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Eventually the British regular troops were withdrawn, leaving the ongoing fighting to colonial New Zealand troops such as the famed Forest Rangers.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.
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.
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.