New Zealand was one of the last inhabitable places on earth to be settled by humans, the first doing so approximately 800 years ago. It was also one of the last successful white settler colonies. Not just of the British Empire, but of any European Empire. The capital of New Zealand, Wellington, is over eleven-thousand miles away from London, making it the furthest away colony from the metropole. This distance was the first major problem presented to the empire, but it was not the only colony to struggle with distance from the mother country. New Zealand’s struggle with distance was merely the most extreme example of a common problem with empire. The second major problem the empire had with governing New Zealand was with the native Maori people. Being the last successful White Settler colony, this means that the British Settlers of New Zealand eventually became the majority of the islands’ population. Between the first settlement, and when the whites became the majority population, the fate of the colony was uncertain. We are going to look at the history of the New Zealand, how the white settlers became the dominant power, and how the colony could have been governed, given twenty-first century hindsight.
The Islands of New Zealand were settled by Polynesian Peoples. Starting around 200 A.D., they began sailing south and eastward from the Islands of Samoa and Tonga. By 800 A.D., they had settled the Marquesas, Hawaii, and Easter Island. The exact year, or even century the Island was first settled is in dispute. It ranges anywhere between 800 and 1300 A.D.   Like many native peoples the British encountered in their colonial ventures, the Maori were a tribal hunter-gatherer society, supplemented by small amounts of agriculture. And like all places colonized, these natives were not a monolithic force, but rather a hodgepodge of warring tribes and clans.
The first European discovery of New Zealand was by a Dutch Sailor named Abel Tasman. Tasman was on a mission from the Dutch East India company, and instructed to establish relations with “civilized” peoples of the region. They encountered the islands on a voyage between the summers of 1642 and 1643. He had originally named the set of islands “Staten Landt”, but the rest of Europe referred to them as “New Zealand”, after the province of Zeeland, in the Netherlands. They had a brief encounter with the natives, whom they found to be hostile. They killed four of Tasman’s men, and left the island with an unfavorable perception. It would be over a hundred years before another European, Captain James Cook, would explore the island and interact with the natives.
Captain Cook first sighted the northern island of New Zealand on October 8, 1769, being the first European since the Dutch sailors under Abel Tasman to see the Maori people; “We saw in the Bay several Canoes, People upon the shore and some houses in the country.” Cook and some of his men first went ashore on October Ninth. In an interesting side note, Captain Cook referred to the natives he saw on the island as “Indians”. In his journals, he goes back and forth between using the words “Indian” and “natives”. Cook and his crew used a native priest they had picked up on another island to communicate with the Maori.  Whether the priest and the Maori spoke the same language, or they just spoke very similar languages is not stated. Over six months, Cook would map out much of the coastline of New Zealand. Cook had received advice from the President of the Royal Society, the Earl of Morton. Morton was more concerned with putting a check on European bloodshed than on “savage violence”, saying, “They are human creatures, the work of the same omnipotent Author, equally under his care with the most polished European… No European Nation has a right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among them without their voluntary consent.” This shows a marked difference from the thoughts of earlier colonial expeditions in the western hemisphere, which determined land ownership by its productive use. This is an early sign of how the natives of New Zealand would be treated differently than the natives of North America and Australia.
In the course of three voyages, Captain Cook would visit New Zealand four times, with the total number of days added up being just short of a year. The short-term impact on the Maori was relatively small, but the long-term impact was immeasurable. The introduction of metal tools to the island would have dramatic consequences. They also left behind several venereal diseases where the sailors stayed longer. They also left a number vegetables behind. The potato would become a big part of the Maori economy and diet by the 1800s. The introduction of firearms to New Zealand would have the greatest impact.
Between the first voyage of Captain Cook, and 1840, the islands would see a small stream of explorers and settlers. During Cook’s first visit to the islands, he passed by another European sailor headed toward the island, the French explorer, Jean de Surville. Three years later, in 1772, another French explorer, Marion du Fresne, visited the island. His encounters with the natives did not fair as well as Cooks. He was killed by a Maori tribe. In retaliation, his second in command, Julien Crozet, massacred two-hundred and fifty Maori tribesmen. And before leaving the island, he claimed the islands in the name of France, renaming the islands “France Australe”. The French claims to New Zealand were never seriously maintained. Within five years of making them, they would become involved in the American War of Independence, which would financially bring them to the brink, resulting in revolution in 1789.
The problem of distance that New Zealand faced would ultimately be solved in two ways: technological development, and settlement. Technological development would allow for faster ships, which could sail to the South-Pacific quicker. On top of this there would be the eventual construction of the Suez Canal, which would shorten the distance between Britain and the rest of her Empire in the east. The other solution, settlement, would simultaneously mitigate the problem of distance, and combat the problem of native dominance.
Settlement was originally slow. It would take the whaling trade to bring a greater number of permanent settlements. European Whalers sought to set up stations around the islands, and the Maori were readily willing to grant them land to do so. The early relationship between the Europeans and the natives were co-operational. European captains were married to high ranking Maori women, and Maori men were recruited to work on European trading vessels. Polynesian whalers became so common in the 19th century, that they make appearances in the literature of the day. The character Queequeg, from Moby-Dick, is one of the more notable ones. The Maori had become addicted to European goods they were incapable of making themselves, especially guns. The Maori encouraged European settlement, going so far as to shelter ship-jumpers and ex-convicts. They would give the settlers wives and land to ingratiate them within the tribe. They chiefs wanted to use them as intermediaries between the tribe and European traders.
Up to 1840, a careful and peaceful balance was maintained. The Europeans were drastically outnumbered by the Maori. On top of this, the metropole was over eleven-thousand miles away. If the Europeans angered the Maori to the point of violence, their superior technology would not be enough to defend against the Maori’s superior numbers. And the great distance from the metropole meant that it would be months before the European would find out what happened, and several more months before they could respond. The Maori, however, also had reasons for not wiping out the Europeans. The Maori had become dependent on trade with the Europeans. They had grown a taste for European textiles and tools. But the most important good imported from the Europeans was guns. The tribes were not technologically capable of manufacturing firearms, which had become a staple in inter-tribal warfare. The tribes that did not have muskets became subservient to those that did. Because of this, all the tribes welcomed the Europeans, and encouraged settlements. These conflicts between the tribes would become known as the “Musket Wars”, and would end after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, which granted the British Sovereignty over New Zealand. Or at least it did so in the English version of the treaty.
In 1840, many Maori Chiefs were gathered in a place called Waitangi. On February 6th, they signed a treaty, written by William Hobson, which established an independent and unified New Zealand. The move to annex New Zealand and sign a treaty with the chiefs was motivated by the evangelical religious beliefs of the Colonial Office officials.
The Treaty of Waitangi gave the British control over New Zealand, after a long series of wars between the Maori tribes, in which all sides were armed by the British. The English version of the treaty gives the Queen, “all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or to possess over their respective Territories as the sole sovereigns thereof”. The differences in the wording of the Maori and English language versions would cause conflict. The English version uses the word “Sovereignty”, but the Maori language has no equivalent word or phrase. A word meaning “complete government”, was used in its place. The Maori believed that they would be allowed to govern their own internal affairs in exchange for giving authority over the islands to the Crown. They believed that signing the treaty would guarantee them a substantial flow of white settlers that would increase trade for firearms and other goods.
Article Two of the Treaty of Waitangi also gave protections to the Maori. It was understood in both languages that the Crown would have exclusive rights to purchase Maori lands from the tribes. This system was designed to protect the Maori land rights, by ensuring that unscrupulous practices to acquire Maori land by private companies or individuals were avoided, as happened in other White Settler Colonies.
The first major war fought between the British and the Maori was the Northern War, fought on the New Zealand’s North Island between March of 1845 and January of 1846. Chief Hone Heke was a prominent anti-British leader of the Ngapuhi tribe. The traditional view on the Northern War is that Heke was trying to expel the British from the Island. However, more recent historians, such as James Belich and Ganginui Walker, have brought more attention to materialist causes to the conflict. Belich emphasizes the British imposition of taxes on the Maori, as well as restrictions on the Maori timber industry, as motivating factors for the war. Biggest of all, Belich argues, is the moving of the Capital from Kororareka to Auckland. This was both a symbolic, and literal, relocation of power from a Maori dominated area, to a British controlled one. Walker emphasizes the British seizure of Maori lands. Despite the Treaty of Waitangi being designed to protect Maori land rights, unscrupulous practices still managed to deprive the Maori of their land. The Treaty of Waitangi allowed only the crown, or as many would come to interpret it, institutions representing the crown, to acquire land from the Maori. The New Zealand Company was being an institution representing the crown, and therefore had the right to purchase land. When signing treaties, and deals with the company, not all chiefs were aware of what they were signing. This resulted in many tribes losing land to the New Zealand Company. The Maori saw the British as overstepping their authority by interfering with the internal affairs of the tribes, and denying the chiefs their traditional rights. Because of this, Belich believes that Heke’s real goals were not to expel the British, but rather to re-establish chiefly authority within the internal affairs of the Maori.
Traditional Historians of New Zealand declare the British to be victorious in the Northern-War, but newer historians call this into question. The traditional narrative points to the rebel chiefs giving over their lands to the government as a sign of their defeat. A counter to this point was the British granting amnesty to all of those who participated in the rebellion, despite earlier saying that it was “absolutely necessary to crush either Heke or Kawiti before tranquility could be restored”. This was a sign of how weak the British control of New Zealand was in the 1840s. It could not afford to needlessly anger the Maori, revealing the threat the natives still presented.
Two more revolts broke out on the Northern Island near Wellington, and Wanganui, in 1846 and 1847. These rebellions were fought over land disputes, and followed the growing pattern of conflict being between Pro and Anti British tribes. The 1850s was a quiet period of Maori-British relations, but the 1860s would see renewed conflict. During the 1850s, Maori tribes began refusing to sell land to the British settlers. This was part of a growing movement among the tribes to create a Maori Confederation, often referred to as the “King Movement”. These confederated tribes elected a King, who’s son succeeded him two years later, in 1860. Conflict erupted in the early 1860s for a whole host of factors. The British were irritated that the Maori had been refusing to sell their land. There was also the desire of the colonial government to assert more authority over the internal affairs of the tribes. Between 1848 and 1860, the white population of New Zealand grew through immigration and high birth-rates. At this same time the Maori population decreased due to disease and low birth-rates. By 1860, the white population outnumbered the Maori but not on the North Island. The wars of the 1860s would primarily be fought over land sale disputes, and would finally end in 1872, when the last rebel chief surrendered. This ended what historians today refer to as the New Zealand Wars.
With the Maori tribes subjugated, Anglo-British control over New Zealand was secured. During the early twentieth century, there were fears over Japanese expansionism in the Asia-Pacific. The United Kingdom government had told the New Zealand government that if France fell, then the Royal Navy would not have enough strength to fight Germany, Italy, and Japan. The British government began relying on the United States to protect Australia and New Zealand. However, the Japanese would never reach New Zealand. The surrender of Japan to the Allies in 1945 effectively eliminated the last threat to Anglo dominance of the islands.
So where did the British get their ideas for governing New Zealand? Cook’s instructions from the Earl of Morton to reign in European violence is a sign that the British had learned from their experience in North America. Despite this, the situation in New Zealand resembled all too much the situation in other white settler colonies. There does not seem to be any direct reference to other situations informing their choices, but the aggregate of previous experience was the most likely influence. The only successful white settler colonies were those that were geographically isolated from Afro-Eurasia. In the Americas, it was disease that killed off most of the native inhabitants. A combination of disease and superior weaponry eventually led to white dominance in these places. The story of the Maori is very like those of Native Americans and the First Peoples in the United States and Canada.
So how would I, with twenty-first century hindsight have governed New Zealand differently? This requires us to ask whether the current situation is substantially less than ideal. On top of this, we also need to determine what the ideal situation is. When it comes to New Zealand, I have an inherent bias. My father was born in the country, and his father was born and raised there. Had things not gone the way it did, you would not be reading this. However, I will try to remove my existentialist issue from this question. All things considered, New Zealand is a well-off country. They have a good human rights record, and are often ranked as one of the freest countries in the world. But in a country, that started out as white settler colonies, the elephant in the room is the native population.
Americans are very familiar with the issue of our past behavior towards the Native Americans. The average American may not be able to name specific examples of mistreatment of the Native Americans, but they are all vaguely aware that bad things were done to them by white settlers who wanted to take their land. How have the Maori fared? The Treaty of Waitangi was a valiant effort, but it did not have enough teeth, or enough willing enforcers. In recent decades, the Maori have begun to see a recovery. After a century of declining numbers, the twentieth century saw a recovery in the Maori population. As of 2004, almost a quarter of all businesses in New Zealand are started by Maori Entrepreneurs. 1975 saw the Treaty of Waitangi Act passed in the New Zealand Parliament. This established the “Waitangi Tribunal”, which was responsible for hearing Maori grievances, and make suggestions to parliament.And long before Parliament began reconcile with the Maori, the 1867 Maori Representation Act, guaranteed the Maori four dedicated seats in Parliament, which is more than the natives of Australia, Canada, or the United States have ever received.
Any changes made to the way New Zealand was governed should take the well-being of the Maori into account, and in most cases, would probably be designed to ensure better treatment. The first major difference I would make is to put in stronger enforcement of the Treaty of Waitangi. I would have it amended to say that only the government can purchase land from the Maori, rather than allowing any individual or institution representing the government being allowed to do so. When Maori purchased land is being sold by the government, other Maori tribes or individuals should be given first right to purchase the land. If they do cannot, or will not pay the appropriate market price for said land, then the land can be purchased by anyone.
I would also amend the 1867 Maori Representation Act. The original act guaranteed a total of four reserved seats for the Maori. In 1996 the act was amended, which allowed a greater number of dedicated Maori seats, which better reflected the population. I would amend the act to have Maori representation in Parliament be proportional to its population. In 1867 this would have earned them approximately 20 percent of the seats in Parliament. Though this would not have been a number strong enough to overturn or stop the actions of whites by themselves, it would have given them greater power to work whites who were sympathetic to their cause.
New Zealand’s unique geographical location has left it a pristine preserve of natural beauty. And its indigenous peoples were the last to be utterly devastated, and one of the first to recover. The country’s distance from the metropole, and resilient Maoris, were the biggest problems facing its governance. All things considered, it turned out well.
 Michael King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, (Auckland: Penguin Books, 2003), 19
 Ranginui Walker, Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou: Struggle Without End, (Auckland: Penguin Group), 24
 Walker, Struggle, 24
 King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, 19
 James Belich, The New Zealand Wars, and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict, (Auckland: Penguin Books, 1986), 17
 Geoffrey W. Rice, edt., The Oxford History of New Zealand: Second Edition, (Auckland: Oxford University Press, 1992), 29
 King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, 102
 Rice, Oxford, 29
 Walker, Struggle, 78
 King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, 126
 James Cook, The Journals of Captain Cook, (New York: Penguin Books, 2003), 80-81
 Cook, Journals, 81-82
 Cook, Journals, 77
Cook, Journals, 82
 Rice, Oxford, 29
King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, 105
 Rice, Oxford, 30
 Walker, Struggle, 78
 Herman Melville, Moby Dick, (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2003), 82
 Walker, Struggle, 78
 ibid, 79
 Belich, The New Zealand Wars, 19
 Belich, The New Zealand Wars, 19-20
 “Read the Treaty: The Differences between the texts”, (NZHistory.govt.nz), accessed November 27, 2016, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/treaty/read-the-Treaty/differences-between-the-texts
 King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, 156
 ibid, 157
 “Read the Treaty”
 Belich, The New Zealand Wars, 20
 “Read the Treaty”
 Belich, The New Zealand Wars, 29
 ibid, 30
 Belich, The New Zealand Wars, 30
 “Read the Treaty,” (NZHistory.govt.nz), accessed November 27, 2016, https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/treaty/read-the-treaty/english-text
 Walker, Struggle, 103-4
 Belich, The New Zealand Wars, 31-2
 ibid, 64-5
 ibid, 65
 ibid, 73-80
 ibid, 75
 ibid, 76
 Belich, The New Zealand Wars, 77
 ibid, 78
 Rice, Oxford, 188-9
 King, The Penguin History of New Zealand, 400-1
 “New Zeland”, (Freedom House.com), accessed November 27, 2016, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2015/new-zealand
 Walker, Struggle, 186
 ibid, 313
 ibid, 210-2
 Walker, Struggle, 144