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New Zealand History

New Zealand History

The indigenous people of New Zealand are the Māori, a Polynesian race who populated New Zealand over 1000 years ago. Today’s modern nation of New Zealand is still very young, colonized in the 1850s primarily by immigrants from Great Britain.

The political system is based on the Westminster parliamentary system inherited from Great Britain but has evolved to a more European-styled party representation system in recent years.


1642—Dutch navigator Abel Tasman was the first European to visit New Zealand. He arrived on the north coast of the South Island and gave the new land the name Nieuw Zeeland. Tasman landed at today's Golden Bay but was attacked by the Māori and escaped.

1769 - James Cook was the first European to return to New Zealand. His discovery and experience opened New Zealand to the rest of the world and established its links to Great Britain. Whalers, missionaries and traders followed.

1840 - E.G. Wakefield established the first permanent European settlements at Wellington. William Hobson arrived in the Bay of Islands to offer a treaty on behalf of the Crown. He and many Māorichiefs signed an agreement called the Treaty of Waitangi. It recognized British sovereignty in exchange for guaranteed possession of their land (an approximate translation of the Māori language continues to cause some disputes about what was agreed in the Treaty).

1860 - Inevitably, European demands for land and Māorireluctance to sell led to violence.

1870 - A series of conflicts known as the Land Wars broke out. While the Government won, certain areas were never conquered, and several Māori leaders were never caught.

1882 - The first shipment of frozen meat left Dunedin. Its arrival in England heralded the beginning of New Zealand's large meat and dairy exporting industries. New Zealand was granted dominion status, and the new century saw the economy and standard of living grow.

1889 - The universal franchise is introduced.

1914 -Thousands of New Zealand men followed Britain into World War I. April 25, the day in 1915 when an independent army first went into action, has become ANZAC Day (Australia, New Zealand Army Corps), a national day of remembrance.

1929 - The world economic crisis hits New Zealand very hard. A new Labour Party is voted in.

1939 - New Zealand joins the war against Hitler and Germany. The Japanese advance through the Pacific was traumatic for New Zealand and Australia. Britain concentrated on the war in Europe, and American troops assisted New Zealand. From then on, New Zealand shifted from Europe to the Pacific, America, and Asia.

1947 - Independence from Britain is confirmed.

1965 - Against massive protests from the population, New Zealand joins America in the Vietnam War.

1983 - The country has moved towards closer cooperation with Australia on economic matters.

1984 - New Zealand declares itself nuclear-free.

1993 & 1996 - The MMP (Mixed Member Proportional) replaces the Westminster (Monarchy in Commonwealth since 1907) method. It is a system to elect 120 Members of Parliament for New Zealand. Each voter has two votes; one is used to select an electorate reprehensive by first past the post, and the other is used to select the remaining Members of Parliament from party lists of candidates. To qualify for seats in New Zealand, a party must win 5% of the total party vote nationwide. There is an election every three years.