Gold was discovered in the south and the Land Wars began in the north. Land confiscations ignited strong resistance and the rise of Hauhau and Ringatū.


1860s Policing the New Zealand Wars


The outbreak of large scale warfare between Māori and the government in the North Island from 1860 caused several provincial forces to return to paramilitary policing. In troubled areas new forces which combined military and police functions were established. These included military settler regiments, whose troops would later have a policing role after settling on land confiscated from defeated Māori.


1860 Rūnanga Police Forces


Native Constable, 1860s. New Zealand Police Museum Collection (2015/380/1
Native Constable, 1860s. New Zealand Police Museum Collection (2015/380/1)

The outbreak of large-scale warfare between Māori and the government in the North Island from 1860 caused several provincial forces to return to paramilitary policing. In troubled areas the Colonial Defence Force was established, whose members were called constables.

In 1861 George Grey was brought back to New Zealand for a second term as Governor. He sought to deflect Māori opposition by establishing a level of self-government. He created official rūnanga, each with its own police force. In the North Island 20 Districts, each headed by a Pākehā Civil Commissioner presided over the District Rūnanga. Each of the 20 was divided into six divisions, known as Hundreds, and each had two Assessors or Native Magistrates. Each Hundred had a Pākehā Warden or Chief Police Officer, who would control five Constables. This in theory created 120 new police forces in the North Island, alongside the Provincial Police Forces, and the Colonial Defence Force.

While the rūnanga system worked most effectively in the Far North, overall the system failed to prevent further war – the systems ultimate goal – and they were all but abolished. However, aspects of their policing function remained and were eventually formalised in the system of Native Constables. These survived well into the 20th century and, from 1900, supplemented another state policing mechanism within Māori communities that attached to Māori councils.

Richard Hill


1861 Gold Rush!


In May 1861 Gabriel Read discovered gold near the Tuapeka River, a tributary of the Clutha River in Otago. The Otago provincial government had offered a £1000 reward for the discovery of ‘payable quantities’ of gold. Read, a prospector from Tasmania, claimed the reward (equivalent to more than $110,000 today) after finding gold shining like the stars in Orion. His discovery sparked the country’s first major gold rush and during the two succeeding months many men left Dunedin to try their luck on the Tuapeka field. By the beginning of August 1861 there were 2,000 diggers camped at Read’s location, which became known as Gabriel’s Gully. From there men swarmed into neighbouring valleys where further strikes added to the prevailing excitement. 

The rush spread throughout much of Central Otago, leading to the rapid expansion and commercialisation of the new colonial settlement of Dunedin, which quickly grew to be New Zealand’s largest city at that time. Between July and December 1861 Otago’s population rose from something under 13,000 to over 30,000.

The early mining of the 1860s in Otago and on the West Coast was mainly undertaken by individuals working alluvial deposits (river gravels). In three separate years in the late 1860s and early 1870s the amount of gold won exceeded 20,000 kilograms. By comparison in 2016 the Macraes Mine in Central Otago yielded 4,394 kilograms of gold. The Otago gold rush peaked in the mid-1860s, after which miners left in large numbers for the new West Coast goldfields. In the early 1870s the Otago gold rush was declared over, and many of the once thriving townships became ghost towns with populations moving on to other gold fields or ventures.

As a result of the thousands of rootless young men pouring into the remote areas of the South Island, immediately overwhelming small civil-style provincial police forces, the authorities quickly responded by reintroducing heavily forceful, Irish-style policing methods which had been adapted for use in the Australian goldfields. Senior Australian goldfield police were imported to head these forces, most notably St John Branigan, commissioner of police in Otago. Irish-Australian policing methods spread throughout the South Island, because gold-fields-based economies created social unrest in nearby areas. As the gold ran out and prospectors and miners moved on, civil-style policing re-emerged.

Andy Glanville

Richard Hill


1862 Armed Gold Escorts


In the early 1860s gold escorts were established in Otago to prevent armed robberies between the Central Otago gold fields and the provincial capital, Dunedin. The escorts were armed with carbines, revolvers and sabres.

The first gold escort from Christchurch to the West Coast set out in March 1865. It comprised 10 Canterbury Provincial Policemen, fully equipped and spic and span in their uniforms and accoutrements. They were to take charge of the precious metal which was to come from the West Coast to Christchurch. The route was over the Hurunui Saddle and by way of Lake Brunner. They arrived at Greenstone near Hokitika in a most pitiable state, their condition and appearance being emphatic evidence of the roughness of their journey. This was the first and only gold escort to start from Christchurch via this route.

After this, and in anticipation of future escorts, the Provincial Government established stations at intervals of 25 miles along the route to Hokitika, but they were never needed for that purpose.

In December 1865 a second escort was sent via Arthur’s Pass, but was found to be too expensive. The West Coast gold escorts were abandoned and the gold shipments continued to be sent to Nelson and Melbourne by sea.

Rowan Carroll


Canterbury Provincial Police Gold Escort through the Southern Alps, 1865. Ernest Papps: New Zealand Police Museum Collection (2017/1060/1)
Canterbury Provincial Police Gold Escort through the Southern Alps, 1865. Ernest Papps: New Zealand Police Museum Collection (2017/1060/1)


1860s New Zealand Land Wars begin, the Suppression of Rebellion Act and the New Zealand Settlement Act passed into law


Scorched Earth

Fighting began in Taranaki where Government officers had bought land from a minor Te Ati Awa chief not entitled to sell it. The owners occupied the block and could not be removed. Governor George Grey used Ngāti Maniapoto participation in this conflict and an alleged threat to attack Auckland as an excuse to order the invasion of the Waikato and the subjugation of the King Movement. When troops led by Lieutenant-General Cameron crossed the Mangatawhiri stream in July 1863, the Waikato War had begun.

The Suppression of Rebellion Act (1863) came into force. In the Act, anyone fighting in defence of their lands was defined as being in rebellion against the Crown – a felony. The Act suspended the right to fair trial before imprisonment, and threatened death or prison to anyone brought before the Courts.

The New Zealand Settlement Act (1863) was also passed, empowering the Crown to confiscate lands from rebels. Over one million hectares of fertile, strategically important land was confiscated.

Simone Bull


1865 Native Constables (integrated into NZ Constabulary in 1882)


While the exact date seems to have varied across the country, the 1860s saw the creation of Native Constables in New Zealand. These were based on the rūnanga of the local Māori, but instead of being iwi-led, were government-led and paid. The Native Constables were chosen from well-respected males, who could provide knowledge of their iwi and whenua that the general constabulary lacked. They were therefore usually employed in remote areas to ‘police’ Māori. These positions were very often only part-time, and considered to have been low paid.

While this adapted rūnanga was finally integrated into the New Zealand Constabulary system in 1882.

Casimar Larkin


1866 The Burgess Gang Maungatapu murders


New Zealand’s most notorious highwaymen were criminals acquired from England via Australia. Richard Hill (Burgess), William (Phil) Levy, Thomas Noon (Kelly) and Joseph Thomas Sullivan met in Hokitika in 1866. On 10 May Burgess raided the Police Camp and stole police revolvers, holsters, sword belts, cartridge cases and trousers. He was subsequently charged but acquitted. Burgess, Kelly and Sullivan then ambushed and murdered provincial surveyor George Dobson and attempted to rob a man named Fox near Greymouth, but were thwarted in this. Given 48 hours to leave town by Inspector James, they linked up with Levy on the vessel Wallaby, sailing for Nelson, arriving on 6 June. They then began to walk across the Maungatapu Track towards Picton. They heard there were four miners due to travel from Canvas Town back to Nelson so they retraced their steps. Coming across a man named James Battle on the track, Sullivan ambushed and killed him, worried that Battle could be a potential witness. All four criminals hid behind a large rock, until the miners arrived, then attacked and murdered them.

The Burgess Gang laid low in Nelson intending to board the next ship. However the Nelson Police located them and they all stood trial, with Sullivan turning Queen’s Evidence on the promise of not being charged, leading to the hanging of Burgess, Kelly and Levy. Sullivan was then charged and convicted of Battle’s murder, but was smuggled out by the authorities, eventually leaving New Zealand in 1876 after being pardoned.

Sherwood Young


1867 New Zealand Armed Constabulary Force


In 1867, after war and land seizures in Waikato, Taranaki and elsewhere, the government believed the colony was finally at peace. Most imperial troops had been withdrawn, and a permanent colonial army was seen as unnecessary and too expensive. Instead the Armed Constabulary was established to occupy and police the conquered regions. Based on Irish Constabulary principles, its practice was modified by lessons learnt from the experience of armed police forces and other paramilitary style units.

In 1868, when warfare broke out again in the east and west of the North Island, the Armed Constabulary formed the core of colonial defence against Māori forces led by the prophets and military leaders Tītokowaru and Te Kooti. It quickly expanded, assisted by Māori units including Flying Columns (highly mobile units) recruited from kūpapa (pro-government) iwi. After the Armed Constabulary regained control in 1869, the colony was once again declared pacified. The constabulary was then greatly reduced and demilitarised by its new commissioner, St John Branigan.

Richard Hill


Mounted Constabulary Officers, 1860s. New Zealand Police Museum Collection (2000/108/1)
Mounted Constabulary Officers, 1860s. New Zealand Police Museum Collection (2000/108/1)


1868 Fenian uprising, West Coast


On Sunday 8 March 1868 some 800 men, women and children, led by Father William Larkin, accompanied a two-metre high white Celtic cross to the cemetery on the hill above Hokitika. The crowd also carried large banners depicting St Patrick, God loves Ireland and displaying Ireland as a female in chains with a wolfhound beside her. After lifting the cemetery gate off its hinges, they went to the Roman Catholic portion of the cemetery to a makeshift altar. Father Larkin said: We have come to erect a Celtic cross to the memory of our martyred fellow countrymen, William Allen, Michael O'Brien, and Michael Larkin, who were executed at Manchester, and were laughed to scorn as the drop fell.

Soon afterwards, news arrived of an Irishman’s attempt to assassinate the Duke of Edinburgh in Sydney. Fearing a Fenian* uprising, the steamer St Kilda arrived at Hokitika, on 4 April, with members of the New Zealand Armed Constabulary from Patea aboard. They arrested the Irish leaders, and arraigned them on charges of riot and seditious libel. All were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms and fines.

*Fenians were a brotherhood dedicated to establishing an independent Irish Republic.

Boris Legner


1868 Resistance to colonisation; Pai Mārire Hauhau led by Te Ua Haumene and Ringatū led by Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki


As fighting in the Waikato had finished, the messianic Pai Mārire movement (also known as Hauhau) was gaining popularity in Taranaki, fuelled by the recent land confiscations. Its founder, Te Ua Haumene preached reconciliation – he was a pacifist. He wove biblical and Māori elements into new rituals and promised deliverance from Pākehā domination. However, he had lost control over some of his zealous and independent apostles. The movement revived warrior traditions; for example, it practised the ritual eating of slain victims’ hearts and eyes. To followers, it was an emphatic rejection of Pākehā ways; to Pākehā, it was barbaric. Hauhau became a label of opprobrium. From 1864 to 1868, government and Pai Mārire supporters fought each other in Taranaki, the Bay of Plenty, the East Coast, Rotorua and Whanganui. There were casualties and pillaging on both sides.

One by one, the various manifestations and ramifications of the Hauhau rebellion were suppressed. Perhaps the crucial event in that suppression was their defeat in a battle at Waerenga-a-hika Pā, Poverty Bay, in November 1865. Four shipments of prisoners (328 men, women, and children) were deported to the Chatham Islands. Among those deported was Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki, a Māori on the government side at the battle of Waerenga-a-Hika, who had been wrongfully arrested. While waiting to be exiled, Te Kooti made many demands to be given a trial, but to no avail. Eventually, Te Kooti escaped from the penal settlement, commandeered a ship, the Rifleman, and returned to Gisborne with 163 men, 64 women and 71 children. They began to wage a guerrilla campaign to reclaim their sovereignty.

During his imprisonment Te Kooti Arikirangi Te Turuki became a prophet and leader, establishing the Ringatū faith. He possessed a force of will and great ingenuity to plan, and determination to execute his decisions. During the next few months Te Kooti was successful in a series of battles, and for a few weeks in November/December 1868 he controlled much of the Poverty Bay district. His fighting force of about 200 consisted of the Rifleman group and a number of other Māori who joined him. The killing of about 70 Pākehā and Māori (including women and children) at Matawhero, Poverty Bay, on 10 November earned him many powerful Māori enemies, but also the support of some motivated by fear. The government became all the more grimly determined to capture or kill him. A massive bounty of £5,000 – equivalent to approximately $580,000 today – was placed on his head.

At the battle of Ngātapa, in January 1869, Te Kooti suffered a major defeat by Armed Constabulary troops and their Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Kahungunu allies. Although Te Kooti and some of his followers escaped, up to 120 of his men were captured and executed by Ngāti Porou. Te Kooti launched a raid on Mōhaka (northern Hawke’s Bay) in April and then retired into the Urewera.

Government forces applied a scorched earth policy so that Tūhoe could not shelter Te Kooti and the dwindling remnants of his band, but he always managed to evade capture. Armed parties constantly crossed the Kāingaroa plains, the Urewera and surrounding districts, pillaging, burning and killing.

One by one the Tūhoe leaders were forced to surrender. Stripped of his main support, Te Kooti took shelter in the King Country under the protection of King Tāwhaio. From then on he avoided the path of war.

Te Kooti lived at Te Kūiti, in the King Country, until he was pardoned in 1883. However, he was never allowed to go home to Tūranganui (Gisborne). During this period he developed the rituals of the Ringatū Church. By the late 1870s the faith had spread widely, and his reputation as a prophet and healer grew rapidly. He died in 1893.

Simone Bull & Rowan Carroll


Officers of the Colonial Defence Forces, Waikaremoana Expedition. Pai Mārire Hauhau, 1869. Alexander Turnbull Library (1/2-106151-F
Officers of the Colonial Defence Forces, Waikaremoana Expedition. Pai Mārire Hauhau, 1869. Alexander Turnbull Library (1/2-106151-F)

Māori prisoners who were members of the Hauhau church, under guard on board a prison hulk in Wellington harbour, 1866. Alexander Turnbull Library (1/2-103605F)
Māori prisoners who were members of the Hauhau church, under guard on board a prison hulk in Wellington harbour, 1866. Alexander Turnbull Library (1/2-103605F)