Friday, 9 February 2018

'The Great War for New Zealand' at the New Zealand Festival

The Great War for New Zealand to feature at the New Zealand Festival Writers and Readers weekend:

This country’s most significant and traumatic conflict, crucial in shaping the nation, was the 1863–64 war between Māori and British troops in the Waikato.

In his ground-breaking, monumental work The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800–2000, historian Vincent O’Malley explores Māori and Pākehā relationships from first contact to settlement and government apology.

He discusses his research with “artivist” Moana Maniapoto, musician and writer for e-Tangata.

Where: New Zealand Festival Club, 17 Cable Street, Wellington 6011

When: 4.15-5.15pm, Saturday, 10 March 2018

Ticketing and more information:

Friday, 19 January 2018

NZ Historical Association Mary Boyd Prize 2017

It was a great honour to have been announced as the 2017 winner of the Mary Boyd Prize at the New Zealand Historical Association’s conference in Auckland in December.

Named in memory of the Pacific historian Mary Beatrice Boyd (1921–2010), this award is for the best article on any aspect of New Zealand history published in a refereed journal. The prize covered articles published between April 2015 and April 2017.

My winning article, ‘“Recording the Incident with a Monument”: The Waikato War in Historical Memory’, was published in the open-access Journal of New Zealand Studies in 2015.

The article charts changing perceptions of the Waikato War in national memory and consciousness and formed the basis for a chapter on this topic in my subsequent book The Great War for New Zealand.

Read the wining article here.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

'The Great War for New Zealand' at Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival

Vincent O’Malley is a professional historian and partner in the Wellington research consultancy HistoryWorks. He has published widely on New Zealand history, including the critically-acclaimed The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000 (Bridget Williams Books), which was named New Zealand Herald book of the year for 2016.

Saturday 17 Feb, 5:00 pm

Chinoiserie Garden (CG)

$15 General Admission
$13 Concession (Student, 65+)
$14 Early Bird (before 22 Dec)

For more information or to book tickets, visit

FB event page:

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Remembering the Northern War

The battle of Ruapekapeka, fought in January 1846, was the final engagement in the war that Britain lost, as James Belich famously described it. But whether that means Ngāpuhi won the Northern War that had begun nine months earlier is in some ways a moot point.

After 1846 the Crown turned its back on the north, which was left to become a backwater as the rest of the New Zealand economy boomed. Arguably, it has never really recovered.

And so the story of the war is one of neglect, but also of remembering those who died in the conflict and the enormous damage it caused.

It is said that many generations of Ngāti Manu women have been named Te Noota, after HMS North Star, the naval vessel that destroyed their pā at Ōtuihu on 30 April 1845.

The conflict also serves as a reminder of the remarkable leaders from this period and their efforts to protect and defend their rangatiratanga.

And that is relevant today as Ngāpuhi contemplate a path ahead with their Treaty settlement. That’s a reminder of how this history resonates across generations. And the overall casualties – perhaps as many as 200 Ngāpuhi killed and wounded – are still grieved and remembered.

At the heart of the Northern War (and indeed an overarching theme of all of the New Zealand Wars) is this tension between Article 1 of the English translation of the Treaty of Waitangi, under which the Crown assumed full rights of sovereignty over New Zealand, and Article Two of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the Maori-language document that Ngāpuhi signed and which confirmed ‘te tino rangatiratanga’ over their own affairs.

Sunrise from Waitangi. Photo: Vincent O'Malley

The Waitangi Tribunal concluded in its 2014 He Whakaputanga me te Tiriti: The Declaration and the Treaty report released as part of its Northland inquiry that Ngāpuhi never ceded sovereignty to the Crown.

They expected to continue to exercise full chiefly authority over their own internal affairs and to work in partnership with the Crown on matters affecting both peoples.

Instead, after 1840 the Crown started acting unilaterally on issues of vital concern to Māori, outlawing private land dealings, prohibiting the felling of kauri, imposing customs levies, shifting the capital to Auckland, and taking other actions that were seen as undermining the promises held out in Te Tiriti.

And these concerns were widely shared among Ngāpuhi rangatira, including those who would ultimately – for their own, carefully calibrated, reasons – join forces against kin considered to be ‘rebels’ by the Crown.

Hone Heke decided to fell the flagstaff on Maiki Hill at Kororāreka (Russell) as a bloodless protest against the Crown’s actions, doing so three times between 8 July 1844 and 19 January 1845.

In the early hours of 11 March 1845 Heke and others set out to fell the flagstaff for a fourth time. Although they succeeded, what followed was a disaster for Ngāpuhi.

Memorial at Christ Church, Russell. Photo: Vincent O'Malley

Confronted with the world’s great superpower, those Ngāpuhi who now found themselves pursued by the British imperial forces nevertheless demonstrated remarkable military prowess. For the British, a primary goal was to take advantage of their superior numbers, artillery and technology.

If they could not fight Māori in the open, then siege warfare was thought the likely path to success – surrounding and bombarding the pā before overrunning them when the defences had been breached sufficiently.

What they didn’t count on was the efficiency of the anti-artillery bunkers at Ōhaeawai and Ruapekapeka. Ngāti Hine rangatira Kawiti designed and built both and his military genius was such that some British officers refused to believe that Māori could have constructed these pā without external aid.

At Ōhaeawai on 1 July 1845 British troops were routed when they attempted to storm the pā, convinced that its prior bombardment would ensure minimal resistance.

Despite that humiliation, a similar outcome was only narrowly averted at Ruapekapeka because of the presence of Governor George Grey, who countermanded initial orders to charge the pā.

There’s a rich story here but one that reaches too few people. And that matters. Pākehā who lack awareness of the history of this country also lack the means to fully understand the present.

Contemporary Māori poverty, for example, so evident throughout much of Northland, makes little sense without an understanding of this historical context, leaving some to resort to deficit theories blaming Māori themselves for their predicament. There’s a backstory those people need to hear.
It is vitally important that we remember this history and we acknowledge these darker episodes from our past. That’s not about finger pointing.

It’s the basis for genuine reconciliation and understanding, through dialogue and through an open and honest engagement with our past. Taking ownership of our history and our stories, including those surrounding the wars fought on our own shores, is critical.  

[Originally published by RNZ as part of its NZ Wars: The Stories of Ruapekapeka documentary] 

Monday, 2 October 2017

'The Great War for New Zealand' at Tauranga Arts Festival

The Waikato War was the defining conflict in New Zealand history, says historian Vincent O’Malley in his seminal new work. It was a war that inflicted a huge number of casualties (more per capita than World War 1), destroyed a thriving regional economy and set back Māori-Pakeha relations by generations.

His bold, new work The Great War for New Zealand: Waikato 1800-2000, has been acclaimed by Māori and Pakeha. Here, O’Malley discusses the book with Guyon Espiner.

When: Saturday, 28 October 2017

Where:  Carrus Crystal Palace, Tauranga Waterfront


See also: 'Our Place to Stand'

Six speakers have 7 minutes each to explore what it means to be a New Zealander, whether by birth or adoption, and the identity that comes with breathing the air of this chain of islands between Polynesia and Antarctica. Their notion of tūrangawaewae – places where we feel especially empowered and connected – will also be discussed. Questions from the audience encouraged.

Friday, 1 September 2017

'The Great War for New Zealand' at Manawatu Writers Festival

Author Vincent O’Malley writes with the conviction that a mature nation needs to own its history, warts and all. In this session of the Manawatu Writers Festival he explains how an open and honest reckoning of our past is vital to genuine reconciliation. 

Moving confidently into the future, Vincent argues, requires a robust understanding of where we have come from and been.

When: Sunday, 10 September: 2:45 PM - 3:30 PM
Where: Paper Plus, 35 Manchester Square, Feilding (see map)

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Reminder: 'The Great War for New Zealand' at Scorpio Books

A reminder that tomorrow night I will be discussing The Great War for New Zealand with Philip Matthews at Scorpio Books, BNZ Centre, 120 Hereford Street, Christchurch.

Refreshments from 5.30pm for a 6pm start.

For those not able to attend, RDU 98.5FM will be live streaming the event in full over Facebook. Click here for the link.

By way of a taster, this morning I talked to James Dann, host of RDU's breakfast show, about the book and tomorrow night's event. Take a listen here.

See for more details.