The Wars in Documents

The Primary Sources

Researching the New Zealand Wars is so much easier these days because important primary source material is being posted on line.

Māori Census data

Here is a good example : the 1874 Māori Census returns. This was the first official census ever undertaken to count the Māori population. It was only possible because the wars had finished in 1872. However, it’s interesting because it reveals the state of Māori after the wars, though do be aware, the data was largely based on estimates (hence the title ‘Approximate Census .. ‘)

The reference for this source is: ‘Approximate Census of the Māori Population’, Appendices of the House of Representatives, 1874, G.-7, pp. 1-20.

Some of the issues / problems in dealing with census data as a primary source are discussed in a journal article written by Danny in 1995 entitled ‘Incontravertible Fact, Nothwithstanding Estimates : Maori People Observed in the Early Contact Period‘. This article appreared in Ke Pukenga Korero, Koanga (Spring), 1995, Vol.1, pp. 54-64. He Pukenga Korero is the journal published by Māori Studies, Massey University.

Land Confiscations

Alternatively, you can directly access the legislation that gave rise to the iniquitous confiscations of Māori land after 1863 : the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863. This legislation was enacted on 3 December 1863 and, originally aimed at Waikato Māori, eventually extended across significant portions of the North Island – see Map of Confiscations, which appears on the awesome Te Ara website.

In this section, we’ll be progressively listing links to the most important primary documents, and we will be suggesting how these documents might be important.

The Problematic Literature

We shouldn’t of course forget the important literature which has recently emerged focussing on all aspects of the New Zealand Wars.

History in Road Signs : Rolleston Street, in Kihikihi. William Rolleston was Native Minister during the early 1880s.

Ten years ago, the wars literature was quite small, given the importance of this topic to New Zealand’s shared history. It did take a while for the wars to catch on – in the last five years or so, major publications have emerged as historians, known for their work in other fields, have discovered the New Zealand Wars.

Some of these historians have also become media figures, presenting their new-found insights as if no previous historiography existed, and that’s a shame.

This points to problem amongst New Zealand historians at large – but especially amongst those dealing with Māori people and their histories – and that problem is one of poor historiography. Historiography constitutes academic enquiry into an existing literature, with earlier academic discoveries and insights acknowledged.

Street sign in Kihikihi - Robert Carey was a serving officer in the British Army during the New Zealand Wars.

Unfortunately, these days, historiography is regarded more as an exercise in politics. It’s quite common in some overseas countries to see historiography written to serve a political function, not an academic one. If that’s the case in this country, then that’s a great shame.

This website does contain a wars historiography, first written in 2009, which includes reference to an earlier generation of writers like James Cowan, Keith Sinclair, Keith Sorrenson, Tony Simpson, Tim Ryan and Bill Parham, Mathew Wright – even the contentious Peter Maxwell – names that should feature in historiographies but often do not. You can read the original published version of this historiography by clicking here – wars historiography.

Earlier this year, Danny had published an Opinion Piece in the Dominion Post / Press / Daily News which discussed some of the problems with the new, emerging wars literature (in his view of course ..) : Problems with Telling the NZ Wars.

The Documents

Te Wheoro Road, in Rangiriri, named after Wiremu Te Wheoro MP.

As you can imagine, the documents which ‘underwrite’ studies of the New Zealand Wars exist in their thousands, ranging from missionary journals, Parliamentary papers, British Army despatches and Māori newspapers, to name just four and of course there are many more.

In this section, we’re going to select some of the most important and interesting of these sources, and post them here. We’ll also mediate the sources to our readers by commenting on how a particular source may be read and understood.

We’ll be posting a range of these documentary sources here, over the next short while.