Classroom ideas - frontier of chaos?

This page broadly outlines how the feature a Frontier of chaos? could be used by teachers and learners in social studies and history. It is part of a section on pre-1840 contact and when used in conjunction with other features from this category will provide users with a concise summary of the pre-1840 period. This category examines the European exploration of New Zealand, contact between Maori and those who sought to profit from involvement with New Zealand, and the humanitarian interest taken by the Christian missionaries. All of this set the context for the British decision to formally enter into a treaty with Maori in 1840.

A frontier of chaos?

Several high-profile incidents in the period before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 gave the impression of poor relations between Maori and Pakeha. The British Resident from 1833, James Busby, painted a picture of 'extreme frontier chaos'. The impact on Maori of contact with Pakeha before 1840 was a significant issue in the 19th century.

Taming this 'frontier of chaos' became a concern of groups such as the Christian missionaries, after 1814, and of men such as James Busby. More is known of their views and efforts because they took the time to record their experiences, while many other Europeans who were in daily contact with Maori did not. These other Europeans, sometimes known as intermediaries were, however, an important feature of contact in the period before the Treaty.

This feature explores some of the events and people from the early contact period, highlighting some of the characteristics and issues that arose from contact between Maori and Pakeha.

This feature is of great value to teachers and students studying at a variety of levels.

Social studies

'Culture and heritage' and 'Time, continuity and change' are two strands that are supported by this feature. The feature helps set the context for any study of the Treaty of Waitangi or early contact in New Zealand as it examines the impact of the spread of new ideas, the effects of cultural interaction and the impact of contact on people's lives. Were the events of 1840 a direct result of this period of 'frontier chaos', or was this a period where violence and disorder were the exception not the rule?

NCEA hisfory

The reference to Kororareka as the 'hell-hole of the Pacific' contributed to a perception that New Zealand was a wild, lawless frontier society where Maori were at great risk from the excesses of European contact. The missionaries maintained the pressure for formal British intervention, which began with the arrival of James Busby as the Official British Resident in 1833. The reaction to this perceived lack of order culminated in the annexation of New Zealand by Britain in 1840, a key aspect of the broad survey New Zealand in the 19th century.

This feature can provide students with a context in which to prepare research essays including the following themes:

  • Examine a significant decision made by people in history, in an essay.
  • Examine a significant historical situation in the context of change, in an essay.
  • There are numerous excellent historical sources relating to missionaries and their activities that can be used as practice for final assessment.

For more detail of specific activities relating to this period go to Pre-1840 contact activities – NCEA Level 3 history.

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How to cite this page

'Classroom ideas - frontier of chaos?', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/frontier-of-chaos/classroom-activities, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 18-Dec-2014