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 of the 1810s, 1820s and 1830s. Muskets revolutionised intertribal warfare, decimating the population of some tribes and drastically shifting the boundaries of areas controlled by tribes. Thousands fled their traditional lands, opening large areas to Pākehā (European) settlement and complicating questions of ownership.

Between the 1840s and the 1870s British and colonial forces fought to open up the rest 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 which was increasingly coveted by the rapidly growing European population. Many Māori died defending their land; others 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:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 18-Aug-2017