Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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"Friendly relations between the two races were soon established"?: Pākehā interactions with Māori in the planned settlements of Wellington, Nelson and New Plymouth, 1840-1860

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Version 2 2023-03-14, 02:58
Version 1 2021-11-14, 03:48
posted on 2021-11-14, 03:48 authored by Burke, Rebecca

This thesis uses a micro-historic approach to explore the personal relationships between Māori and settlers in Wellington, Nelson and New Plymouth between 1840-1860 [prior to the Taranaki Wars] as they are presented in personal diaries and letters of early settlers of the New Zealand Company. The vast majority of the scholarship in the area of colonial history is based on ‘official records’, such as New Zealand Company material, as well as sources from the Government, the military, surveyors and newspapers. This research, however, focuses on private records to present the ‘lived experiences’ of the early settlers of the Wakefield settlements with Māori in the ‘contact zone’. As I will argue, settler and Māori in the case study towns did establish a positive space of interaction, a so called Middle Ground, which is characterised by trust, help, trade and exchange, mutual needs, language adoption and knowledge exchange, resulting in real accommodation of ‘the other’. However, this positive space decayed as a result of the shift of power to the settlers’ side in conjunction with increasing prominence of the so-called ‘land question’. This project uses the Hutt Wars in Wellington, the Wairau Incident of 1843 in Nelson and lastly the events in New Plymouth that led to the Taranaki Wars, to determine when and how the Middle Ground was weakened and eroded. Emerging conflict, inevitably, influenced positive personal relationships in the ‘contact zone’ between Māori and Pākehā, which broke down and quickly led to a negative perception of the tangata whenua that, in some areas, still profoundly influences perceptions today.  The Middle Ground, as a theoretical framework, was first developed by Richard White for the American Indians and their interaction with the French in the Great Lakes region, but has more recently been used by Vincent O’Malley to theorise the relationship between Pākehā and Māori in Northland prior to 1840. This research extends these findings in time and space and seeks to set Māori-Pākehā history in an international and intercultural context as an example of a possible common colonial experience. This thesis represents the only attempt to construct an overview and critical reflection of the shared experiences of settlers with Māori based on private records. This project is significant in the wider context of early New Zealand history as well as in the context of the Treaty of Waitangi and its impact on current race relations because it offers the possibility of seeing and interpreting Māori-Settler relations in a new, and perhaps far more positive light. We can determine whether Māori experiences are a general experience typical of colonised countries and whether the Middle Ground can be found in different forms in different times and places.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Maori Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Maori Studies : Te Kawa a Māui


Adds, Peter