Samstag, 24. Mai 2014

Maori wars diorama from the National army museum

Some weeks ago I found these great photos on this German blog.
They were too got not to show them here. I remember my friend Donald telling me a range of figures for the Maori wars would be great. So after seeing this figures maybe some of you share his mind?

First the troops on the march

Next the charge on a Maori stronghold

And there are several uniformplates available at the Anne S.K. Brown library in the USA
which you can check here:

Here the Taranaki Rifles. And some month ago a new Osprey about the subject appeared too.


  1. Great photos! I have a couple of these figures in a box somewhere. I think there was an article in Military Modelling a few years back too!

  2. The first diarama is a pretty good depiction of the ruggedness of some of the country (not to mention the weather!) campaigns were fought on, especially on the North Island's East Coast.

    The second diarama features the sort of action that typical of the 'Maori Wars' (I should mention it is more politically correct in this country to call them the 'Land Wars'): attack by Imperialist or Colonial forces upon a stronghold ('pa').

    I guess space considerations and the look of the thing leads to a misleading impression of primitiveness to Maori field engineering. As Maori forces were measured in hundreds at most, they developed very quickly a system of field engineering so sophisticated that it was thought that renegade Prussians or someone was giving them instruction. I rather think events instructed them!

    The flimsy palisade you see in the diorama developed from the much sturdier palisade walls of the village pa of pre-European times. Not able to stand up to European cannon, they developed into fences over which flax was draped, more for the purpose of concealment than for obstruction, much less protection. Unless they struck a supporting post, gunfire would simply pass through such a screen without leaving much of a hole.

    You will observe an indication of the lighter timber stopping short of the ground. Maori used to entrench in such a way their muskets and 'tupara' (double barrelled shot guns) would be held at just about ground level. The more sophisticated pa, built for the express purpose of inviting attack, featured defences in depth, bunkers with overhead protection, bastions, re-entrants, kill zones, 'wrong-way' bunkers, mutual supports - anything and everything to disrupt confuse and bewilder an enemy - and that was supposing they successfully stormed into the pa in the first place.

    Here's a couple of links:'s_War

  3. Another link...

  4. Having looked up some sources, I perceive I have been a little unjust about the depiction of the pa in the second diorama. Photographs of Gate Pa after the action show palisades just like those modelled. The diorama might well be a depiction of a battle very like Gate Pa, but I can't identify it as a specific action.

    There were occasions, by the way, that as the wars went on, Maori dispensed with palisades altogether.

  5. Hi Archduke Piccolo,

    many thanks for your postings, great informations. I guess this is your favourite subject as you are so deep in it?


  6. Actually, my interest in New Zealand history is fairly modest. But I did do some research a year or so ago for a friend who wanted to develop some teaching materials for the subject.

    You might notice mention of a New Zealand historian James Belich in at least one of the links. I met him in a History tutorial at Victoria University (Wellington) about 30 years ago. He was there to tell us about his forthcoming book on the New Zealand (Land) Wars, and in particular about a 'forgotten' Maori leader name of Titokowaru. I think he was expecting that no one in the class would know the name.

    I'll be honest and say I didn't recognise it at first. But as the story built up I was able to recall a novel I had read from the 1960s about this very guy. So Mr Belich and I had an interesting conversation about Titokowaru's War in South Taranaki. He rather tended to overstate Titokowaru's military skill - which was no doubt at a very high level, but to compare him to Napoleon after two or three small scale battles is a bit strong.

    But in my view his thesis on the 'modern pa system', as he called it, was in my view very sound. He did tend to compare it with the Confederate entrenchments around Richmond and Petersburg, particularly in terms of sophistication. In my view not a very good comparision. I'd be more inclined to make comparisons with, say, the Vauban style of fortification, bearing in mind the materials available to Maori were earth, wood and flax.

    The fortification at Tauranga-Ika (Not to be confused with Gate Pa, near Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty) was quite recognisably a star fort, no doubt embellished internally with tricks and traps that any military man would recognise from centuries of fortification in Europe. What I find impressive is that Maori developed for themselves such sophisicated systems, in such a short time. Col Whitmore declined to attack the place.

    Maori strategy was simple enough, but in general difficult to achieve: to draw the Imperial and Colonial forces to battle on ground chosen by Maori. Maori were very good at this. They would stick a pa on disputed territory, and defy Pakeha to come and take it. Puke-ta-Kauere (1861, near Waitara, my home town), Gate Pa (Bay of Plenty), and Motoroa (South Taranaki) were decided Maori successes in this kind of action.

    But Maori always wanted numbers and commitment, and by and large never had much of either. For all his charisma, Titokowaru never commanded a following of more than a few hundred warriors, and even then the colonial forces could count on Whanganui Maori as allies.

    Had Maori combined as one to drive out Pakeha, they could well have succeeded. But there was never any real prospect of that. For one thing, Maori liked having Pakeha around: a source of useful materials and income, and a local permanent settlement seems to have afforded 'mana' (standing, prestige, presence) to local iwi (tribe) or hapu (sub-tribe). So Maori for the most part never really wanted to expel Pakeha altogether. This is probably why resistance to European encroachment was so peacemeal and local.

    I have long believed that Maori rather took to European ways. Unfortunately for them, they did not count upon the rapacity and dishonesty of European governance. Sir George Grey seems to have been an OK sort of governor (did you know that as Governor of 'the Cape' (South Africa) he proposed enfranchising Blacks?), but Gore Browne was a thief, plain and simple.

    That's enough for now.

  7. Hi Ion,

    wow, a very good research. Donald from Australia once sent me a DVD-Series about the Maori wars.With all the filming of the landscape in this documentation I understood something of the war. Reading some books and making a research on uniforms (especially all the militia) had taken some time. As my favourites are the 18th and 19th century colonial wars I always wanted to take this subject on for making a diorama or maybe producing figures. It is sad that all these "Small wars" are mostly forgotten.

    Here we have the same politic of conquer and divide as we usually have from the European forces when taking on an indigene nation. Always the same since the Roman time... I guess when the Maoris all would have been stood together the war would haven ended otherwise.

    So thank you again for the education!