In the early 1850s the New Zealand economy was booming. Maori were successful entrepreneurs, selling foodstuffs to the immigrants flooding into the new towns of the North Island.
Soon the new waves of settlers began to want more land and the Maori were reluctant to sell. The government was under enormous pressure by the increasing demands for land. The frontier was becoming explosive, the golden age was over.
A land dispute in the Taranaki village of Waitara was the spark that led New Zealand to war. In March 1859, a junior chief named Te Teira offered to sell 600 acres in Waitara to the government's land purchasing officer, Donald McLean.
The sale was strongly opposed by senior chief Wiremu Kingi who lived there. When Governor Gore Browne ordered the land to be surveyed, Kingi led a section of the tribe to prevent the surveying. He was determined to stop the sale. It is here that the New Zealand wars began.
In 1860 Governor Browne declared a state of Marshal Law in Taranaki and the 2,500 inhabitants of New Plymouth prepared for war. By March, nearly a thousand Imperial troops had come to defend the town.
Victory wasn't as easy as the British anticipated with Maori raiding settlers' homes and burning their farms. The conflict went on for a year with no clear winner. There was sporadic but continuous conflict between Maori and Imperial forces.
A ceasefire was called in March 1861 and Browne decided to look again at the Waitara Purchase. In April 1861, fighting was brought to an end with a negotiation of a truce brokered by Wiremu Tamihana.
The war in Taranaki was the country's first real taste of the deadly struggle over who would rule New Zealand. Peace in Taranaki would be short lived. Fighting broke out again in 1863, prompting the returning governor, George Grey, to get more troops from the British Government.