Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Unsettling the Colony: Gender, fear and settler colonialism during the evacuation of 'refugee' settler women from Land Wars conflicts at Taranaki (1860-1861) and Poverty Bay (1865, 1868)

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posted on 2021-12-07, 07:08 authored by Hawkins Elder, Jamie

Anxiety and fear were central to the condition of settler colonialism in 1860s New Zealand. The Land Wars of the 1860s in New Zealand provoked potent anxiety about the enemy, about loved ones’ lives and about survival. The anxiety could transform into full-blown fear and panic with the onset of violence, or even the prospect or threat of violence. This thesis examines and compares evacuations of ‘refugee’ settler women and children from the sites of Land Wars conflicts in Taranaki (1860-61), and at Waerenga-a-hika (1865) and Matawhero (1868) in Poverty Bay. It explores the character and response to danger of what might be described as ‘settler anxiety’. Settlers of the 1860s used the specific term ‘refugee’ to describe the displaced settler women and children. Māori also faced displacement during the wars, though their situation is not within the scope of this thesis. The story of the Land Wars thus far has focused mainly on the narrative of the military conflict and examines events primarily as a male-centric, racial conflict. However, the time has come to examine experiences off the battlefield – of non-combatants. Women and children in particular are far more central to the history of the wars than is currently acknowledged. The first part of the thesis explores how the Land Wars ‘refugees’ coped with separation from homes and family. The second part examines how settler society, both on a formal governmental basis and on a more informal community level, reacted to the presence of ‘refugees’ emotively and with practical assistance. The research examines the language settlers used and the points they emphasised in their writing or speeches to reveal the frameworks of settler colonialism. Personal diaries, letters and memoirs are used to understand the settlers’ situations. To understand the broader reaction of settler society the thesis draws on newspapers, provincial council correspondence and records, and general government debate and legislation. This thesis argues that the existence of women and children settler ‘refugees’ during the Land Wars represented the settler colonial system in turmoil, providing evidence that the wars involved a conflict off the battlefield as well as on it. Colonists dreamed of creating a safe and secure colony where settlers could acquire land and make a livelihood to support a family. Consequently, attacks on family went to the heart of settler colonialism. The ‘refugees’ symbolised the ‘unsettling’ of settler colonialism, both literally by their locational displacement and figuratively by igniting fear about the stability of the settler colony. In response to the ‘refugee’ crisis settlers vehemently asserted their attachment to ‘home’, to prove their right to live in the colony, and promoted their solidarity with the ‘refugees’ and against enemy Māori, who they saw as threatening the settler dream. The evacuation of Land Wars ‘refugees’ is also considered for its similarities and differences to other ‘refugee’ situations internationally during the colonial era.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Macdonald, Charlotte