…. The two decades following the Treaty of Waitangi were characterised nationally more by co-operation between Maori and Pakeha than by conflict. –Historian Michael King

Salvation for Maori

By Roger Childs

In 1837 Chief Wiremu Hau said to the English King: Sir…. Will you give us law? The 1840 Treaty of Waitangi brought in the rule of law for all the people of New Zealand. It mean that there was freedom for slaves – mainly women – and the end of cannibalism, inter-tribal war, female infanticide and the killing of prisoners. Disputes between tribes would now have to be settled in the courts.

The end of the Musket Wars saved Maori people from possible extinction. Over 40,000 men, women and children had been killed in over 500 battles between 1800 and 1840, and the loss of so many women and girls meant that there were not enough potential mothers for the Maori population to recover quickly. 

Women were in fact the great beneficiaries of the Treaty, as slaves were released and the fear after battles of at worst death, and at best rape, abduction and servitude, was now gone.

Women who has been the traditional food growers now showed their entrepreneurial skills in providing for the new European settlers.

Economic progress

The 1840s were a time of prosperity for a lot of Maori villages. –Historian Judith Binney

Even before 1840, Maori, in Northland in particular, were cutting and selling timber and flax, working on ships — which in some cases they owned themselves — and built flour and flax mills.

Maori, especially in villages close to the growing colonial settlements, proved to be very adaptable and enterprising. Once new vegetables, fruit, vegetables and stock from Britain and New South Wales were introduced to New Zealand, the tribes, led by women, were soon producing surpluses which they sold to settlers. Canoes would regularly tie up at Te Aro in Wellington full of food to sell. Settlers were a ready market and happy to pay fair prices for the produce.   

Historian A.S. Thompson writing in 1859 commented on the Auckland scene:

The big canoes came into the Manukau and Waitemata with cargoes of vegetables, fruit, wheat, firewood, grass, flax, pigs, fowl, fish pipis and oysters. Some 2000 arrived each year in the early 1850s.  

The 1840s and 1850s were prosperous times for the Hauraki Plains, Waikato and Bay of Plenty tribes in particular.

The growth of Christianity

The Governor says the several faiths of England, of the Wesleyans, of Rome and also the Maori custom shall alike be protected by him. Missionary William Colenso

Catholic Bishop Pompallier asked Hobson to guarantee religious freedom and the governor readily agreed. 

With the end of inter-tribal conflict and the growing feeling of security, there was a rapid increase in Maori church going. For example attendance at Anglican services rose from less than 3000 in 1839 to more than 35,000 in 1842.

Some conflict

Moving the capital south from Russell to the rapidly expanding settlement of Auckland meant an economic downturn for the Northland area. Northern chief Hone Heke was angry and famously cut down the flagpole above Russell several times and then waged war against his Maori neighbours. The climax was the battle of Ruapekapeka in early 1846. As with all other conflicts over the next 20 years, where colonial forces were involved, they were supported by tribes keen to stay on-side with the government.  

When peace was ultimately achieved Governor Grey pardoned the rebels and no land was confiscated.

Further south in 1843 near Wairau in Marlborough 26 Maori and Europeans were killed, 11 being settler–soldiers from Nelson who had been taken prisoner. The conflict started because the New Zealand Company illegally started a land survey and Governor Fitzroy decided not to arrest the chiefs guilty of killing the prisoners.

In the late 1840s through to 1860 there was some feuding between Taranaki tribes over the issue of selling land, but the government wisely did not get involved until the early 1860s.

The Kohimarama Conference endorses Crown sovereignty

It was probably the largest gathering of Maori chiefs in New Zealand’s history. Over 200 rangatira from across the country gathered in Auckland and with Governor Brown presiding, they pledged loyalty to Queen Victoria. Essentially the endorsed the three article of the Treaty of Waitangi. There were plans made for the government to set up tribes with wide powers of local government, equivalent to states in the USA — runanga — and to have annual conferences of chiefs.

Unfortunately, in the early 1860s, conflict erupted in Taranaki and the Waikato in what became known as the New Zealand Wars.

Two decades of colonization good for Maori? 

Definitely. The Treaty of Waitangi brought in the rule of law and the worst features of the tikanga in the inter-tribal wars were outlawed. This applied across the country. The economic impact of increased white settlement was uneven, with tribes closest to the growing European settlements benefitting most from the trading opportunities. Peace in most areas meant there was more security for Maori, especially for women, and church going increased considerably.

Most tribes endorsed their allegiance to the Crown in 1860, in line with Article 1 in the Treaty. 

Unfortunately, after 1860, a minority of tribes in the central North Island rebelled against the Crown and brought two decades of generally positives outcomes from colonization to an end in those areas.