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Tītokowaru's war

Page 6 – Crisis of confidence

As 1868 drew to an end, Tītokowaru wrote to Whitmore:

Salutations to you … to whom does England belong? To whom does this land upon which you stand belong? This is my word to you… You were made a Pakeha and the name of England was given to you for your tribe. I was made a Maori and New Zealand was the name given to me. You forgot there was a space fixed between us of great extent – the sea. You, forgetting that, jumped over from that place to this. I did not jump over from this place to that. This is my word to you. Move off from my places to your own places in the midst of the sea.

Questions were now being asked about the Armed Constabulary’s ability to protect settlers in outlying districts. Tītokowaru’s success at Moturoa had been quickly followed by news of Te Kooti’s attack on Matawhero, near Tūranganui (Gisborne).

Bishop William Williams wondered whether the ‘great number’ of Māori victories of late was an indication that ‘God’s hand has been turned against us’. Williams was not alone in his conclusion that 'unless it should please God to check the progress of the natives … there will be no settlers living in the country except in the towns’. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, David Monro, believed that the colony was incapable of resisting ‘a general uprising of hostile Maories throughout the North Island’. 

Appeals to London for help fell on deaf ears. Britain was reluctant to become involved in another expensive New Zealand war. There was also a feeling that this was a situation entirely of the settler government’s own making, given its policy of confiscating land. New Zealand would have to put its own house in order.

A Kīngitanga alliance?

Some feared that the Kīngitanga would take advantage of the exploits of Tītokowaru and Te Kooti to cross the Waikato aukati (border). A triple alliance had the potential to drive the settlers out of all the confiscated Māori land and back to the main settlements of Wellington and Auckland. Some believed it could force Pākehā to abandon the North Island entirely. Men like prominent Waikato settler Josiah Firth who expressed doubts about the likelihood of the Kīngitanga renewing hostilities were minority voices.

The actual intentions of the Kīngitanga towards Tītokowaru at this time are not clear. During his peace campaign of 1867, Tītokowaru had rejected the authority of King Tāwhiao. When his war began in 1868, he was angered when a Kīngitanga emissary tried to dissuade Ngāti Ruanui from supporting him. But as Tītokowaru’s war progressed, there was evidence that the Kīngitanga’s position was changing. Emissaries were now counselling Whanganui Māori against assisting the government.

On 13 February 1869, a Ngāti Maniapoto war party attacked the Pukearuhe Redoubt, 50 km north-east of New Plymouth. This assault raised the spectre of a more generalised war, but it had not been sanctioned by the Kīngitanga leadership and there were to be no further attacks.

How to cite this page

Crisis of confidence, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated