New Zealand: History

Land of the Long White Cloud

New Zealand History

Surprisingly perhaps, New Zealand appears to have been uninhabited before the 14th century, and according to legend, the first human to land here was the Polynesian explorer Kupe, in AD 950. The first Maoris are thought to have settled in New Zealand around the year 1300. In 1642, the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman and his crew became the first Europeans to discover New Zealand, but after a brief stop, during which four Dutch sailors were killed by hostile Maoris, Tasman left and never returned. The fierce reputation of the locals discouraged further exploration until Captain James Cook arrived in 1769 and claimed the land for Great Britain. European settlement was slow and initially was limited mainly to sealers, whalers and timber traders, while many Maori succumbed to the new diseases brought to New Zealand by the outsiders, and inter-tribal war was exacerbated by the importation and trading of European firearms. In 1840, the Treaty of Waitangi, declaring British sovereignty over New Zealand, was signed by 50 Maori chiefs. New planned towns were established for the mainly British immigrants and the country was peaceful until 1860, when the New Zealand Wars broke out between Maoris and European settlers over land issues. These violent wars finally ended in 1869. The later 19th century was a time of major economic expansion, as European immigration doubled the population, the railway network was built and trade with the outside world increased. In 1893 New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the vote, and in 1907 New Zealand’s status changed from a British colony to a dominion. New Zealand troops suffered heavy losses in both World Wars and went through a period of great social change in the 1960s. Today New Zealand is a cosmopolitan and progressive country, with a firm pro-environmental and anti-nuclear stance, and has become a favoured filming location, most famously for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.