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New Zealand History

In world terms New Zealand is a young country; it’s history dates back around 700 years to when the Polynesians discovered it. The first Polynesians to arrive spawned the Māori people, their culture and way of life; which centres on kinship links and respect for the land and sea.

The first European’s did not visit New Zealand until 1642, when Abel Tasman the Dutch explorer arrived. After a clash with local Maori in what is now called Golden Bay, but was called Murder Bay, Abel sailed to Tonga, sketching the coastline as he went. His coastal drawings were passed to cartographers who named the land after the province of Zeeland, a name which was later anglicised to New Zealand.

In the 18th century New Zealand saw its first regular European visitors in the form of whaling, sealing and trading ships. Their crews and the Maoris became enthusiastic trading partners, and other than the odd disagreement, most contacts were peaceful.

Through the early decades of the 19th century trading stations began to develop and missionaries arrived, finally in 1815 Thomas King became the first European to be born in New Zealand.

The Treaty of Waitangi
Seeing the growing population and the strategic interest being paid by the French the British Crown decided it would be best if more stable relations were established. On the 6th of February 1840, in Waitangi, Governor Hobson representing the British Crown added his signature to that of 40 Maori chiefs. This document has become known as the Treaty of Waitangi and essentially ceded sovereignty of New Zealand to the British Crown in return for the Crown protecting Maori land, forests and fisheries.

In essence the Treaty of Waitangi is the starting place for Government and Maori talks and has three primary articles:

  • Government makes law
  • Maori resources and way of life are protected
  • The basic rights of all people within Aotearoa New Zealand are protected

In 1841 New Zealand became a colony in its own right.
In 1852 the New Zealand Constitution Act was established, this gave rise to formal central and provincial government.


New Zealand Immigration
By 1859 European settlers made up the majority of the New Zealand population, by 1911 they would number more than one million men, women and children.

The next big shift in immigration occurred 1870’s and 80’s. Several thousand Chinese from Guangdong province rushed to the newly discovered Otago gold fields, so many arrived in such a short time that the New Zealand government had to take steps to specifically discourage the influx.

Changing Times
In 1890 New Zealand’s economic landscape would be changed forever by an invention. Refrigerated shipping.
Overnight New Zealand’s economy was able to branch out from wool to frozen meat and dairy products; this remained the basis to New Zealand’s economy right up until the 1970’s.

This decade also so the advent of party politics, old age pensions, a dispute resolution system, unions and in 1893 New Zealand became the first country to give women the vote.


Like most of the world New Zealand was hit hard by the depression of the 1930’s. International markets all but dried up, and for a short time between 1930 and 32 the average income for a New Zealand farm was negative. At this time there was no welfare system and many of the unemployed were organised into relief work groups. This continued until 1935 when the economic conditions had improved sufficiently for the labour government to examine the possibility of a welfare system.


In 1947 New Zealand gained full independence from Britain.