The Māori Wars

The New Zealand War medal was instituted in 1869 to recognize service in the New Zealand Wars of 1845-46, 1847, and 1860-66. The phrase New Zealand Wars, also referred to as Māori Wars, covers a variety of frays, whose common factors were relatively few beyond that at some level, all involved government forces suppressing uprisings by the indigenous Māori peoples. The background to the conflicts was misunderstandings and lapses, more or less intentional from case to case, in the implementation of the Treaty of Waitangi. The 1840 treaty by the newly-instituted New Zealand government had protected the Māori tribes from loss of their lands. Not all of the conflicts for which the New Zealand Medal was awarded centered on land issues. Some involved wars between Māori tribes in which one side had managed to engage the government.

The New Zealand Wars took place over the period 1845 to 1872 between the British colonial government and the allied Māori tribes and the Māori and Māori-aligned settlers on the other side. Though the wars were initially localized conflicts triggered by tensions over disputed land purchases, they escalated dramatically from 1860 as the government became convinced it was facing united Māori resistance to further land sales and a refusal to acknowledge Crown sovereignty. The colonial government summoned thousands of British troops to mount major campaigns to overpower the Kingitanga (Māori King Movement). At the peak of hostilities during the 1860s, 18,000 British troops, supported by artillery, cavalry, and local militia, battled about 4,000 Māori warriors, which was a gross imbalance of manpower and weaponry.

The various conflicts of the New Zealand wars span a considerable period, and the causes and outcomes differ widely. The earliest conflicts in the 1840s happened at a time when Māori were still the predominant power, but by the 1860s, settler numbers and resources had increased greatly. From about 1862 British troops began arriving in much greater numbers, summoned by Governor George Grey for his Waikato invasion.

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