New Zealand History

New Zealand History

New Zealand may have a young history compared to European standards. Nonetheless, it’s rather fascinating, full of battle stories and rich in cultural influences.





Early Arrivals

Around 1000 AD Polynesians were among the first to arrive in what is now known as New Zealand. They settled on the islands and established a distinctive Maori culture which they could develop pretty much untouched from civilization for another 400 years.

It wasn’t until the 17th century that they were discovered by the first Europeans. Dutch seafarer and explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman named the newfound country Staten Landt thinking it was connected to an island. He had landed in Golden Bay, the northwest end of the South Island, but was attacked by Maori and fled after a few of his crew were killed.


European Discoveries

It took another century for Captain James Cook to arrive in New Zealand in 1769 on the first of his 3 voyages. Unlike Tasman he was not going to be scared off by the natives but instead claimed the islands in the name of King George III. of England.

Cook was the first to circumnavigate and map New Zealand. After his discovery the expansion of European culture was inevitable as more and more sailors, missionaries, traders and adventurers from other countries found their way to the “end of the world”.

Modern New Zealand now is a country rich in cultural diversity. Historical Maori sites neighbouring buildings with colonial architecture is a common site and shows how both cultures have developed alongside and entwined with each other.


TIMELINE of New Zealand history


1000-1200 AD

This is when the first Polynesians anchored in New Zealand, presumably from Eastern Polynesia. Their descendants became known as Maori. Archeological founds date back to 1200, yet historians assume that humans have influenced the area way before then.


December: First European contact. Dutch explorer Abel Tasman is on an expedition coming from Indonesia and discovers the South Island. After being attacked by local Maori tribes he leaves the area without ever setting foot onto New Zealand soil. He does, however, name the area Staten Landt after the States General of the Netherlands. That name appeared on the first maps of the country. In 1645 Dutch cartographers change the name to “Nieuw Zeeland” after Dutch province Zeeland.


October: Captain James Cook and Jean Surville land in New Zealand. Despite brutal fights with the Maori the European explorers manage to communicate with the natives and establish a permanent link between New Zealand and the outside world.


A French expedition under Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne lands in the Bay of Islands. The early friendship with local Maori tribes soon turns into bloody wars when the Europeans disrespect local traditions and religious ceremonies. Du Fresne himself and many of his crew get killed and eaten by Maori after fishing in a sacred (tapu) place.


Whaling and seal hunting becomes popular in the waters around New Zealand. Contracts are signed between Maori and Europeans. Crews are also trading European goods including guns and tools for food, water and wood with the natives.

Early 19th century

Missionaries establish more and more settlements in New Zealand. They attempt to convert Maori to Christendom and control the mostly lawless visitors from allover Europe.


Maori tribes that have gained access to muskets from the European settlers are starting to fight each other and are taking over tribes that have not yet acquired modern armory. By 1836 the wars are slowly coming to an end probably because by then muskets are common weapons among many tribes.


6th February: The Treaty of Waitangi is signed by Europeans and 40 Maori tribal elders. Copies are being distributed to tribes allover the country to gain more signatures. It is the birth of modern New Zealand which by signing the treaty becomes a British colony and Maori are given equal rights with British citizens.


The first clash between Maori and European settlers breaks out in the South Island when a representative of the New Zealand Company prepares to drive Maori of land ready for surveying. 22 Europeans and 6 Maori were killed in what will be the only armed conflict in the South Island.


First Maori War: Young Hone Heke, leader of the Nga Puhi tribe, is testing British sovereignty by destroying the British flag in Russell and later taking over the entire settlement. This later became known as the Flagstaff War.


Establishment of provincial and central governments through the New Zealand Constitution Act. 1853 marks the first election of New Zealand parliament, but the right to vote is strictly limited to adults, males, British and a few number of Maori.


The first Taranaki War breaks out after land is sold to white settlers (Pakeha) by the government in Waitara. Maori accuse the government of stealing their land and put up fights in order to get it back. They are joined by tribes from the Waikato region, though traditionally they are enemies with the Taranaki tribes.


Australian-born Gabriel Read finds gold in Otago. Within 6 months the population in the region increases from 13,000 to more than 30,000 people.


Waikato War: All Maori between Auckland and the Waikato are required to take a Pledge of Allegiance to Queen Victoria or face eviction. The ultimatum is rejected resulting in fights between 14,000 British and colonial soldiers versus 5000 rebellious Maori. Despite surprising victories the Maori are defeated and lose about 12,000km2 of land to the government which in turns leads to the second Taranaki War.


The second Taranaki War is caused by Maori resistance to further land sales by the government. This time Maori are close to victory.


After having defeated the Maori in the Waikato War there is a lot of commotion along the East Coast. Battles are now fought mostly for religious reasons. One of the main characters are Te Ua Haumene and his Hauhau movement as well as Te Kooti who turns against the government after having originally supported them in their struggle against the Hauhau. However, in 1866 he was charged with collaboration and banned to the nearby Chatham Islands where he founded the sect “Ringatu” and from now on fought to give back land to the Maori. He flew from the Chathams in 1868 and killed 70 Pakeha and government-friendly Maori. He was never caught and lived under the protection of Maori King Tawhiao until being pardoned by the government in 1883.


The first transport of frozen goods to England. Until then the transportation of goods were mostly dominated by the wool industry. However, a new form of cargo shipment now also allows for the transport of mean and milk products.


The Liberal Government is taking over control in New Zealand after a big depression. Prime Ministers John Ballance and Richard Seddon (also known as King Dick) enact a number of progressive initiatives like old age pensions that make New Zealand role model for the rest of the world.


New Zealand becomes the first country in the world that gives women the right to vote. This is mostly due to the initiative of Kate Sheppard who had been fighting with petitions for many years.


New Zealand’s economy is highly regulated and an extensive welfare state established. Maori culture is undergoing a renaissance.

1950s to 1970s

With more and more Maori moving into bigger cities a large protest movement begins to form. Issues are mainly regarding indigenous rights like the recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi, land rights, Maori culture and language as well we racism.

More Informations about New Zealand History you can find on Wikipedia.

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