A brief history of New Zealand

New Zealand is one of the youngest countries in the world with the human presence on the islands dating back only 700 years. The first people to arrive on the islands were of Polynesian decent and developed the Maori culture.

The first European explorers arrived in 1642 the man who discovered the island was the Dutch explorer Abel Janszoon Tasman. It wasn’t until 1769 however that the islands were mapped. The famous British explorer Captain James Cook returned to the island three times and shortly after the last of his voyages New Zealand was frequently visited by French, British and American whaling and trading ships.  Their crews traded European goods, including guns and metal tools, for Māori food, water, wood and other goods.  Māori were reputed to be enthusiastic and canny traders. Although there were some conflicts, such as the killing of a French explorer and the Boyd massacre that saw Maoris kill and eat over sixty Europeans, most contact between Māori and European was peaceful.

From the 19th century Christian missionaries began settling in New Zealand and attempted to convert the Māori to Christianity. The Europeans brought with them disease but just as deadly muskets. The Maori tribes had no ranged weapons of their own except for throwing spears until the first Western traders arrived with firearms. The gun became a much sought after commodity for the Maori and it wasn’t long before the tribes started killing one another with the weapons. The peaceful tribe of the Moriori was almost exterminated as a result. The Musket Wars died out in the 1830’s as the balance of power evened out and no tribe had an advantage over another.

The islands became a part of the British Empire in 1841 when New Zealand became a standalone colony from the Australian colony of New South Wales. At first the Maori were pleased to live alongside the colonists but sadly as with all other colonisation attempts by Europeans violence erupted. The New Zealand Land wars of the 1860s and 1870s saw the colonists seize a large portion of Maori lands. The combination of war, confiscations, disease, assimilation and intermarriage, land loss leading to poor housing and alcohol abuse, and general disillusionment, caused a fall in the Māori population from around 86,000 in 1769 to around 70,000 in 1840 and around 48,000 by 1874, hitting a low point of 42,000 in 1896. Subsequently their numbers began to recover.

The 1890’s saw New Zealand’s economy become a global one thanks to the invention of refrigerated shipping. The Islands began exporting frozen meet to Britain and Europe, the trade continuing as the basis of the island’s economy until the 1970’s.

In the First World War New Zealand was still a full member of the British Empire and eagerly entered the conflict on the side of the Allies. 100,000 men went to war and captured German controlled Western Samoa, administering the island until Samoa gained independence in the 1960’s. In World War Two New Zealand sent 120,000 troops to Europe, Africa and the Pacific, relying on the Royal Navy to defend the country from the Japanese.

After the War New Zealand gained full independence from the Empire but retains strong links with Great Britain and remains a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. New Zealand is now a modern well developed nation with strong ties to the USA and Australia and was ranked the second most peaceful country in the world according to the 2012 Global Peace Index.