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History of New Zealand

This is the history of New Zealand. See also the history of Oceania, and the history of present-day nations and states.

New Zealand was originally settled by waves of Polynesians, sometime between 1000-1300, although some evidence now suggests an earlier settlement. Those in the main lands of New Zealand became the Maori people. Separate settlement of the tiny Chatham Islands in the east of New Zealand produced the Moriori people.

The original settlers were known as moa hunters, after a favourite food source, the moa, large flightless birds which were not unlike ostriches and rheass. Moa were quickly pushed to extinction, since they were not adapted to human or mammalian predation. Before the coming of humans, the moa were the prey of the harpagornis or Haast eEgle, the largest birds of prey ever recorded. Harpagornis became extinct along with its prey. The moa-hunters may have merged with later waves of Polynesians who, according to Maori tradition, arrived between 952 and 1150. Some of the Maoris called their new homeland "Aotearoa," usually translated as "land of the long white cloud."

New Zealand has no native land mammals apart from some rare bats. Later Maori largely subsisted by cultivating the kumara, a type of sweet potato, which they had brought with them from Polynesia.

The first Europeans known to reach New Zealand were the crew of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman's ships Heemskerck and Zeehaen, which anchored at the northern end of the South Island in December 1642 but sailed northward to Tonga following a clash with local Maori. Tasman, a Dutch navigator, made the first recorded European sighting of New Zealand and sketched sections of the two main islands' west coasts. The name Nieuw Zeeland appeared on charts of the area shortly afterward, having earlier been applied to an island near New Guinea. A fuller reconnaissance was undertaken by Lt. James Cook of His Majesty's Barque Endeavour, who surveyed the shores of both islands in 1769-1770, making three South Pacific voyages.

From the 1790s the waters around New Zealand were visited by British, French and American whaling ships, whose crews sometimes came into conflict with the Maori inhabitants. The arrival of traders and missionaries in the 1800s and 1810s added to local disputes. The first European infant in the territory, Thomas King, was born in 1815 in The Bay Of Islands. The initiation of a programme of large-scale settlement and land purchases in 1839 by the New Zealand Company, coupled with increasing French interest in the islands, finally prompted the British government to take control of the situation.

New Zealand became a British colony in 1840 following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi with indigenous Maori chieftains. Britain was motivated by the desire to forestall other European powers (France established a very small settlement on Banks Peninsula in the South Island at Akaroa also in 1840) and to end the lawlessness of European (predominantly British) whalers and traders. Maori chieftains were motivated by the promises of protection of their existing possessions (which was only partially carried out) and by the promise of protection against other Maori using muskets obtained from European whalers and traders (the "Musket Wars" of 1820-1835).

Considerable European settlement followed, principally from England, but also from Scotland (especially in the south of the South Island) and Ireland. The early European settlers established provinces. From south to north they were: Otago, capital Dunedin; Canterbury, capital Christchurch; Westland, capital Westport; Nelson, capital Nelson; Marlborough, capital Blenheim - all in the South Island - Wellington, capital Wellington; Taranaki, capital New Plymouth; and Auckland, capital Auckland. The province of Southland (capital Invercargill) was later combined with Otago. Already a majority of the population by 1859, the settlers (termed pakeha by the Maori who were in turn called New Zealanders by the settlers) multiplied to reach a million by 1911.

Initially, European settlers were more numerous on the North Island, but following the outbreak of a Maori uprising there (1860), the balance shifted to the South Island, where there were fewer Maori and where gold was discovered (1861) at Gabriel's Gully in central Otago. The South Island contained most of the white population for the next forty years, with the North Island taking the lead again around 1900 and supporting an ever greater majority of the country's total population through the 20th century and into the 21st.

Tragically, Maori numbers were decimated from 1820 by tribal wars (the musket wars) and unfamiliar diseases - measles, whooping cough, influenza and later typhoid - reducing an initial Maori population of perhaps 100-120,000 (lower than many contemporary figures, which are thought to have overestimated densities in the South Island) to only 62,000 by 1857 and 44,000 in 1891. Recovery began slowly (though three decades earlier than among Australia's still worse-affected Aborigines), with numbers reviving steadily after setback of the 1918 influenza pandemic. By 1900 also, most Maori land had been alienated, as a result of sales and confiscations after armed conflict with the settler government.

Administered at first as a part of the Australian colony of New South Wales, New Zealand became a colony in its own right in 1841.

Self-government was granted to the settler population in 1852. Under the UK Parliament's New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, New Zealand attained self-government, with a General Assembly consisting of an appointed Legislative Council and an elected House of Representatives. In 1867, the Maori won the right to a certain number of reserved seats in parliament. During this period, the livestock industry began to expand, and the foundations of New Zealand's modern economy took shape. By the end of the 19th century, improved transportation facilities made possible a great overseas trade in wool, meat, and dairy products.

By the 1890s, parliamentary government along democratic lines was well-established, and New Zealand's social institutions assumed their present form. Women received the right to vote in national elections in 1893. In 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant women voting rights in national elections. The turn of the century brought sweeping social reforms that built the foundation for New Zealand's version of the welfare state.

The Maori gradually recovered from population decline and, through interaction and intermarriage with settlers and missionaries, adopted much of European culture. In recent decades, Maori have become increasingly urbanized and have become more politically active and culturally assertive.

New Zealand decided against joining the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, and instead changed from being a colony to a separate "dominion" in 1907, equal in status to Australia and Canada. New Zealand was an avowedly loyal part of the British Empire and contributed proportionally large numbers of troops to aid Britain in the Boer War (1899-1902), and World War I and World War II. New Zealand's complete independence was formalised by the 1926 Balfour Declaration and the 1931 Statute of Westminster, ratified on November 25,1947. The monarch of the United Kingdom remains the monarch of New Zealand, which has been an independent constitutional monarchy. In 1951, the Legislative Council was abolished as ineffectual, thereby creating a unicameral legislature.

Confronted like Australia with the strategic implications of Britain's 20th-century eclipse as a world power of the first rank, New Zealand joined with Australia and the United States in the ANZUS pact in 1951, but the US suspended its defence commitments to the country in 1986 after the then Labour government banned nuclear-powered or armed ships from New Zealand ports.

Until 1973, New Zealand had close economic ties with Britain, enjoying preferential access to the British market for exports of its lamb and dairy products. This was abruptly ended by British entry into the European Community, and New Zealand was forced to look to the neighbouring Asia Pacific region for export markets. In 1985 New Zealand concluded a Closer Economic Relations (CER) Agreement with Australia, and has also participated in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, hosting its meeting in 1999.

The Asia Pacific region has also increasingly displaced Britain as a source of immigrants. Traditionally, New Zealand has regarded itself as 'bicultural', composed of those of European descent (pakeha) and Maori, rather than 'multicultural' like Australia or Canada. While cultural ties with Britain are still strong, with most pakeha overwhelmingly being of British origin, even they no longer regard it as 'home' or 'the mother country'. However, when National Prime Minister James Bolger suggested in 1994 that New Zealand should follow Australia in severing links with the British monarchy and becoming a republic, this enjoyed little popular support, although his Labour successor Helen Clark has also expressed support for such a move.

In recent years the government has sought to address long-standing native Maori grievances. A Waitangi Tribunal established in 1975 to hear claims of official violations of the Treaty of Waitangi was empowered in 1985 to consider Crown actions dating back to 1840. A programme of widespread economic de-regulation and privatisation of public enterprises undertaken by the Labour government of 1984-1990 was continued under its National Party successors. In 1986 the Constitution Act came into force, and in 1993 the majority of New Zealanders decided to change the electoral system from the British system of single member constituencies elected by 'first past the post', to a form of proportional representation called Mixed Member Proportional (MMP).