Stirring up the dust, John McLellan

Tutu Te Puehu: New Perspectives on the New Zealand Wars
John Crawford and Ian McGibbon (eds)
Steele Roberts, $50.00, ISBN 9780947493721

In February 2011, over 150 years after the start of the First Taranaki War, the first ever conference dedicated to the New Zealand Wars, “Tutu te Puehu: New Zealand’s Wars of the Nineteenth Century”, was held at Massey University’s Wellington campus. The fact that it took such a length of time for a conference to be held on this subject exemplifies the lack of impetus the New Zealand Wars have previously held in the narrative of the nation. But, thankfully, in the seven or eight years in which it took to publish this edited collection of papers presented at the conference, Tutu te Puehu: New Perspectives on the New Zealand Wars, there has been a welcome groundswell of interest in the subject. 

The romantic narrative is that this resurgence of public and academic interest germinated from a visit by Ōtorohonga College students to Rangiaowhia, the site of a bloody Crown attack on a largely undefended Māori village in February 1864. So affected were they by this visit that the two students led a heartfelt and successful petition to establish an annual day of commemoration for the New Zealand Wars. The reality, which has lifted the New Zealand Wars from the shadows of WWI and its centenary commemorations, is perhaps more cumulative. Current popular interest in the wars is the result of a combination of factors which appear to be snowballing, including both the successful petition and the conference at hand, but also the sesquicentenary of most of the battles of the 1860s and their subsequent commemorations organised by hapū and local communities, the publication of Vincent O’Malley’s The Great War for New Zealand (2016) and his persistent public advocacy, the growing campaigns for New Zealand history in schools and better race relations, an influx of books, postgraduate and Marsden-funded research, teaching aids, documentaries and news coverage, all building from a legacy of work by James Belich and the Waitangi Tribunal, among others. 

The editors, John Crawford and Ian McGibbon, are two of New Zealand’s most prolific historians in the military history space. They are likely to be best-known for their roles as historians for the New Zealand Defence Force and the Ministry of Culture and Heritage, as well as for a substantial number of publications on New Zealand’s and New Zealanders’ experience of war in the 20th century. Perhaps poignantly, the foreword is provided by a former Army officer, Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force and Governor-General, Lieutenant General the Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae. Mateparae correctly describes the New Zealand Wars as “among the most profound influences on the development of modern New Zealand”. He also emphasises the importance of the work contained in Tutu Te Puehu and echoes the editors’ hopes of the text sparking “further study, assessment and interpretation of the formative events”.

The authors themselves are a diverse group of established academics, recent graduates, public and military historians, archaeologists and ex-navy and -army officers from not only New Zealand, but also Australia, England, Canada and even Germany. Many are well-known names, including O’Malley, whose chapter on the context and contemporary justification of the British invasion of the Waikato in 1863 builds from a piece previously published in 2013 in the New Zealand Journal of History and feeds into his aforementioned important book The Great War for New Zealand (2016).

Another highlight of the book is the chapter by Monty Soutar (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Awa). Soutar is a historian with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and a leading Māori military historian, particularly celebrated for his book Ngā Tama Toa (2008) which examines the experiences of C Company during WWII. (He has a forthcoming book Whitiki! Whiti! Whiti! E! on Māori participation in WWI.) His chapter is based on research from his PhD and that undertaken during the drafting of the agreed historical account and Crown acknowledgements that form the basis of the 2010 Crown apology to Ngāti Porou. He details simply the experiences of Ngāti Porou over the tumultuous first half of the 19th century, the influences of new faiths and war which defined the iwi’s role as “he iwi piri pono” (a loyal/faithful people) fighting on their own terms alongside the British against the Hauhau and Te Kooti (1865-1872).

Tutu te Puehu includes an excellent range of colour and black and white maps and images, many of which will be new to readers. I particularly appreciated the opening map, which so simply identifies each area and period of conflict. The text has been broken into five thematic sections, totalling a substantial 22 chapters, each based on a paper given at the original 2011 conference. It begins with the “Origins and Conflicts 1845-46”, including chapters on the origins of the wars, an examination of the memory and commemoration of the bugler “boy” of Boulcott Farm (1846), the use of the navy in the Northern War (1845-1846), and the transportation of Māori to Van Diemen’s Land. Part two covers the “War in Taranaki 1860-61”, with chapters looking at relations between Māori and New Plymouth settlers, and the influence of the press and religion in the Taranaki conflicts. Part three is the “Operational Aspects”, discussing the technicalities of war, the justification for the 1863 invasion of the Waikato, the use of the Royal Navy in the Waikato and Tauranga campaigns, and the use of the militia, coastal steamers and military intelligence across the wars. 

The chapters of part four, “Tītokowaru, Te Kooti, and the Aftermath”, examine the period of transition following the withdrawal of British troops and the rise of the colonial forces, and situates Ngāti Porou’s position as “loyalists”, Tītokowaru and his peaceful and warlike syncretic religion, and the experiences of the Te Arawa “Flying Column” through the final years of conflict. The final part is the largest with six chapters, providing an “Australian and Imperial Context”, including discussions of the Australian Frontier Wars (1795-1928), the memorial in Tasmania commemorating those of the 99th Regiment lost during the Northern War, the role of the Australian colonies and the press in the New Zealand Wars. There is also an analysis of the lessons learned by the British army in New Zealand and during the many “small wars” across the Victorian British Empire, and the Zulus’ adaptation of firearms during their 19th-century conflicts. As you can see, the book has a well-rounded selection of chapters; however, I should also have liked a section examining the post-war years. With the recent growth in the field, I imagine such a section would now be possible, if such a conference were held today. 

Perhaps due to my own interest, I should also have liked more space dedicated to the personal or local level: the experiences of Māori, settlers, women and soldiers themselves, and their communities and settlements. The chapter from Kristyn Harman, which also forms part of her recent book Cleansing the Colony (2018), is a great exception, reminding us how strongly some New Zealanders remain connected to the events and people of the New Zealand Wars.

Harman writes on the experiences of five Māori (Ngāti Haua-te-rangi) prisoners, Te Kūmete, Hōhepa Te Umuroa, Te Waretiti, Matiu Tikiahi and Te Rāhui, who were transported for life to Van Diemen’s Land for their part in the attack on Boulcott’s Farm in 1846. Harman refers to their criminal trials and subsequent transportation (rather than their treatment as prisoners of war), as Governor George Grey’s exemplary punishment, intended to subdue his “rebel” Māori opponents. However, following lobbying from Tasmanian colonists and a pardon from Britain, four of the men were able to return home in 1848. Te Umuroa had died in July 1847 and was buried on Maria Island, but Harman picks up his story in 1988, documenting the emotional repatriation of his body by his whanaunga in 1988.

“Tutū te puehu” can be literally translated as “stirring up the dust”, but is a phrase more generally used to describe a great conflict that has broken out or will erupt. The editors state their desire for the book to prompt further research and writing on the pivotal events of the New Zealand Wars. The papers which make up the book represent a significant contribution to the historiography of the New Zealand Wars and will become cornerstones for future research in the burgeoning field of New Zealand Wars research. Like a battle throwing up dust, Tutu te Puehu will raise many questions and research opportunities for those interested in New Zealand or imperial military and social histories. 

John McLellan, a researcher in the public sector, has recently completed an MA at Victoria University of Wellington on British soldiers of the New Zealand Wars and their experiences as settlers in New Zealand.

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in History, Māori, Non-fiction, Review, War
Search the archive
Search by category