The Musket Wars

Modern weapons don’t always bode well for native populations, especially when it comes to colonisation. But the Māori native population of New Zealand needed no help from the outside world to descend into a period of inter tribal warfare used the latest modern weapons from Europe. 

In the early stages of the 19th century, the north island of New Zealand was dominated by two significant Māori native tribes, the Ngapuhi and the Ngati Whatua, who were constantly at war with each other. They had been warring for centuries, but the introduction of European technology to the islands changed the face of Māoriwarfare.

In 1807, the first use of muskets appeared in tribal warfare, with the Ngapuhi suffering a huge defeat at the hands of the Ngati Whatua at Maunganui Bluff, where the Whatua used their traditional weapons to slaughter the Ngapuhi as they weren't used to the loading times of the muskets.

By 1815, both tribes had begun trading with British settlers, obtaining as many muskets as possible trading with whatever they could get their hands on. Hongi Hika was a notorious Māori warrior chief of the Ngapuhi tribe, who had still been reeling and seeking revenge since the 1807 loss. Hongi in particular was keen to seek out as many muskets as possible and begun his early revenge campaigns against the Whatua in 1818, but the muskets were hard to come by.

Hongi had become close with British missionary Thomas Kendall (especially so as Hongi had converted to Christianity). Kendall even took Hongi to England in 1820 to assist with the creation of a Māori dictionary. While there he met the King (King George IV) and was inundated with gifts for his work in assisting Kendall to spread the word of Christianity.

On his way back in 1821, Hongi stopped in Sydney, and exchanged all of the gifts from the King for muskets and ammunition. Once he arrived back in New Zealand his campaign began.

He begun with raids against his enemy (Ngati Whatua), then proceeded along the east coast battling other tribes along the way until he ventured inland taking on the Ngati Maru and Ngati Paoa tribes (where he was wounded in battle). By the time 1822 came around, he launched a ferocious and bloody campaign against the Waikato tribe led by Te Wherowhero.

By 1825, he finally achieved his revenge over the Ngati Whatua with his attack on the Awawa tribe.

By the mid 1820's, the other Māori tribes were reeling from Hongi's damaging campaigns, and traded to obtain muskets of their own, and it wasn’t long until the entire north island was consumed with tribal warfare. Hongi was critically wounded by fighting the Ngāti Uru in 1827 and died in 1828.

By the 1830's most tribes throughout New Zealand were fully armed with muskets and in all out conflict. The Ngāti Toa in particular had been fighting the Waikato, and made roads into the south island by the late 1820's. The Waikato had also had their own successes in battle.

In 1835, the Ngāti Mutunga, Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Toa slaughtered part of the population of Chatham Islands after hijacking a ship to get there.

Warfare dissipated toward the latter part of the 1830's as most tribes settled back into their lands tired from years of warfare. British colonisation was ramping up at the time, which led to the treaty of Waitangi in 1840, a treaty signed by the Māori to give sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain, while retaining land rights for the Māori.

As many as 40,000 Māoriwarriors are believed to have been killed in over 3,000 skirmishes during the course of the wars.