In March 1860 war broke out between Europeans and Maori in Taranaki following a dispute over the sale of land at Waitara. It was the beginning of a series of conflicts that would dog Taranaki for the next 21 years, claiming the lives of several hundred Maori and Europeans and leaving deep scars that persist to the present day.

The fighting in Taranaki can be seen in the wider context of the conflict that occurred in the North Island from the 1840s to the 1870s. From the Bay of Islands in the far north to Wellington in the south (and many points in between) British and colonial forces fought to open up the North Island for settlement. An estimated 3000 people were killed or wounded - the majority of them Maori - during what have become collectively known as the New Zealand Wars. The causes and consequences of these conflicts are an important part of the broad survey of New Zealand in the 19th century.

At the heart of these conflicts lay a volatile combination: contested issues of sovereignty following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, decreasing willingness to sell land to the government, and increasing pressure for land for settlement as the European population grew rapidly. Taranaki was a perfect illustration of these factors. The confiscation of Maori land which followed the fighting saw race relations in this country enter a new and, in some respects, more damaging phase. A whole new chapter in New Zealand's history was written as Maori responded to the initial seizure of over 1 million acres of Taranaki land following the conclusion of the war.

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