NZ in the 19th century

Page 1 – Introduction

New Zealand in the 19th century provides a context within which to explore a range of key historical events and places of significance to New Zealand and New Zealanders. It is a key period in understanding contemporary New Zealand and provides a meaningful context for any study of colonialism and its impact. As a broad survey three key themes are explored:

1. Māori-Pākehā relations

The relationship between Māori and Pākehā is crucial to in understanding the history of that time as well as modern New Zealand. In the period up to 1840, sometimes referred to as the 'race relations apprenticeship', New Zealand was very much a Māori world. The relationship became increasingly complex as struggles emerged surrounding land, law and sovereignty. The Treaty of Waitangi quickly gave way to war and conflict, hastening New Zealand's transformation from a Māori world to a Pākehā one.

2. Economic and social change

The economic, social and political transformation of New Zealand was achieved via the acquisition of large quantities of Māori land. From the 1840s through to the 1860s the political and economic aspirations of the settler population quickly overrode those of Māori . The rapid growth of the settler population saw greater demands for political power and more land for settlement.

3. Society and attitudes

The migration to New Zealand of tens of thousands of settlers in the 19th century had a significant impact on their lives and those of Māori. In the period from 1870 to 1900 the physical, economic and social landscape was transformed as towns and cities developed. Māori, settler Pākehā and other new migrants responded to the challenges of a rapidly changing world in a variety of ways.

How to cite this page

'NZ in the 19th century ', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 11-Dec-2019

Community contributions

1 comment has been posted about NZ in the 19th century

What do you know?

Andrew Clifford

Posted: 08 Aug 2019

This is an excellent site with very readable histories and it is pleasant to see it keeping with the modern balanced perspective on looking back to history. One important matter is respect shown for the Māori and their culture. It is an important thread of the modern relationship in society.. However, respect is a two-way street. When respect is given then respect should returned. Those who do not give respect should question why they expect it themselves.

The words "native" and "aborigine" were used in the past, but were disrespectful, as the Māori knew themselves by their own cultural name, and recently further respect has been given by the use of the macron in spelling Māori.

So, is the appropriate amount of respect being seen here to all people?

There was no such thing as "settler pakeha", there were British settlers, European settlers, perhaps even, Eurasian settlers. No individual in these peoples were known to themselves as "pakeha". As a New Zealander of English descent I find it hurtful and disrespectful to be called by a name other than the cultural name with which I belong, just as it is hurtful to any Māori to be called a "native".

I know I am not alone in this regard, and note that New Zealand government forms, such as the census, normally show due respect to New Zealand Europeans.

I ask, nay, plead that respect is shown in this matter on the website to New Zealand Europeans. In the 21st Century, such respect is long overdue.