Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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'Of Red War and Little Else': European Responses to Indigenous Violence in the Tasman World, c.1769-1850s

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posted on 2021-11-13, 12:48 authored by Ritchie, Samuel Gordon Gardiner

Europeans responded to indigenous internecine violence in a variety of ways in the Tasman world from first contact to the middle of the nineteenth century. Whereas extant historiography has previously addressed European responses to Māori and Aboriginal violence in geographic and temporal isolation, a comparison spanning time and space augments knowledge of these responses. Violence was not the only aspect of indigenous societies Europeans responded to, nor was indigenous violence the only justification for colonisation. However an investigation of the ways in which Europeans represented and responded to indigenous violence enables a better understanding of the processes of the colonisation of the Tasman world.  Indigenous internecine violence included cannibalism, infanticide, inter-gender violence, and inter-tribal warfare. Through a wide variety of European observations of this violence, this thesis identifies an initial conceptualisation of both New Zealand Māori and Aboriginal peoples of Australia as violent, cannibal ‘savages’. This conceptualisation was used to justify both colonisation and the related evangelical and colonial administrative attempts to suppress indigenous violence, as internecine violence was deemed ‘un-civilised’, unchristian, and unacceptable. Europeans attempted to suppress indigenous violence as it was seen both as an impediment to colonisation and, relatedly, as an inhibitor to the ‘redemption’ of indigenous peoples. While indigenous violence was seen as a barrier to colonisation, however, it was also simultaneously used to promote colonisation. Thus the attempted suppression of indigenous violence developed into the European mobilisation and utilisation of intra-Māori and intra-Aboriginal violence in the promotion of colonisation.  The development of European responses to indigenous internecine violence – from conceptualisations, through attempted suppression, to utilisation – is here examined in a Tasman-world context, drawing upon the interactions between these varied responses. In tracing this development within a comparative framework, both indigenous agency and a rejection of the historiographically persistent notions of a homogenous (and harmonious) Aboriginal Australia and a homogenous Māori people during this time period are key threads.


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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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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 History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Belich, James; Hill, Richard