The New Zealand Wars: Part 1 The War Britain Lost
Directed by Tainui Stephens (2017)
The New Zealand Wars (between British settlers and Māori) occurred between 1843-72. Until the modern indigenous rights movement, which started in the 1970s, it was rare for our public schools to teach the history of these wars. In 2019, the NZ Parliament approved legislation requiring the compulsory teaching of this history in public schools by 2022.
This film is the first in a five-part series exploring the British-Māori wars. Part 1 covers early British settlement of New Zealand and the first war in 1845-46. The defeat inflicted on colonial forces was extremely quite a shock for the British, especially as they outnumbered the Māori (6 to 1), who (unlike the British) had rifles but no heavy artillery (eg canons and mortars).
The trigger for the 1845 war was the repeated destruction of the British flagpole overlooking Kororāreka (Russell) by the Māori chief Hōne Heke. The latter believed British forces were in violation of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, which guarantees Māori full sovereignty over their own lands and people.
The victory of warriors led by Heke and his ally Kawiti is largely attributed to their superior military strategy. This involved a new form of fortified pā, a combination of deep trenches and primitive bunkers, in which flexible wooden fencing plays a similar role to the barbed wire used in World War I trenches, as well as their skill in drawing colonial forces into an ambush.
This new form of reinforced pā is viewed by military historians as the inspiration for modern trench warfare. It would spread to iwi (tribes) across the entire North Island for use in their own engagements with the British.
In 1846, colonists were forced to sign a truce with Heke and Kawati. They gained no new land in the three year war. The British flagpole would not be re-erected during Heke’s lifetime.