The History Of New Zealand

The last of the world's significant landmasses to be colonized by people, New Zealand is a nation of immigrants. Maori settled in the country less than 1,000 years ago, while Europeans first arrived in 1642. Together, these two peoples have forged a unique identity out of their common experiences that reflect their Pacific environment.

The date the first Maori arrived in New Zealand is shrouded in mystery. According to legend, the first explorer to discover New Zealand was the Polynesian Kupe, around AD 950. He then returned to his ancestral homeland, Hawaiki. Four centuries later, a fleet of canoes set sail for New Zealand, guided by Kupe's directions on how to find land.

Basing their findings on radiocarbon dating of Maori middens, archaeologists believe that the first settlement was around AD 1300. Some scientists, however, believe that Maori arrived as long ago as 2,000 years, but these early settlers did not survive for long. Nonetheless, the rats that they bought with them went on to devastate the native bird, lizard and frog populations. Regardless of when they arrived, Maori are known to have transported a number of plants and animals with them. The kiore, the Polynesian rat, was considered a great delicacy when fattened up on berries. Also known to have survived the journey was the native dog, the kuri. Root vegetables Maori bought with them were the yam, kumara and taro. The kumara grows more successfully in the colder climate than the other two, and proved important in the development of Maori culture, enabling permanent settlement.


Since Greek times, there had been talk of a Terra Australis, or "great southern continent", to counterbalance the lands of the northern hemisphere. Such a landmass was necessary, it was argued, to offset the weight of thecontinents in the north and to balance the Earth on its axis.

The mathematician Pythagoras speculated about the existence of such a land, but it was not until almost 2,000 years later that 17th-century Dutch explorers finally sighted Australia. In 1642, the Dutch East India

Company, a trading firm anxious to explore prospects for commerce beyond the East Indies, sent Abel Tasman south from Java in Indonesia.

The History Of New Zealand (Part 2)

After sailing past Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen's Land), Tasman reached a point off present-day Hokitika on 13 December 1642, noting "a large high elevated land". He and the crews of the Heemskerck and Zeehaen had sighted the Southern Alps. Tasman wanted to land, but the rolling swell off the coastline convinced him to head north, where he found a reliably calm anchorage in what is now called Golden Bay. However, hostile Maori rammed a sloop from the Zeehaen, and clubbed four of the Dutch sailors to death. The Dutch privately named the location Murderers' Bay. Tasman immediately set sail north and left New Zealand waters on 6 January 1643 without further investigation.

Captain James Cook

There was a lull in European exploration of the New Zealand region for more than 100 years. No good commercial reason encouraged any visits; indeed, the reputation of the hostile Maori discouraged them.

Then, in 1769, Englishman Captain James Cook set sail on a scientific expedition of discovery to the South Pacific, to observe the transit of the sun by the planet Venus. After having observed the rare phenomenon at Tahiti, Cook sailed south until he sighted the east coast of New Zealand, on 9 October 1769.

Cook's ship, the Endeavor, was well equipped for its voyage, with botanists and artists on board. Beside documenting new scientific finds, Cook's mission was to assess the potential of the country as a colony.

A master mariner, Cook mapped the coastline and the scientists on board made hundreds of discoveries. On this first of three visits to New Zealand, he claimed the country for England. Coincidentally, a French expedition led by explorer Jean de Surville sailed within a few kilometers of Cook at the end of 1769, but neither was aware of the other's presence.

Following Cook, Europeans trickled rather than flooded into New Zealand, working as whalers, sealers and timber traders. Seeking short term profits, few made permanent immigrants, and as soon as the resource they bought disappeared, so did they. By the early 1800s it had become uneconomical to send sealing gangs to New Zealand because most of the easy prey had been taken; whale numbers, too, plummeted.

The Treaty Of Waitangi

The impact of these visitors on the traditional Maori way of life was intense. Maori were exposed to a disastrous number of diseases, such as measles and smallpox, and their warlike instincts were incited by the purchase of guns. During the 1820s, at least 20,000 Maori were killed in intertribal "musket wars", which changed the political face of Maori New Zealand as tribes invaded neighboring territories, sometimes taking them permanently.

Another major influence for change was Christianity. Anglican missionary Samuel Marsden established New Zealand's first mission station in the Bay of Islands in 1814, and although progress was slow in converting Maori to Christianity, the faith had a significant foothold by 1840.

By then Maori numbered about 115,000 and European settlers (Pakeha) 2,000. While some Maori benefited by trading with the Europeans and growing crops for them, there was concern about increasing lawlessness, the buying up of land by Europeans and the intertribal warfare. Leading chiefs asked Queen Victoria to provide a framework of law and order. Eventally Captain William Hobson obtained the signatures of Maori chiefs on the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi, giving sovereignty to Britain. Although the Maori translation gave the chiefs a different understanding of the treaty.

Source by Mamta Dhingra

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