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Pros and Cons of the British 'Maori Occupation'

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    Posted: 17 Aug 2009 at 00:02
Pros and Cons of the British Occupation of Maori Peoples

BY ZROBERTS, August 2009

The British colonized New Zealand in the 1830s.  As colonizers, the British assumed the responsibility of the Maori people, the native inhabitants of the island. The Maori people had very little contact with Europeans before the British colonized New Zealand. The British saw the Maori people as a remote people living in small tribes who often fought each other. The Maori people were seen as uncivilized by most of the British. They were known to practice human sacrifice and also practiced putting enemy tribes’ men and women into slavery.

Pros of the British Occupation

From the British perspective, their colonization of New Zealand was good news. The Englishmen of the island, along with the missionary schools in New Zealand, were working to indoctrinate the Maori people, especially the children, to learn and live like Europeans. Many of the Maoris became Christian under the new European influence. With the British influence over a period of time, the Maoris people worked as laborers available to hire for the Englishmen on the island. Some of the Maoris became sailors or whalers as well.  By this logic and evidence, there were many pros to the British colonization of the New Zealand islands and the native Maori people. There is a strong argument that under the British influence the Maoris learned of the one true God under Christianity. The natives also learned job skills and received schooling in European culture, all of which were seen as necessary to survive through those times.

Cons of the British Occupation

However, the negatives of the British colonization were clearly seen everywhere throughout New Zealand. Many of the early settlers of New Zealand were sailors and seafaring men who had been seeking a new life. There was a growing presence of Englishmen throughout New Zealand with no civilized law to govern them. Often times, the Maori people were taken advantage of by the English settlers. The English often traded small goods for large amounts of land with a much greater value. However, much worse than the exploitation of the Maori people, was the use of violence against them with deadly consequence. Massacres of the natives was not uncommon. Englishmen incited violence between the different tribes to produce wars between the tribes. The British would often support wars and violence to help them gain more leverage over the Maoris people themselves. Worst of all for the Maori people though, was the tremendous loss of life of the natives from diseases that were brought from Europe by the English settlers. The different diseases, such as influenza, measles, and tuberculosis, killed the Maori people in significant numbers because the Maoris had no previous exposure to these diseases and had no powers of resistance.

British Protection for the Maoris

To curb the violence against the native Maori people, the British Parliament appointed a magistrate over the island of New Zealand to act as a local government body representing England and their legal system. However, the magistrate was not seen as legitimate. With no military strength to back up his authority, there was no enforcement of his laws. Although the magistrate was appointed to protect the Maori people from violence, the magistrate did not always represent the Maori's interests either. There was a massive push to indoctrinate the Maoris into following the English religions, language, laws, and social norms because the British government was involved in dealings on the island. With this shift in policy towards the Maori people, they began to lose their tribal qualities and were pushed to live more European lifestyles.

British Charter of New Zealand

The British government chartered a company to run New Zealand on behalf of the crown and the parliament. “Founders of Settlements in New Zealand” was the group appointed by the crown to govern over all activities in the new British colony of New Zealand. The Charter gave this Company the authority to enforce British law over its colony. It also gave the Company complete authority to meet with the Maori people and even sign treaties with the tribes. The Charter’s goal was to obtain as much Maori land as possible. The Crown of England had the authority to make appointments to the Company that ran the Charter in New Zealand. The British Parliament would renew the Charter after it expired every few years, but the proceeds from the Founders of Settlement in New Zealand would all go back to the crown.

There was a lot of hypocrisy when it came to the treatment of the New Zealand natives. When Captain Cook discovered New Zealand in 1814, it was claimed as British territory and New Zealand became part of the quickly expanding British Empire. As part of the British Empire, the Maoris people were given certain rights of citizenship that were not followed by many early Englishmen. The British Government did try to protect the Maoris by appointing a magistrate to govern New Zealand and also appointing a person to personally represent the Maori people. This man was called “Protector of the Natives". The Protector’s job was to raise any issue to the local island government on behalf of the Maori people.

The effect of religion on the Natives of New Zealand

Churches were set up all over the New British colony in the hopes of not only serving the growing number of English settlers but also to serve and convert the many Maori people. The British government gave no preference to any particular religion. The religious missionaries on the island were instrumental in the teaching of the native Maori people. The different churches on the island worked to 'culturally civilize' the native population. The young were taught in English-style primary schools with a heavy emphasis on religious education, since after all, they were often missionary schools.

However, there were many significant cons that came with this religious indoctrination of the Maori people. The Maori people lost their 'true identity' and culture because the English often pushed them to accept European norms and leave their old life style behind. With the loss of their tribal religion, customs, and ritualistic practices, the natives of New Zealand became more and more devoid of their own true culture, and they became more and more blended with the British/European culture dominating their new life under British Colonial control.


There were many pros and cons to the British occupation and control of New Zealand and the indoctrination of the native Maori people. The English exploitation and killing of the Maori people through diseases and force was a negative side effect according to  “Aborigines Protection Society” and authors Edward Jerningham Wakefield and Edward Gibbon Wakefield. The Wakefields and the Aborigines Protection Society both agree that what happened to the Maoris people was quite regrettable but the positive aspects of the colonization far outweighs any British wrong doing. The Maoris were indoctrinated into European culture, taught to know the one true God, and the New Zealand natives were taught to be civilized and leave their barbaric ways behind them. The Maoris people were tribal people with little structure and under the British influence they were taught to live a more civilized existence.


(Parker, John) The British Colonization of New Zealand. London: West Strand, 1898.

(By the Committee of the Aborigines’ Protection Society) On the British Colonization of New Zealand. London: Smith and Elder, 1846.


Edited by Knights - 18 Aug 2009 at 05:33
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