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New Zealand's 19th-century wars

Page 1 – Introduction

Death of Von Tempsky painting
Death of Von Tempsky painting

War changed the face of New Zealand in the 19th century. Tens of thousands of Māori may have died in the intertribal Musket Wars fought between the 1810s and the 1830s. Muskets revolutionised intertribal warfare, decimating some tribes and drastically shifting the boundaries of areas controlled by others. Thousands fled their traditional lands, complicating questions of ownership and opening large areas to potential Pākehā (European) settlement.

Between the 1840s and the 1870s British and colonial forces fought to open up the interior of the North Island for settlement in conflicts that became known collectively as the New Zealand Wars. Sovereignty was contested on the ground despite the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, and Māori became less willing to sell land to the rapidly growing European population. Many Māori died defending their land; many other Māori allied themselves with the colonists for a variety of reasons, sometimes to settle old scores.

Most of the several thousand people killed during the New Zealand Wars were Māori, and the land of many of the survivors was subsequently confiscated. 

How to cite this page

New Zealand's 19th-century wars, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated