New Zealand : History


The Polynesian ancestors of the present Maori, skilled navigators of canoes fitted with sails and outriggers, arrived in New Zealand around the tenth century from Hawaiki (Eastern Polynesia). The Maori population may have been over 100,000 at the time the first Europeans arrived. The Dutchman Abel Tasman sighted New Zealand in 1642 in his search for the southern continent, i.e. Antarctica, but was driven off by Maori on his one attempt to land. He named the South Island Nieuw Zeeland after the Dutch province.

James Cook, on a search for the southern continent combined with general scientific and navigational observation, sighted the North Island in 1769. He circumnavigated both islands and charted the shores. He visited the country twice more, in 1773–74 and in 1777. His encounters with Maori were usually peaceful, though occasional skirmishes resulted in one Maori and ten European deaths. Jean de Surville (France) arrived in the country in the mid-1770s; his relations with the Maori, bad from the beginning, ended in the deaths of 25 of his men and the subsequent massacre of over 200 Maori. Cook’s good reports attracted sealers and traders, some from the new community in Sydney (established in 1788 as Port Jackson, a penal settlement), and whalers came from America, Britain and France.

With extensive European arrival, the Maori suffered severely from influenza, dysentery and diphtheria, to which they had no resistance. In 1814 the Maori were taken under the protection of the British monarch, but this protection was not always effective in practice. In 1828 the jurisdiction of the courts of New South Wales was extended to New Zealand whose population of European and European-descended settlers was estimated at 2,000 by 1839. Pressure from settlers, traders and missionaries led to intervention by Britain. On 14 January 1840 the Governor of New South Wales proclaimed British sovereignty over New Zealand and appointed a governor. Under the Treaty of Waitangi (6 February 1840) the Maori received the full rights and privileges of British subjects, and 46 Maori chiefs ceded sovereignty to Queen Victoria, in exchange for retaining ownership of their natural resources. The treaty has been widely interpreted and is now applied in all aspects of New Zealand public life, notably in organisation and employment practice.

When New Zealand became a British territory in 1840, it was divided into two provinces. Twelve years later the number of provinces was increased to six (and later increased still further) and a general assembly established, consisting of the governor, a nominated Legislative Council (an upper house) and an elected House of Representatives (a lower house). This bicameral system lasted until 1950. Maori-occupied land was governed according to Maori custom.

Immigration from Britain increased in the mid-19th century, and by 1858 settlers outnumbered Maori. A census of Maori, in 1857–58, put their numbers at about 56,000. Pressure to acquire land from reluctant Maori led to land wars from 1860 to 1872, which resulted in general but not absolute European domination. Sheep farming was expanded in the late 1840s. Wool overtook timber and flax as export commodities and in 1882 the first ship carrying refrigerated meat sailed for England. There was gold mining on the South Island during the 1860s; this attracted considerable European immigration but ended in a slump.

During the 1890s a series of laws turned New Zealand into what was probably the most socially advanced state in the world. New Zealand women were the first in the world to be enfranchised, obtaining the vote in 1893. Men had been enfranchised in 1890, the year of the country’s first general election. From 1936 the country developed into a pioneering welfare state.

In 1907, New Zealand became a Dominion – in effect an acknowledgement of its independence, which was formally recognised by the Statute of Westminster in 1931. In 1947 the last restrictions on the right of its parliament to amend its constitution were removed.

Maori membership of the House of Representatives was increased on six occasions. A Ministry of Maori Development was established in 1992, replacing the Ministry of Maori Affairs. The purpose of the Ministry of Maori Development is to assist in developing an environment of opportunity and choice for Maori, consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi.

At the general election in November 1993, the National Party won 50 seats, the Labour Party 45 seats. The National Party, not having an overall majority following defections and realignments, agreed in February 1996 on a coalition with the United New Zealand Party, which had seven MPs.

The first general election under the mixed member proportional representation system was held in October 1996. It gave 53 seats to a grouping consisting of: the National Party (44 seats) and its allies the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers of New Zealand (eight) and United New Zealand (one). The Labour Party won 37 seats, New Zealand First 17 and the Alliance Party 13. Although 34 parties contested the elections, only five received more than five per cent of the votes and so earned the right to party seats. As no single party had an overall majority in the 120- member house, New Zealand First held the balance of power. Only when that party decided to support the National Party was party leader Jim Bolger able to form a government.

In November 1997 Bolger announced his resignation as Prime Minister, when it became clear that Transport Minister Jenny Shipley had enough support among National Party MPs to force his resignation from the job he had held continuously since 1990. He took on a foreign affairs role outside the cabinet until he became US ambassador in April 1998.