Friday, 20 September 2019

Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa: Te Papa Event

Join journalist Mihingarangi Forbes, and historian and author Vincent O'Malley, as they explore the ongoing impact of the New Zealand Wars.

  • When: Sun 6 Oct 2019, 3.00pm–5.00pm
  • Where: Rongomaraeroa (Te Marae), Level 4, Te Papa
  • Cost: Free
The New Zealand Wars were a series of conflicts fought between the Crown and various Māori groups between 1845 and 1872.

These wars profoundly shaped the course and direction of our nation’s history. The wars are an integral part of the New Zealand story but we have not always cared to remember or acknowledge them. Today, however, interest in the wars is resurgent.

Join award-winning journalist Mihingarangi Forbes and acclaimed historian Vincent O'Malley (author of best-selling histories The New Zealand Wars | Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa (link is external) and The Great War for New Zealand (link is external)) as they explore the ongoing impact of these defining conflicts.

This event takes place in advance of the Rā Maumahara National Day of Commemoration for the New Zealand Wars.


3–4pm, Discussion with Mihingarangi Forbes and author Vincent O’Malley
4–5pm, Book sales

Following the event Vincent will be available for book signing.

Friday, 9 August 2019

WORD Christchurch Events

How can we see where we’re going, if we don’t know where we’ve been? In his recent Michael King Memorial Lecture, historian Vincent O’Malley stressed the importance of teaching the bloody story of the New Zealand Wars in our schools, to understand today’s society, and recently gave historical context to the Ihumātao dispute in The Spinoff.

Simon Winchester has spent his career bringing to life stories from the past, and Sacha McMeeking’s research interests lie in Māori futures, which are inextricably linked to history. Join them for a lively conversation about the importance of owning our history, the good and the bad, in order to look to the future. Chaired by Peter Field.

Saturday 31 August, 1.00–2.00 p.m.
The Piano

Tickets $20, available from WORD Christchurch.


Vincent O'Malley: The New Zealand Wars

The New Zealand Wars profoundly shaped the course and direction of our nation’s history. Fought between the Crown and various groups of Māori between 1845 and 1872, remnants and reminders from these conflicts and their aftermath can be found all over the country. The wars are an integral part of the New Zealand story but we have not always cared to remember or acknowledge them.

Vincent O’Malley discusses his latest book on the causes, events and consequences of the New Zealand Wars (Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa) with Ngāi Tahu historian, Mike Stevens.

Saturday 31 August, 5.00–6.00 p.m.
The Piano

Tickets $20, available via WORD Christchurch.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Why we need to open up about past Māori and Pākehā conflict

From the New Zealand Listener, 25 May 2019

by Sally Blundell

Calls are growing for us to take a more honest look at our past, particularly the wars over land and power that shaped the country. 

It began with a single musket shot, fired perhaps by accident, in Wairau, near Nelson, in 1843. It ended with desultory gunfire in a steep and sodden gorge south of Waikaremoana in 1873.
Bookended by these two inglorious events, the New Zealand Wars claimed the lives of an estimated 2250 Māori and 560 British and colonial troops. Records are far from complete, but, including the wounded, the number of casualties could be more than 6000. The result was the transfer of nearly 1.5 million hectares of land into European hands, most commonly through the 1863 New Zealand Settlements Act. They changed the social, economic and political landscape forever.

Still, says Wellington historian Vincent O’Malley, we barely talk about it. Commemorations are few, many of the war sites are degraded and unmarked, the myth of a chivalrous and noble battle, sowing the seeds for the “best race relations in the world”, has been shattered. Today, students can go through school without learning any New Zealand history.

“Which is staggering to me,” says O’Malley. “This is our story, our history. It happened here, in this place, relatively recently, and it had profound consequences for what New Zealand would become. These were defining conflicts of New Zealand history and, as a nation, we need to take ownership of them.”

Read more at the New Zealand Listener

Monday, 17 June 2019

Talking New Zealand Wars History at the Marlborough Book Festival

I will be discussing New Zealand Wars history at two sessions of the Marlborough Book Festival early next month, the first featuring a cruise of the Marlborough Sounds, departing from Picton, and the second at the main festival venue in Blenheim the following day.

For both sessions I will be in conversation with local historian Ron Crosby, and discussing my most recent work, The New Zealand Wars/Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa as well as The Great War for New Zealand

Session details:

Our Heritage

- in conversation with Ron Crosby

8.45am-12pm, Friday 5 July, MV Odyssea Cruise (departing Marlborough Tour Company - Town Wharf #5, Picton Marina 9am), $125 
Come and cruise the beautiful Marlborough Sounds aboard Marlborough Tour Company's MV Odyssea. Enjoy brunch and gain insight into some of the lesser-known aspects of Aotearoa history, including the Wairau Afray, with Dr Vincent O’Malley in conversation with Marlborough-based historian Ron Crosby.

The New Zealand Wars

- in conversation with Ron Crosby

10am-11am, Saturday 6 July, ASB Theatre, 2 Hutcheson St, Blenheim, $20 
Following on from his best-selling The Great War For New Zealand, Waikato 1800-2000, Dr Vincent O’Malley’s new book released in May 2019, The New Zealand Wars, provides an essential account of the series of conflicts that profoundly shaped the course and direction of our nation’s history.
He talks with Marlborough-based historian Ron Crosby about the conflicts and their legacy, including the calamitous clash at Tuamarina known as the Wairau Affray.

Friday, 31 May 2019

New Zealand Wars, Land Wars, or Māori Wars?

The following extract from The New Zealand Wars/Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa first appeared in E-Tangata

What historians and others have called the wars has changed over time. Why is this of interest? Do names really matter?

Well, they do because they convey key messages about the nature of the wars, their causes and participants. For a long time, it was common to refer to this series of conflicts as “the Māori Wars”.
That was consistent with the British tendency to name wars after their enemies; for instance, the Boer War, the Zulu War, or the Indian Mutiny. But there are some obvious problems with such a label. For a start, it tends to sheet home responsibility for the wars to Māori, rendering the other combatants invisible.

In the 1960s, some historians tried to correct this by adopting the label “the Anglo–Māori Wars”. But this is also a problem, in that some Māori fought on the “Anglo” (that is, British or Crown) side. And given estimates that up to 40 per cent of the imperial troops who fought in New Zealand were Irish, the “Anglo” part was inaccurate too. So there are issues with any label that purports to accurately and succinctly describe those involved in the wars.

As historians began to delve deeper into the causes of the wars, some felt that the term “Land Wars” was more appropriate. It pointed the finger at the settlers, whose greed for land was highlighted as the fundamental factor behind the wars. This reflected a shifting historiography that was beginning to reject the older assumptions about the wars, in favour of a viewpoint more sympathetic towards Māori perspectives.

But later historians argued that the wars were about much more than just land — they were a conflict over the future of New Zealand as a whole. In 1986, historian James Belich revived “the New Zealand Wars” — a title employed by his predecessor James Cowan in the 1920s (and widely used in Britain and New Zealand in the 1860s to describe the conflicts, before it fell out of favour).
Cowan had been ahead of his time in favouring “the New Zealand Wars” — using that name was part of his effort to convince a sceptical Pākehā populace that their country had a history of its own worth remembering.

Although there have been a few attempts to challenge this since, the term “the New Zealand Wars” has mostly been favoured since the 1980s. It is a label that avoids mono-causal explanations for the wars and simplistic descriptions of those involved.

Among other alternatives, “New Zealand Colonial Wars”, “New Zealand Land Wars”, and even “New Zealand Civil Wars” are occasionally suggested.

Whether the wars meet the test for being described as civil is debatable. Until the start of the conflicts many Māori communities were largely self-governing, and not in practice part of the same political entity as settlers.

Nor was there a single Māori political entity. Most Māori communities continued to think and act mainly at a hapū level, with iwi assuming more importance through the course of the nineteenth century. Pan-tribal organisations, such as the King movement, could rarely claim to speak for all Māori.

To be a true civil war, members of the same iwi or hapū would have had to fight against one another. That did happen at various points during the wars, such as when rival sections of Ngāti Porou went to war with one another in 1865, but it was not a consistent feature of the wars as a whole.
We are on safer ground in referring to them as the New Zealand Wars/Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa, the latter term familiar to Māori. They were also said to have had another name for these devastating conflicts: “Te Riri Pākehā” — “the white man’s anger”.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

The New Zealand Wars/Ngā Pakanga o Aotearoa

From the BWB webpage for my forthcoming new history of the New Zealand Wars:

The New Zealand Wars were a series of conflicts that profoundly shaped the course and direction of our nation’s history.

Fought between the Crown and various groups of Māori between 1845 and 1872, the wars touched many aspects of life in nineteenth century New Zealand, even in those regions spared actual fighting. Physical remnants or reminders from these conflicts and their aftermath can be found all over the country, whether in central Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, or in more rural locations such as Te Pōrere or Te Awamutu.

The wars are an integral part of the New Zealand story but we have not always cared to remember or acknowledge them. Today, however, interest in the wars is resurgent. Public figures are calling for the wars to be taught in all schools and a national day of commemoration was recently established.

Following on from the best-selling The Great War for New Zealand, Vincent O'Malley's new book provides a highly accessible introduction to the causes, events and consequences of the New Zealand Wars. The text is supported by extensive full-colour illustrations as well as timelines, graphs and summary tables.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Michael King Memorial Lecture: Auckland Writers Festival

Although the New Zealand Wars (1845-1872) have profoundly shaped our country they have been little acknowledged, taught and understood. Historian Vincent O’Malley presents an introduction to the causes, course and consequences of these defining conflicts fought between groups of Māori and the Crown in his book The New Zealand Wars: Ngā Pakanga O Aotearoa. He delivers the 2019 Michael King Lecture.
Historian and founding partner of research consultancy HistoryWorks, Dr Vincent O’Malley is the author of The New Zealand Herald Book of the Year 2016 and Ockham NZ Book Awards 2017 longlisted book The Great War for New Zealand, and new title The New Zealand Wars.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Talking New Zealand History

Late last year Vaughan Rapatahana conducted an interview with me for Scoop Review of Books.

Kia ora Vincent.

Tēnā koe mō tāu pukapuka. Ka nui te pai tēnei mahi.

VR: Let’s start at the top. The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800 -2000 is a massive book and a mighty indictment of the ways in which Pākehā grabbed the land off and of Māori; a systematic snatching that of course has had and continues to have serious ramifications for many Māori today. What are the positive flow-on effects stemming from this important book, that you are experiencing yourself?

Vincent: The response to the book has been phenomenal right from the day we launched it back in October 2016. That was at the Waahi Pā poukai in Huntly. I handed over the first official copy to Kīngi Tuheitia and wandered around the back of the whare where a big crowd was gathering. I wondered what was happening. It turned out they were already queuing to get their own copies of the book and so I spent the next three or four hours signing hundreds of books. It was a huge privilege to be invited to launch the book on such an important date in the Kīngitanga calendar and to see the way in which it has been embraced by Tainui has been amazing. I also really hoped the book would speak to Pākehā about the need to own their history and again the reception has been remarkable. At times it has felt less like a book and more like I’m part of some kind of social movement.

At a personal level, I guess my profile as a writer and a historian has increased and I’ve done dozens of public talks over the past couple of years in all kinds of different places and forums. And my message is always that the New Zealand Wars were defining conflicts in our history. They are part of our story and we need to know this history, and ensure our rangatahi learn it at school. I have done lots of school visits myself in this time and I know young people really get why this history matters to them and their communities. In some respects they are leading the way for their elders.    

Read more at Scoop Review of Books

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Raupatu and Remembrance: The New Zealand Settlements Act

When dates were being considered for the first Rā Maumahara commemorating the New Zealand Wars one suggestion that was floated was 3 December. It does not mark the anniversary of any particular battle or conflict. Instead, on this day in 1863 Governor George Grey signed into law the New Zealand Settlements Act, an innocuous-sounding piece of legislation that was to have devastating consequences for many Māori communities.

The Settlements Act provided the primary legislative mechanism for raupatu – sweeping land confiscations that were supposedly intended to punish acts of ‘rebellion’ while also recouping the costs involving in fighting the wars. It declared that where ‘any Native Tribe or Section of a Tribe or any considerable number thereof’ had committed acts of ‘rebellion against Her Majesty’s authority’ since 1 January 1863 their lands could be declared subject to the Act and seized for the purposes of settlement. It was part of a package of measures passed by the all-Pākehā Parliament to crush Māori independence.

Grey and his ministers had drawn up these confiscation plans prior to invading Waikato in July 1863 and had begun recruiting military settlers who were to be offered a portion of the seized lands in return for their services by August. Confiscation was not an afterthought or a response to Māori actions but an integral part of the overall invasion plans. The presence of military settlers on a portion of the seized lands would ensure the conquest of these was made permanent while the sale of the remainder on the open market would pay for the whole scheme. Māori would effectively underwrite the costs of their own suppression.

It was war entered into partly as a speculative venture and with deep roots in British imperial practice. A similar scheme of plantation had been used in seventeenth-century Ireland. Ironically, many of the troops brought to New Zealand to fight these wars of conquest for the Crown centuries later were Irish Catholics whose own communities had suffered exactly the same fate. Victims of imperialism in this way became its perpetrators.

Former Chief Justice Sir William Martin also pointed to the example of Ireland in predicting that ‘a brooding sense of wrong’ passed down from one generation to the next would be exactly the same outcome if confiscation was employed in New Zealand. That, Henry Sewell privately thought, was exactly what the architects of the policy wanted: to drive even more Māori to offer resistance so that their lands could also be seized and sold as punishment for these acts of ‘rebellion’. 

James FitzGerald, PAColl-3060-040, ATL
Within Parliament itself, James FitzGerald was one of few MPs to offer anything like unequivocal opposition to the Settlements Act, described by him as an ‘enormous crime’ and ‘contrary to the Treaty of Waitangi’. As Native Minister two years later FitzGerald was personally responsible for some of the largest land confiscations under the Act. In another case of poacher turned gamekeeper, Sewell underwent a similar conversion. Few Pākehā in positions of power came out of the story unsullied.

In all, more than 3.4 million acres of land was confiscated under the Settlements Act across many districts – in Waikato, Taranaki, Tauranga, eastern Bay of Plenty, and Mohaka-Waikare. Further lands were ‘ceded’ to the Crown at Tūranga, Wairoa and Waikaremoana under a distinct confiscation regime covering the East Coast region. Despite repeated and unambiguous promises that Māori who did not take up arms against the Crown would have their lands guaranteed to them in full, confiscation was applied indiscriminately, even taking in areas owned by those who had fought on the government side.

Land confiscations,

‘Loyal’ Māori could apply for compensation for their losses – initially in money but later including lands. But the Compensation Court process that followed returned only a fraction of what was lost, often in completely different areas and always under a new legal form of title that meant many of these lands were quickly lost to their owners. Māori deemed to have rebelled, or even to have aided or abetted others who had done so, were ineligible to receive compensation at all. In one case, officials tried (but failed) to block compensation being given to an Anglican priest of Tainui ancestry who had conducted burial services for those slain during the Waikato invasion.        

Fearing that sweeping and excessive confiscations would prolong Māori resistance and thereby increase the military and financial burdens on British taxpayers, the British government sought to impose a range of restrictions on how the Settlements Act would be implemented. Most of these were ignored. Rather than intervening to stop what they knew was a gross injustice, ministers in London washed their hands of the matter, concerned only with how soon they could withdraw their troops from New Zealand.

Duncan Cameron, PA2-1855, ATL

Many of those soldiers, including their commander, Lieutenant-General Duncan Cameron, had become increasingly disillusioned with what they were being asked to do, and began to query why they should fight a war of conquest and dispossession for the exclusive benefit of New Zealand settlers. The 1863 Act was clear that lands could only be confiscated if they were eligible sites for settlement. But so wholesale were the takings that mountains, hills, lakes, swamps and other sites were included. Vast areas that had been confiscated remained unsettled and unsold. Many of these lands still form part of the Crown estate today.

Far from turning a quick profit, the Crown was plunged deep into debt. In 1869 one government minister, Donald McLean, openly admitted that the confiscation policy had been an ‘expensive mistake’. By that time, many of the military settlers – lacking farming experience or capital, and living in the middle of active war zones – had sold their sections cheaply as soon as they could and walked away. In the Waikato, Auckland speculators such as Thomas Russell and Frederick Whitaker, leading proponents of the confiscation policy as members of government in 1863, personally acquired many of these lands. Once land prices recovered they stood to make enormous profits from their investments. 

Pre-war Māori traders at Ōnehunga, B-045-001, ATL
A few Pākehā got very rich and many of the lands later became lynchpins of New Zealand’s booming pastoral economy. But for Māori on the receiving end, the results were shattering. Through the two decades after 1840 Māori were in many ways the leading drivers of New Zealand’s economy, producing much of its export income, while also feeding hungry settlers in towns such as Auckland. That economic infrastructure was destroyed almost literally overnight as cattle and crops were seized or destroyed, flourmills and homes in many cases torched and the lands that had been key to this wealth confiscated. The Māori economy was delivered a near fatal blow.

That was not something that could be easily or quickly overcome. Generations of Māori were condemned to lives of landlessness and poverty. In many ways we still live with the legacy of the New Zealand Settlements Act today. It is there is the negative socio-economic statistics of many Māori communities in those regions subject to raupatu. Treaty settlements have helped to recapitalise many iwi, allowing them to again become major players in the New Zealand economy. But given these settlements typically represent no more than about 1-2% of the unimproved value of the lands that were taken, they are never going to fully compensate for all that was lost.

Many Pākehā have little idea of this history or how it continues to reverberate. That is hardly surprising given how few people learn anything about it at school. It is time to do something about that. It is time we as a nation owned up to our past. That is bigger than Treaty settlements. It is about dialogue and mutual understanding. And that is why the story of the New Zealand Settlements Act is one that should be more widely known. Beneath the deceptively anodyne name lurks a darker tale of dispossession and colonial greed whose consequences are still felt today.

[First published in E-Tangata, December 2018]

Friday, 14 December 2018

The New Zealand Wars and the School Curriculum

By Joanna Kidman and Vincent O'Malley

The New Zealand Wars (1845-72) had a decisive influence over the course of the nation’s history. Yet Pākehā have not always cared to remember them in anything approaching a robust manner, engaging at different times either in elaborate myth-making that painted the wars as chivalrous and noble or, when that was no longer tenable, actively choosing to ignore them altogether. More recently there are signs of a greater willingness to face up to the bitter and bloody realities of these conflicts. For many Māori, that is not before time.

If a turning point in Pākehā remembrance could be identified, then perhaps it might be the petition organised by students from Ōtorohanga College that led to a national day of commemoration for the New Zealand Wars (Rā Maumahara). In 2014, students from the school, some as young as 15, visited nearby Ōrākau and Rangiaowhia. The group was led by kaumātua who were descendants of the survivors. At each site, they recounted what took place during the invasions and the ongoing impact on hapū and iwi.

These stories had a profound effect on the students and their teachers, not least because the events in question took place in the Waikato, where they lived. Yet very few Pākehā seemed to know anything about them. These silences weighed heavily on the young people. They responded by starting a petition which called on the government to officially acknowledge the New Zealand Wars in a national day of commemoration and also to introduce local histories and studies of these conflicts into the  school curriculum. The petition, signed by more than 12,000 people and presented to Parliament in December 2015, attracted a groundswell of support from others who were also troubled by these silences. In August 2016, the government announced that a national day of commemoration would be established (although not as a statutory holiday).

The first Rā Maumahara was hosted by Te Tai Tokerau iwi at Kororāreka in March 2018. But the government’s willingness to acknowledge the wars did not extend to the school curriculum. In a submission to the Māori Affairs Committee on the petition, the Ministry of Education voiced strong and uncompromising opposition to introducing the New Zealand Wars as a mandatory part of the curriculum, going so far as to suggest that such a move could damage the entire schooling sector. Peter Hughes, the Secretary for Education, argued that the Ministry “considers that implementing the petitioners’ recommendation would be a significant and unnecessary intervention likely to result in significant, negative systemic consequences for the New Zealand schooling sector.”

Hughes’ reasoning was that New Zealand’s non-prescriptive National Curriculum provides teachers with a high level of choice in designing their own curriculum topics. While the Ministry of Education sets out broad achievement objectives in each subject, schools are not required to teach specific topics nor are teachers told what to teach. The earliest achievement objective that potentially addresses New Zealand’s difficult past, albeit tangentially, is in the Year 10 social sciences curriculum which requires students to “Understand how the Treaty of Waitangi is responded to differently by people in different times and places”. Anecdotally, we know that some teachers use this as a basis for teaching about the New Zealand Wars but there is no requirement or expectation to do so.

The situation does not improve in the senior years of schooling. History is offered as an elective subject in NCEA from year 11 onwards, although only just over 20% of students take the subject at that level.1 Those students who opt for the subject and have motivated history teachers may learn about the New Zealand Wars at this point but many others leave school without ever hearing about these conflicts. The Ministry of Education encourages the teaching of this history but leaves the decision to individual schools and teachers. No data is collected on how many schools offer this topic so the level of uptake is unknown. However, it is known that many schools do not teach New Zealand history, let alone the history of the New Zealand Wars, at NCEA level.

There are various reasons that some teachers are reluctant to teach this history. According to Mark Sheehan, schools instinctively shy away from matters seen to be contentious or controversial. Conversely, proponents of teaching more New Zealand history in schools face an uphill battle against those convinced that the topic is ‘boring’. In some cases, it is argued that history is merely about learning new skills and that the actual content is irrelevant. That may chime with modern day education philosophies but fails to take account of the fact that most children will grow up in New Zealand. Schools should be more than simply vocational training centres but equip young people to fully engage in and understand their own communities. A basic knowledge of the history of one’s own country is an essential ingredient in that.

In other cases, teachers may lack the confidence or resources to begin teaching this history or may feel they lack the appropriate connections and contacts with local iwi. These practical constraints can be overcome with the required support. That might involve professional learning and development courses or workshops tailored to teaching the New Zealand Wars, funding for a range of written, audio-visual or web-based teaching and learning resources, and facilitation of site visits and dialogue with tribal historians and kaumātua.

Although there has been much debate around the issue of compulsion, ensuring young people leave school with at least some understanding of this history is essential. This is too important to leave to the whims of individual schools and teachers. There are already aspects of the school curriculum that are compulsory. But so long as there is a requirement to teach about the New Zealand Wars, schools should be left to determine how they go about doing so. That would allow for place-based learning around the history of these conflicts.

A simple way of ensuring such an outcome might be to tweak the Treaty achievement objective in year 10 so that it is made explicit that the history of the New Zealand Wars should form part of this teaching. Doing so would ensure all children left school with at least some exposure to the topic. A more ambitious approach would embed it throughout the school years. Some primary schools already teach about the New Zealand Wars and that should be further encouraged, along with additional resources for promoting it as an NCEA option at years 11 to 13. We also need systems in place to capture data about the numbers of students who are learning this history so that future progress can be monitored. The Ministry of Education may be happy with the status quo, but many others are not and the debate is unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

  1. This figure was obtained by using the number of students taking English at Year 11 in a given year as a proxy for total enrolments. The Year 11 history enrolments were 21.5% (2017) and 21.8% (2016) of the number of English enrolments in those years.

First published at