Classroom ideas - New Zealand's 19th-century wars

This page outlines how New Zealand's 19th-century wars and the Musket Wars could be used by teachers and students of social studies and history. These features highlights the Musket Wars of the opening decades of the 19th century. They also broadly discusses the nature of what are known as the New Zealand Wars, which took place from the 1840s onwards. A timeline of key moments from these wars is also available. 

This feature works well in conjunction with material available from the category pre-1840 contact for those studying life in New Zealand before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

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New Zealand's 19th-century wars

War changed the face of New Zealand in the 19th century. Tens of thousands of Maori died in the intertribal Musket Wars. Nga Puhi and Ngati Whatua were the first to use muskets in their northern rivalries, and soon all of the tribes were trading to obtain muskets. Muskets altered intertribal warfare. In wars with muskets the populations of some tribes were decimated, and the boundaries of areas that some tribes controlled drastically shifted. Thousands of Maori fled their traditional lands. This exodus freed large areas for Pakeha (European) settlement and complicated questions of ownership of these lands.

From the 1840s to the 1870s British and colonial forces fought to open up the rest of the North Island for settlement. Many Maori died defending their land. Other Maori allied themselves with the colonists to settle old scores.

There were estimated to be 3000 casualties during the New Zealand Wars – the majority of which were Maori. For Maori this was only the beginning of the suffering as many of the survivors had their land confiscated. 

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

Social studies

'Culture and heritage' and 'Time, continuity and change' are two strands in particular that are supported by this feature. New Zealand's 19th-century wars set the context for any study of the Treaty of Waitangi or early contact in New Zealand as it examines the effects of the spread of new ideas and cultural interaction and the impact of this interaction on the lives of people. 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 Level 3 history

This feature can provide students with a context to prepare for the following achievement standards:

  • Achievement standard 3.4: In an essay, examine a significant decision made by people in history.
  • Achievement standard 3.5: In an essay, examine a significant historical situation in the context of change.
  • Achievement standard 3.3: There are numerous excellent historical sources relating to missionaries and their activities. These can be used as practice for final assessment.

For more detail of specific activities relating to this period go to Musket Wars - examine a significant situation in the context of change and Pre-1840 contact activities- NCEA Level 3 history.

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How to cite this page

'Classroom ideas - New Zealand's 19th-century wars', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/classroom-ideas-new-zealands-19th-century-wars, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 1-May-2017