Review of Osprey ‘The New Zealand Wars 1820-72’

Osprey NZ Wars

New Zealand, seen by 19th century Europeans as an idyllic land on the far side of the world, was not immune to the scourge of war during the colonial period. This new Osprey Men-at-Arms book describes the fighting that took place between 1820 and 1872 in a series of wars between various participants.

The battles up to the 1840s were mainly inter-tribal, but the European influence of the musket changed the way indigenous Māori had fought each other for centuries prior. This also led to major innovations in the design of their traditional fortified villages (or ‘pa’), which were later to give the British some rather bloody noses.

The ever-increasing encroachment by settlers seeking land brought some Māori tribes into conflict with the British military, though others fought alongside imperial troops. On the British side, the 1840s ‘Flagstaff War’ in the far north was fought by red shell-jacketed soldiers, whilst by the 1860s the troops, now having discarded their traditional red coats for blue jumpers, were engaged in a series of small wars throughout the North Island.

Eventually the British regular troops were withdrawn, leaving the ongoing fighting to colonial New Zealand troops such as the famed Forest Rangers. Ironically, the final stages were fought mainly by Māori soldiers of the Armed Constabulary against Māori warriors.

back cover

Ian Knight is a well-known expert on colonial wars, and has long been interested in the New Zealand Wars (for example, I recently stumbled across his 1980 “Fire in the Fern” series in Military Modelling). His writing style is engaging and tells the complex stories of the wars in a logical manner.

Ian relates a brief history of the wars, and then goes on to describe the Māori warriors who fought on both sides, the British troops, and finally the colonial New Zealand troops.

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The illustrations by Italian artist Raffaele Ruggeri really bring this intriguing series of conflicts to life. I’m particularly impressed with the way he has captured the look of the Māori warriors – their facial features are stunningly lifelike. He has also nicely caught the rather unconventional uniforms of the colonial troops, for example the shawls often worn instead of trousers.


I’m no expert on the New Zealand Wars, despite wargaming the period. So I am not well-placed to comment on the accuracy or otherwise of this book. However, a chap I know who is very much an expert has given it the once-over, and although he found a number of mainly minor discrepancies, he has stated that “overall, within the constraints of the Osprey MAA format, it is a good summary”.

My own view is that this book is indeed an excellent summary, breaking the complex story into a number of easily read episodes that fit together to paint the whole picture.

The description of the weapons and uniforms of the participants is particularly interesting, especially as many of these were unique to New Zealand.  And Ruggeri’s illustrations are simply the best I’ve ever seen of soldiers of these wars.

When you also look at the recent Ospreys by my friend Wayne Stack on New Zealand troops in World War I and World War II, finally this small country’s colourful military history is making it into the Osprey annals!

So I am happy to thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know a bit more about these odd colonial wars that occurred in this far-flung outpost of the British Empire.

It also provides exactly the information any wargamer would need to refight the New Zealand Wars, and even more so with Empress Miniatures’ recent wonderful  ranges of 28mm figures for the 1840s conflicts. 







17 thoughts on “Review of Osprey ‘The New Zealand Wars 1820-72’

  1. A great review, but I think that it was always destined for the collection. Great to see you miniatures massed together, which reminds me that I must pick up the Naval landing party at Salute.

  2. Hi Roly. Would you be interested in loaning these for a display at the Whanganui Regional Museum in the near future? Locked museum display case and all that. I have been asked to put on some static displays and perhaps the odd demo game (of something) at the museum.

      1. I have some people from the museum coming out to the Woolshed next weekend so will let you know what they are looking for. Thanks Roly.

          1. Hi Roly – can you email at brian dot smaller @ hp dot com. The Whanganui Museum wants to do their display on the weekend of the 27/28th April.

  3. Roly, An excellent review and thanks for giving my books a plug on your blog. My copy of the NZ Wars arrived in the post this week and I too was impressed with the illustrations. In the MAA series Osprey authors are restricted to writing 18,000 words and the biggest problem is what to leave out, not what to put in. At a glance I think Ian Knight has done a fantastic job in bringing the era to light. That said, the MAA series editor, Martin Windrow, does a brilliant job in waving his editorial wand over the author’s work and the final product is certainly better for it (speaking from personal experience). I’m sure our military history will certainly get plenty of national and international exposure through these books. Cheers, Stacky

    1. I’m happy to have mentioned your two Ospreys, Wayne. They are both fantastic! I know the huge amount of work you put into them, and fully understand the constraints of the Osprey house style.

      I’ve always respected Martin Windrow – some of my favourite books are ones he has done. The 1974 book he co-wrote with Gerry Embleton, Military Dress of the Peninsular War 1808-1814, is one of my favourite military books of all time.

  4. I’ve not bought the Osprey book…I wrote and published two of my own 🙂 (‘Two Peoples, One Land (Reed 2006) and ‘Fighting Past Each other’ (Reed 2006) – and no, this isn’t a blatant plug, they’re out of print… :-))

    I’ve never understood why these wars get labelled with dates. The 1872 figure is usually given because that’s when the last shots were fired after Te Kooti in the Urewera. But at the time, nobody knew fighting was over – peace had not been formally made with the King Country.

    I ended up with dates being added to ‘Fighting Past Each Other’ by the publisher, for marketing purposes – and I agreed with that logic, which was sensible – but from a strictly historical perspective the period shouldn’t have them. As I’ve argued, the reality of the period – for Maori particularly – was that these wars were shaped to a significant extent by the musket wars that preceded them. I explored that in my book ‘Guns and Utu’. Ultimately, we can’t really slap dates on what, from historical perspectives, had more to do with trend. But what we can do is recognise that these wars did an awful lot to shape not just mid-nineteenth century New Zealand – but New Zealand as a whole. One of the reasons why the Main Trunk went through the King Country, for instance, and not Hawke’s Bay or Taranaki, was a government need to find ways of skewering Kingitanga – and this over a decade after the wars ostensibly ended..

    1. I think that having the dates in the title is a typical Osprey book characteristic.

      The author does himself talk about the matter of the end date in his book. He says that whilst “the Titokowaru and Te Kooti campaigns ostensibly marked the last phase of the New Zealand Wars” that there are cases to be made for them to have ended with Parihaka in 1881 or Mangapohatu in 1916. He even adds a paragraph about the exemption from military service for Maori in both world wars, despite which many volunteered to serve.

      I have read, and very much enjoyed, your book Two Peoples, One Land, Matthew – it sits in my bookshelf beside me as I type! It is a much more detailed account of the NZ Wars than the word-count constraints of an Osprey can give, as mentioned in the comment above by Wayne Stack, another author for Osprey.

      Knight’s book also concentrates more on the weapons, uniforms, tactics and logistics. So he has only a brief summary of the events, which are covered in much more detail in your book.

      I agree with you entirely that the NZ Wars have had a far more lasting effect than many people think.

      1. Thank you – glad you liked the book. It was written to a pretty sharp word length too – the contract even defined the number of pix I had to find. Had its hilarious moments, I wanted to get a selection of ‘now’ photos & my wife and I ended up trolling South Taranaki to get to some of the places, and they are NOT auspicious by any measure. It’s kind of sad to think that Moturoa, for instance, is just a road now – there IS a sign-board, but nothing else. The pic I published, as near as I could calculate, was taken by me pretty much from the ground directly ahead of the fortification. Now dangerous because it’s the middle of a road and car might turn up…sigh..

        On that experience I think the better way to get a handle on the NZ Wars in Taranaki is to go and check out Nigel Ogle’s museum…but I guess that goes without saying, really!.

  5. Great review, Roly. I’ll certainly pick up a copy and those new Empress figures as well. My own project stalled a bit as I fretted over the terrain. I need to chase down your earlier posts on modelling Kiwi landscape!

    Best wishes


    1. I don’t think NZ scenery is as hard as many people think. Basically, if you’ve got a pile of wargames trees of any sort (other than fir trees) they’ll work OK. Like gaming the French & Indian Wars, the idea is to get an overall forested look.

      Mix in some palms with your ordinary wargaming trees, if you have them. Even though they’ll likely be the wrong sort of palms, they’ll still give the general impression of sub-tropical growth.

      Whilst it would be nice to dot in some models of real NZ trees, no-one is going to notice if you haven’t got them. After all, in most wargaming the types of trees we use bear little resemblance to the real thing.

  6. Hi, I’ve just stumbled across your website as I was researching uniforms for the military train. I’m writing up my family history and my great-great-grandfather was in the 4th Battalion in the 1860s which sailed from Woolwich to Auckland. I have his New Zealand medal which is what got me started on the research. Thank you for a great website. I particularly like your mounted cavalry. I have a newspaper account from 1864 describing the military train’s arrival in Auckland and giving details of their uniform. You’ve done a great job. Email me if you’d like me to send you a scan of it.

    1. Great to hear about your research, Rob. Thanks for your nice comments too. I would indeed by interested in that article. My email is roly underscore hermans at hotmail dot com. Many thanks!

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