Classroom ideas - Taming the frontier?

This page broadly outlines how the feature Taming the frontier? could be used by teachers and learners in social studies and history. It is part of a section on pre-1840 contact and when used in conjunction with other features from this category will provide users with a concise summary of the pre-1840 period. This category examines the European exploration of New Zealand, contact between Maori and those who sought to profit from involvement with New Zealand, and the humanitarian interest taken by the Christian missionaries. All of this set the context for the British decision to formally enter into a treaty with Maori in 1840.

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Taming the frontier of chaos?

Several high-profile incidents in the period before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 gave the impression of poor relations between Maori and Pakeha. The British Resident from 1833, James Busby, painted a picture of 'extreme frontier chaos'. The impact on Maori of contact with Pakeha before 1840 was a significant issue in the 19th century.

Taming this 'frontier of chaos' became a concern of groups such as the Christian missionaries, after 1814, and of men such as James Busby. During the 1830s the pressure intensified on Britain to intervene in New Zealand and ensure the protection of Maori.

This feature explores the background to the 1835 Declaration of Independence and its part in the process that culminated in the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

This feature is of great value to teachers and students studying at a variety of levels.

Social studies

'Culture and heritage' and 'Time, continuity and change' are two strands that are supported by this feature. The feature helps set the context for any study of the Treaty of Waitangi or early contact in New Zealand as it examines the impact of the spread of new ideas, the effects of cultural interaction and the impact of contact on the people's lives. Were the events of 1840 a direct result of this period of 'frontier chaos', or was this a period where violence and disorder were the exception rather than the rule?

NCEA Level 3 history

Missionaries of the time wrote that Kororaāeka was a den of sin and contributed to a perception that New Zealand was a wild, lawless frontier society where Māori were at great risk from the excesses of European contact. The missionaries maintained the pressure for formal British intervention, which began with the arrival of James Busby as the Official British Resident in 1833. The reaction to this perceived lack of order culminated in the annexation of New Zealand by Britain in 1840, a key aspect of the broad survey New Zealand in the 19th century.

For more detail of specific activities relating to this period go to Pre-1840 contact activities – NCEA Level 3 history.

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Community contributions

3 comments have been posted about Classroom ideas - Taming the frontier?

What do you know?


Posted: 11 Apr 2014

Hi Stuart - no we haven't and this is why we removed this from the main text - I'll update this page as well. From our research the earliest use of a phrase like this to describe Kororāreka was a centennial publication about Russell which described it as the 'Hell of the Pacific'. We've come to the conclusion that the phrase is a post-WW2 'invention', but would welcome any evidence to the contrary. Interesting it is not used in the 1966 encyclopaedia or general histories of NZ of that period. Bernard Foster, who wrote the 1966 piece, says missionaries exaggerated conditions.

To complicate things further, we do have a record of an 1830s wit describing Kororāreka as 'Hell' to contrast it with nearby 'Heaven' - Paihia (which was full of missionaries), but I think this is a red herring.

Regards, Jamie Mackay


Posted: 10 Apr 2014

Can you provide any nineteenth century examples of the use of the phrase 'hell-hole of the Pacific' to describe Kororāreka?

John Pipe

Posted: 05 Apr 2010

I have a class of 28 students and I am trying desperately hard to make what we do relevant and interesting to them. It strikes me that there are two things that we can do to improve that way this site connects with our students. Firstly, the constant connection to a big idea eg authority or lawlessness or speculation tends to work. The students these days can understand the big idea as long as it connects to their world in some way through aiding them to understand the big concept. Secondly, the comparative approach by linking what is happening overseas with what is happening in New Zealand. The new curriculum is written with the phrase 'of significance to New Zealand' which from my reading can be interpreted in both directions. The abolition of slavery for example, strikes me as a very important strand in the humanitarian movement's lobby to consider the needs of the Maori in the lead-up to the Treaty

. I think the site needs more unpacking of big ideas and more connection with overseas.