Remembering our Māori Veterans

Photo from the movie 'River Queen', shot on the Whanganui River. Each year, ANZAC Day comes and goes … a time to remember our overseas veterans. But what about our Land Wars veterans? Will we ever remember them?

Well, we might, it seems. Māori  ‘rebels’ who fought against the British Army and Armed Constabulary during the Land Wars may soon be officially recognised.

Recent calls have been made for the government to remember all Māori war veterans, not just those who fought overseas on the side of the Crown.  See here for recent press article – Māori War veterans

Quite a few Māori died of course, during the Land Wars. Many of those were fighting alongside the Armed Constabulary, as well as against it. See here for more, Remembering our Māori Dead. 

Our Māori veterans .. photo of awesome Māori actors from the Vincent Ward movie 'River Queen'.

It is not at all clear how such remembrance will be arranged. But the idea seems timely and is similar to a proposal, raised in the 1990s, that a special Māori War Memorial be erected in Auckland.

Back then, negotiations were to have been arranged with iwi. But opposition from some Māori  saw its demise.

Still, with all the publicity now being given to remembering the Land Wars, perhaps the time for such a Māori War Memorial is now right.

A New Zealand Land Wars Day?

Otorohanga College student Rhiannon Magee, Tai Jones and Leah Bell who organised the Land Wars petition. The government is calling for submissions on whether we should set up a new Land Wars Day, to remember those 3500 or so people, Māori and Pākehā, who tragically died during the conflicts.

Students from Otorohanga have been pressing the case for such a commemorative day, especially  Rhiannon Magee, Tai Jones and Leah Bell who organised a Land Wars petition signed by 13,000 people.

A taua of Māori warriors, from the awesome movie 'River Queen'.

Here is an article covering their  recent submissions to Parliament – Students at Parliament. They are to be commended for this awesome initiative, which we wholeheartedly support. See here also for details of submissions, which close in late April submissions sought.

Perhaps the time has come, in this post-Treaty settlement era, to commemorate such events, which James Belich once likened to ‘a nightmare’ which, like children, we hasten to forget.


And what day should it be? We suggest that 17 March would be ideal – 17 March 1860 was the day that the British Army opened fire on Te Ātiawa who were defending Te Kohia Pā, at Waitara.

This action by the British Army began what Belich calls ‘the great civil wars of the 1860s’. You can read about this engagement here – British attack Waitara.


Students visiting the site of the battle at Turuturumokai (fought 1868), near Hawera.However, appropriate days are many – see this link  Dates of the Wars for some examples of important dates.  The Māori King is contemplating calling all interested parties together, to settle on an appropriate day. This discussions will be interesting, for sure, not least for the names we use ..

New Zealand Wars Day, Land Wars Day, or Māori Wars Day – does it matter what names we use? Does it matter what we call the wars themselves – which name is the most appropriate?

Read here for more media reaction – Land Wars Day?

Waimarama Anderson and Leah Bell with kaumatua Rahui Papa presented their petition earlier this month to push more awareness about the New Zealand Land Wars.

What’s in a name? ..  see here for a discussion on what happens when we seek to give names to history ..   Giving Names to History.

Finally, should the New Zealand Land Wars be taught at schools as a compulsory topic .. ? We think it should but it’s unlikely to happen. Ministry of Education officials and the Minister have poured cold water on the idea – see here – Education Officials Coy On Wars.

Green MP Marama Davidson has put the issue simply – teaching our children about the wars will act as a strong defence against racism – read her comments here – Defence against racism.

Danny’s New Book

Danny Keenan, Te Whiti O Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2015.Danny’s new book – Te Whiti O Rongomai and the Resistance of Parihaka – will be available in early December; advance copies have just been received.

Please contact Huia Publishers for queries – see advertisement bottom right of this home page.

Featured Battle Site: Ruapekapeka

Young Jaydn standing on Ruapekapeka battle site, Northland – photo by our website photographer (and Jaydn’s Dad), Bryn Thomas. To see more of Bryn’s amazing photo’s, click here – Bryn’s photos.

RuapekapekaThe battle of Ruapekapeka was fought between northern Māori and the British Army during January, 1846, with the British assaulting the Pā on 11 January 1846. The Pā however was largely empty, with Māori having already retreated out the back of the fortification.

The Northern war ended with the loss of Ruapekapeka, with Hone Heke Pokai and Te Ruki Kawati persuaded to sue for peace by Tamati Waka Nene – all three were prominent chiefs of Ngā Puhi. Twelve British Regulars died during the fighting at Ruapekapeka, with twenty Māori also killed, along with 60 wounded, 30 on each side.

Ruapekapeka has it’s own awesome website – to visit the site, click here – RUAPEKAPEKA.

Ruapekapeka Pā is well worth a visit, if you are ever up north; it’s an awesome example of the care and effort that local folks can put into the upgrade and protection of such an important NZ Wars battle site.

Ruapekapeka Pā, Northland

To read more about the battle fought at Ruapekapeka, see James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars, Volume One, pp.73-87. Alternatively, to see the Northern Wars covered on this site, click here – Northern Wars.


Flying the Fern

.. our new flag that might have been ..In 2015 and 2016, we had the chance to change our flag. It’s a great shame that we didn’t. Perhaps someone will write a book about the process we went through, because defenders of the current flag said some mighty strange things, in defence of our existing flag.

Worse, many groups, like the Labour Party, New Zealand First and the RSA (Returned Services Association) attacked the then PM John Key, making him the issue, which was tiresome and unfortunate; Mr Key deserved better.

Sadly, too, many Pākehā historians who have been writing ‘Māori history’ for some time – supposedly with some empathy for Māori – came out in support of the current flag, which of course is a colonial relic. This attitude from New Zealand historians was really disappointing. As it turned out, most New Zealanders voted for the old flag. Perhaps New Zealanders have the flag they deserve.

.. one of the suggested alternative flags ..

Meantime, then PM John Key of course staunchly supported the new flag. You can read some of the background behind the flag referendum here –  Changing the Flag.

In our view, New Zealand still needs to change its flag.


Changing the flag

The old and the new .. sadly, New Zealanders stayed with the old .. Mainly because our current flag is a colonial relic; and the Union Jack was flown by those who invaded New Zealand, depriving Māori of their land, livelihoods and sovereignty.

You can imagine how Rewi Maniāopoto and King Tāwhaio felt on the evening of 19 November 1863, when they peered north from the Rangiriri battlements and saw the British Army approaching. The British Army’s invasion of the Waikato had reached their doorstep.

The flag pole, and Treaty House, at Waitangi. The Union Jack flag was raised here on 6 February, 1840. Fluttering above the invading British Army was the flag now being defended by the RSA and New Zealand First as the flag ‘under which so many of our boys have died’. Defending New Zealand’s flag on these grounds  suffers terribly from forgetting our past.

This is because the flag seen at Rangiriri would go on to devastate Māori communities in the Waikato, Tauranga and Taranaki, in particular, as it had already done in North Taranaki and the far North.

The British attacked Rangiriri from the north – see photo. 50 Māori would die at Rangiri, 67 at Waiari/Rangiaowhia/Hairini, and 160 at Orākau. That’s 277 in the Waikato alone – and these are James Cowan’s conservative estimates.

Rangiriri battle site today. The British attacked from the left of the photograph. The original Pā extended far to the east, over the road and out of the picture; the road (Highway 1) was constructed through the Pā, after the battle (as was often the custom in those days).Add to this the death toll of Māori in Tauranga – 44 – and further later losses elsewhere, especially South Taranaki, the Ureweras and the East Coast, at the hands of the British and its successor, the New Zealand Armed Constabulary. The figure probably exceeds 500, though it is difficult to know precisely.

By some estimates, 2500-3000 Māori died during the Land Wars. That’s a lot of people, defending hearth and home and papakāinga. .. another one of the awesome alternatives what might have been ..

The New Zealand flag, it is true, did not make its appearance until 1902. But variations of it were in unofficial use throughout the wars, and the Union Jack was of the course the flag under which the British, Armed Constabulary and settlers fought against Māori.

For estimates of the Land Wars casualties, see James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars, Volumes One and Two, Wellington, 1922/1923, pages (respectively) 465-466 and 550-553.

The ‘coming of age’ myth

This year marks the centenary of the ANZAC landings at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.

SincStatue of Te Keepa Te Rangihiwinui, paramount rangatira of Whanganui Māori during the troubled 19th Century. Statue stands in Moutoa Gardens, Whanganui.e 1921, when ANZAC Day celebrations began, the landings at Anzac Cove have become part of our national myth-making – that New Zealand ‘came of age’ on the beaches of Gallipoli, where our boys ‘spilled their blood’ in 1915.

‘Coming of age’ at Gallipoli however is more myth than fact. It’s a story now buried deep in our national psyche with no affirming historical roots in our earlier histories.

Quite the reverse – it’s a day that forgets all that went before, especially for Māori. Every ANZAC Day, though, you will hear ‘coming of age’ repeated often, especially by those who have benefited from its political and historical utiliy.  

Occasionally, you will hear calls for ANZAC Day to be our national day; Waitangi Day, it is said, is too divisive. If you would like to read more about this debate, read Danny’s article  published in Mana : click here –  ANZAC or Waitangi?  (The reference is Mana, no 92, February-March 2012, pp. 44-45).


There are many other events to commemorate this year; here are some of them  .. 

‘Other’ 2015 Anniversaries 

1805   Governor King in Sydney prohibits the forced removal of Māori from New Zealand

The cross at No 3 Redoubt, just out of Waitara, marking the site of the midnight attack of Te Ātiawa on the Redoubt, on 23 January 1861.

1815   Ruatara dies, leaving new missionaries exposed to the fearsome war chief, Hongi Hika

1825   Christian Rangi, the first Māori ever converted, dies

1835   First Christian pamphlet published for Māori by Colenso and missionaries

1845   Northern War starts with British attack on Puketutu Pā, $100 bounty placed on Hone Heke’s head

1855   British troops sent to New Plymouth as deterrent against Māori warfare

1865   Taranaki Pai Marire prisoners transported to the South Island ; Native Land Court established (in the form it thereafter functioned) by the Native Lands Act 1865. The earlier 1862 Native Lands Act set up the Court as a Māori communal tribunal convened by the local Resident Magistrate. Finding this too slow and cumbersome, the government changed the Court’s structure in 1865 – one judge (or more) making all the decisions.

1875   Native Minister McLean forbids surveying of the contested Waimate Plains, south of Parihaka

1885   Rail link begins through the King Country, with Ngāti Maniapoto resistance finally overcome

1895   Minnie Dean hanged in Dunedin

1905   New Zealand’s national rugby team called All Blacks for the first time, when playing Somerset at Tauton

1915    ANZAC troops land on the beach at Gallipoli, and New Zealand ‘comes of age’ ..


Source: Alison Dench,  Essential Dates A Timeline of New Zealand History, Random House, Auckland, 2005. 


Remembering our Dead

Church at Rangiaowhia, in the Waikato, scene of Brtitish attack on Māori village, 21 February 1864. Former Prime Minister John Key once said that New Zealand was ‘settled peacefully’. It’s an idea that many hold to in this country but, unfortunately, it’s not quite true. We spend a lot of time remembering our ‘boys who died overseas’ but we forget the dead of the Land Wars.

It’s important that we change this, and remember our own who passed away during those conflicts, most of whom were Māori, and there were quite a few.

The best estimates we have of the Land Wars dead – men and women who died on our own battlefields – were provided by New Zealand Wars scholar James Cowan in 1922 and 1923.

Cowan put the total war’s dead at an estimated 2990 people, comprising 736 British and Colonial troops, as against 2254 Māori. And a further 1589, writes Cowan, were seriously wounded. Most of these – 1014 – were Maori, for the most part suffering grievous bayonet wounds.

Students visit the site of the Waahi Redoubt, and nearby cemetery, just out of Hawera.In fact, of the total war dead, Māori account for over 75%, figures greatly boosted by disproportionate iwi deaths at desolate places like Mahoetahi (50), Rangiriri (50) and, worst of all, Orakau (160).

A Problem of Counting 

Knowing quite how many Māori died, however, is difficult. Where missionaries cleared the battlefield, as they did at Rangiriri, accounting for the deceased was straight forward. But Māori were often in retreat, taking their dead with them. Occasionally, it was Māori who cleared the field, as at Puketekauere in 1860, burying their own dead, as well as the 30 British Regulars who fell on that barren hill above Waitara.

The dead, then, on both sides, represent the sharp edge of our wars of the 1860s, bitterly dividing the protagonists. Occasionally, however, the dead of both sides were interred together, as at Ohaeawai (51) symbolizing the hope that reconciliation might one day come to Aotearoa.

Memorial to Māori who died at the battle on Moutoa Island, Whanganui, 14 May 1864, which stands in Moutoa Gardens, Whanganui.A War Memorial For Maori?

Have you seen the Vietnam Remembrance Wall in Washington DC? It’s awesome and well worth the visit. For more on the amazing memorials in Washington DC, click here – DC War Memorials.

Several years ago, a similar dedicated war memorial to the Land Wars Maori war dead was mooted, to be built alongside the Auckland Museum. The late Dr Miria Simpson of the Alexander Turnbull Library discretely sounded out affected iwi, especially (but not exclusively)  Taranaki, Waikato and Tauranga.  The idea had its merits but, in the end, iwi were not ready.

Perhaps an idea for the future.


SOURCES : James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars. A History of the Māori Campaigns and Pioneering Period, R. E. Owen Government Printer, Wellington. Published in two volumes - Volume One was published in 1922; and Volume Two was published in 1923.  See pages 465-466 Volume I; and pages 550-553 Volume II.

Remembering Samuel Marsden, Christmas Day 2014

Celebrating Marsden:

Last Christmas, we commemorated the 200th anniversary of  Rev Samuel Marsden’s 1814 Christmas Day service to Māori.

Marsden's Cross at the Rangihoua Beach, Bay of Islands. The cross marks the spot of the first christian service delivered to Māori, on Christmas Day, 1814.

Marsden’s Christmas service, presented on Rangihoua beach, was the first ever delivered to Māori. Celebrations were held to mark this day of commemoration. But Marsden’s story, and that of the missionaries, is a little more complex.

Land and Axes 

Marsden also purchased land from Māori for a mission station, insisting that the sale be formalized with a ‘deed of sale’, being a document (and a concept) that Māori of course had never seen before.  Marsden paid for the land with steel tools, notably axes.

Marsden, then, introduced or utilized three things –  the word of God, written documents and steel weapons.

The word of God has had an ambivalent history amongst Māori, as we all know. But by the 1860s, and the development of synchretic faiths like Pai Marire, Māori had lost faith in the church.

Memorial to Māori war dead at Battle of Moutoa Island, raised by settlers at Moutoa Gardens in Whanganui, 1865.Written documents, like those used by the Native Land Court, would prove equally problematic. As Māori would soon find out, where the Treaty of Waitangi was concerned, those with the power to write the documents (and control their meaning) would soon emerge the stronger, and it wasn’t Māori.

Steel tools also soon showed their down side, contributing significantly to the extreme bloodletting amongst Māori that soon followed.

Ambivalent Legacy 

In the end, we are told, Marsden’s presence at Rangihoua, preaching on Christmas Day 1814, began New Zealand’s long march to nationhood.

The problem with this populist theory is that, for Māori, Marsden represented the arrival of a new ethos, culture and technology that,  far from enhancing Māori lives, would almost sweep them away.


Further Reading: The literature on the Missions and Māori (and Marsden) is enormous. See Danny Keenan, ‘See The Word, Hear The Word; A Comment on Oral Culture, Literacy and Print In Early New Zealand: The Treaty of Waitangi’  in  John Thomson (ed), Books and Bibliographies; Essays in Commemoration of Don McKenzie, Victoria University Press, Wellington, 2002, pp. 57-68; Keith Newman, Beyond Betrayal. Trouble in the Promised Land – Restoring the Mission to Māori’, Penguin Books, Auckland, 2013.

Keith Newman, Bible & Treaty, Missionaries Among the Māori – a New Perspective, Penguin Books, Auckland, 2010; Robert Glen (ed), Mission and Moko. Aspects of the Work of the Church Missionary Society in New Zealand, Latimer Fellowship of New Zealand, Auckland, 1991; Hugh Morrison, Lachy Paterson, Brett Knowles and Murray Rae, Mana Māori and Christianity, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 2012. 

New Zealand Wars in 100 Objects


The bridge crossing the Waiwakaiho River, north of New Plymouth, fashioned after a fish backbone.Interesting books have recently been published listing objects that, when considered together, represent the telling of a particular history.

Examples of works in this vein are Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects (Penguin, London, 2008) and Gary Sheffield’s The First World War in 100 Objects (Andre Deutsch, London, 2013).

Depicting the New Zealand Wars in ‘objects’ is interesting. Over the next short while, we will be listing some ‘items’ which might comprise ‘100 objects’ though of course the list is probably very long and is certainly subjective.


Object No 1 – The Flagpole on Maiki Hill, Russell, formerly Kororareka.

The flagpole on Maiki Hill, Russell, formerly Kororareka.

The flagpole on Maiki Hill was very famously cut down four times, in the end precipitating the attack on Kororareka that, some argue, began the New Zealand Wars.

The first felling occurred on 8 July 1844, after 3 days of uproar, disobedience and looting in the small frontier town.  Though credited to Hone Heke Pokai, the flagpole was actually cut down by Haratua, chief of Pakaraka.  The second felling occurred 6 months later, on 10 January 1845 when trouble and dissension amongst Māori returned to the area. An American trader Henry Green Smith was blamed for inciting this act of defiance against the British flag.

This second felling moved Rev Henry Williams to advise that the ‘flag should not be flaunted in the face of the natives’, lest it be cut down again, which it was, on 19 January 1845. Two companies of the 58th British Army Regiment were immediately called for, from their base in Sydney. But they arrived too late, on 28 April 1845.

The fourth and final felling of the flagstaff had occurred earlier, at 4am on 11 March 1845, followed by a concerted attack on Kororareka by Hone Heke Pokai and allies, including Kawati. This attack, and subsequent sacking of the town, precipitated the outbreak, some argue, of the New Zealand Wars.


To read more on the Northern War, click here – # The Northern WarTo read Danny’s essay on Hone Heke Pokai, as published in the Mana Magazine, No 51, 2003, pp. 83-86, click here – # Essay on Hone Heke.  To see a map showing the location of the Northern Wars, click here – # Map of Conflicts.  

Further Reading, James Cowan, The New Zealand Wars A History of the Māori Campaigns and Pioneering Period, Volume 1 1845-64, Government Printer, Wellington, 1922, pp. 14-33.