The First Taranaki War was an armed conflict over land ownership and sovereignty that took place between Māori and the New Zealand Government in the Taranaki district of New Zealand’s North Island from March 1860 to March 1861.
The war was sparked by a dispute between the government and Māori landowners over the sale of a property at Waitara, but spread throughout the region. It was fought by more than 3,500 imperial troops brought in from Australia, as well as volunteer soldiers and militia, against Māori forces that fluctuated between a few hundred and about 1,500. Total losses among the imperial, volunteer and militia troops are estimated to have been 238, while Māori casualties totalled about 200, although the proportion of Māori casualties was higher.
The war ended in a ceasefire, with neither side explicitly accepting the peace terms of the other. Although there were claims by the British that they had won the war, there were widely held views at the time they had suffered an unfavourable and humiliating result. Historians have also been divided on the result. Historian James Belich has claimed that the Māori succeeded in thwarting the British bid to impose sovereignty over them, and had therefore been victorious. But he said the Māori victory was a hollow one, leading to the invasion of the Waikato.
In its 1996 report to the Government on Taranaki land claims, the Waitangi Tribunal observed that the war was begun by the Government, which had been the aggressor and unlawful in its actions in launching an attack by its armed forces. An opinion sought by the tribunal from a senior constitutional lawyer stated that the Governor, Thomas Gore Browne, and certain officers were liable for criminal and civil charges for their actions. The term “First Taranaki War” is opposed by some historians, who refer only to the Taranaki Wars, rejecting suggestions that post-1861 conflict was a second war. The 1927 Royal Commission on Confiscated Land also referred to the hostilities between 1864 and 1866 as a continuation of the initial Taranaki war.