 1845 and 1872.
I don't think that either of those figures
sounds too inaccurate, and I don't doubt that more fighters died during the Musket
Wars than in the conflicts between the Crown and iwi that followed the era of Hongi Hika.
But it seems odd to me that you include the Maori exiled from their rohe by fighting when you give figures for
the victims of the Musket Wars, but that you do not count the refugees from the wars
between the Crown and iwi when you give figures for the victims of those wars.
After all, the wars in the Taranaki, the
Waikato, and on the East Coast produced large numbers of refugees. Most
of them were Maori, but more than a few were Pakeha.
A very large portion of the people of the
Waikato were driven from their homes into the hills and gorges of the central North Island by the invasion of 1863. Many of them died in exile, or only
returned after the making of peace two decades later.
The Waikato War also emptied a series
of fledgling Pakeha villages and towns. Like Waikato civilians, Pakeha who fled
the war often lost their possessions. After the town of Raglan was abandoned by
settlers afraid of Maori attack, it was 'secured' by a garrison of drunken
imperial soldiers who looted and burned its empty homes.
The conflict in the Taranaki famously sent
hundreds of prisoners south to Lyttleton and Dunedin, and the war on the East
Coast saw hundreds of members of iwi like Rongawhakaata and Ngati Porou ending
up in places like Te Rohe Potae and the Coromandel.
I suspect that, in all, tens of thousands of people were displaced by the series of conflicts between the 1840s and
You compare the average yearly death toll
from the wars 1845 and 1872 with today's road toll, and suggest that
these wars were fairly small-scale affairs. But such comparison can easily be misleading, because New Zealand's population is so much greater today
than it was in the nineteenth century.
When the Waikato War, the largest of the
conflicts between Maori and the Crown, was fought in 1863-64, New Zealand's
total population was only about 170,000. Pakeha slightly outnumbered Maori.
James Belich has pointed out that, in the
context of such a small population, the Waikato War was a huge mobilisation of
men and resources.
On Anzac Day, the appalling cost of World
War One to New Zealand is often recalled. We lost sixteen thousand soldiers in pointless battles for the mud of Europe and Turkey, at a time when our total population was little more than a million.
But the fact that Maori suffered the same
terribly high death rate during the Waikato War is seldom mentioned. Something
like twelve hundred of their fighters died during 1863 and '64. When we consider such a loss together with the mass exile of civilians and the confiscation of three million acres by the Crown in
1865 we can begin to appreciate that, for the peoples of the Waikato and their allies, the war
against the Pakeha was every bit as traumatic as the earlier clashes with Hongi
Hika's musket-armed raiders.
*I was honoured to see that several of Key's detractors had linked to old posts on this blog about colonialism and war, like my discussion of Peria, the utopian Maori settlement close to the site of present-day Hobbiton that was destroyed by the Pakeha Orcs who invaded the Waikato. I like to think of this blog as a sort of archive.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]