New Zealand History

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Effective family history research requires some understanding of the historical events that may have affected your family and the records. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records such as land or military documents that mention your family.

You will better understand the lives of your ancestors if you use histories to learn about the events in which they may have participated. For example, by using a history you might learn about the events that occurred in the year your great-grandparents were married.

History[edit | edit source]

New Zealand is a British Commonwealth country. It is self-ruling, but its government and citizens recognize the Monarch of England as their sovereign. The history of New Zealand is the history of two distinct groups of people; the Maori who began arriving in the 10th century, and the European settlers who arrived in the 19th century. The Maori are a Polynesian people who migrated to New Zealand by waka (canoe) from other Polynesian areas such as Tahiti. Best archaeological estimates place their first arrival in Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the late 10th century and subsequent arrivals continued over the next few hundred years. Their society is made up of familial tribes, each with a chief at its head.

At the time of the European arrival, Maori tribes occupied North Island and the northern tip and coastal areas of South Island. Early Maori history was maintained orally until it began to be written down in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Much of the earliest history is myth and tradition that plays an important part in the whakapapa (genealogy) of the people. For more information about whakapapa, see New Zealand Indigenous Peoples.

The history of the European settlement of New Zealand is the story of three main causes; the scientific, the religious, and the economic. First discovered by the Dutchman Abel Janszoon Tasman in 1642, New Zealand’s coastal area was later explored and mapped by James Cook in 1769. The sealing and whaling industries followed and established stations along the coasts, but did not attract settlers. The religious settlers came first as missionaries in 1814 to bring Christianity to the Maori, and later as settlers who established religion-based settlements. Other settlers came seeking a better life, land, and economic opportunity, often at the expense of the native population. The greatest influx of settlers came after New Zealand was declared a British Crown Colony in 1841.

Maori society was radically and permanently affected by the coming of the Europeans:

  • In the early years of settlement, European diseases killed many Maori.
  • The Maori lost much of their traditional tribal lands to settlers and land speculators.
  • Maori resistance to the loss of their lands resulted in armed conflict and the loss of life on both sides.
  • European missionaries brought new religions.
  • To survive, the Maori had to gradually assimilate into the European culture.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Some key dates and events in the history of the settlement of New Zealand are as follows:

10th C Maori begin arriving by canoe in New Zealand

1350 By this time the main migrations were completed.

1642 Abel Tasman sailed up the west coast of New Zealand. The Dutch gave the islands their name.

1769 James Cook explored and mapped the coast line of both islands.  He claimed the land for Britain.

1792 The sealing and later whaling industries established stations along the coasts of both islands.

1814 Rev. Samuel Marsden of the Church Missionary Society (Anglican) arrived at the Bay of Islands with several companions and their families, who established missions on the North Island.

1819 New Zealand was declared a dependency of New South Wales by Gov. Macquarie. In 1823 the jurisdiction of the Courts of NSW was extended to New Zealand.

1830Wesleyan mission was established.

1837 The New Zealand Company, formed by Edward Gibbon Wakefield, was established to aid in the settlement of British subjects at New Zealand.

1838A French Catholic mission was founded.

1840 The Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's founding document, was signed on 6 February by Maori chieftains and representatives of the British Crown.

First New Zealand Company settlers arrived.

1841 New Zealand was declared a separate British colony, independent of New South Wales.

1843-72 New Zealand Wars.  Maori lost the rights to much of their native land.


New Zealand divided into the two provinces of New Munster and New Ulster, which divided the North Island in half.

1852 New Zealand granted self-rule by the British government.

New Zealand was divided into six provinces of Auckland, Taranaki, Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury and Otago, and the old province names ceased to be used. Four later provinces created were Hawke’s Bay, Marborough, Southland, and Westland.

Gold discovered at Coromandel.

1854  Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived, preaching mainly among the European settlers.

1861Gold discovered in Otago.

1864Gold rush on the West Coast.

1865 Native Land Court established.

1867 Gold rush in Thames.

1876 Abolition of the provinces in favor of elected local government borough and county councils.

1893New Zealand women were given the right to vote.

1899 New Zealanders participated with Britain in the Boer (South African) War.

1907 New Zealand was granted Dominion status within the British Commonwealth.

New Zealand Coat of Arms 1911-1956

1914-1918 World War I; New Zealand contingents including the Pioneer Maori Battalion participated.

1939-1945 World War II; New Zealand contingents including the famed 28th (Maori) Battalion participated.

1947New Zealand gains full independence from Britain.

1958The New Zealand Temple and the Church College of New Zealand in Hamilton were dedicated.

The Family History Library has several published histories for New Zealand. You can find histories by looking in the FamilySearch Catalog under:


Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. Local histories should be studied and enjoyed for the background information they can provide about your ancestors’ life-styles and the communities and environment in which they lived. They describe the settlement of an area and the founding of local churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find mention of early settlers, soldiers, and civil officials, and histories of local families. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may provide important clues. A local history may suggest other records to search.

In New Zealand, local histories are found at the archives and libraries which are listed in New Zealand Archives and Libraries. The Family History Library has several local histories for towns and areas of New Zealand. They can be found in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


External Links[edit | edit source]