Waitangi researcher asked to lie by Govt agency


A controversial new book argues New Zealanders are not being given the full story on Treaty disputes. In this exclusive extract author DR JOHN ROBINSON covers off what he regards as misinformation about Maori population and land use

Considerable sums are spent on employing academics and researchers to write reports supporting claims before the Waitangi Tribunal. The Crown Forestry Rental Trust assists Maori to prepare, present and negotiate claims against the Crown, including funding research that is required to support the claimant’s argument. Total assistance from the Trust to claimants in 2010 was $34.5 million. This is seriously big money and has a considerable impact on the direction of research into Maori history.

There is also funding for Vision Matauranga from the Foundation of Research, Science and Technology, the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Health Research Council of NZ. The Maori Potential Fund controlled by Te Puni Kokiri uses “knowledge obtained through Te Puni Kokiri’s strategic relationships with Maori communities and organisations” to make investments in excess of $23 million a year.

Stream one, Matauranga (Knowledge and Skills), “aims to enable increased Maori acquisition, creation, maintenance, and transferral of traditional and contemporary knowledge.” Such directed efforts have a decided effect on the development and viability of university departments, and on the vision of the past that is told to the public and taught at schools and universities. The subsequent emphasis then influences political debate and the direction of common law in New Zealand.

I have worked in that industry. In 2000 I analysed Maori demographic and land information for the northern South Island. The data told a simple story. There was no correlation between land holdings and demography.

My report was emphatically rejected by the Crown Forestry Trust. They claimed that it would obscure the true nature of the supposed “cataclysm” which afflicted Te Tau iwi between 1850 and 1900. However, the data showed that there had been no such cataclysm. In fact, a demographic recovery was evident.

Here is some of the data that I was considering. This is the proportion of young people in the two northern South island districts, Nelson and Marlborough and the southern North Island.

In a steady, moderately healthy (for the times) underdeveloped population the proportion of young (those under 15) would be around 40%. The earliest census figures, in 1858, showed that the proportion of young in South Island groups to be around 20%. This is indicative of low birth rates and poor health then and in the preceding years. The ratio improved to much better values of 30 to 40% by 1881. A second indicator, the ratio of young to adult women, followed the same recovery path. That ratio was a very low 0.65 to 1 in 1858, and increased markedly to 1.2-1.8 to 1 by 1886. This was recovery in just 30 years. Throughout the years of land loss, the Maori population recovered from its previous decline during and immediately following the Musket Wars.

These are small populations, and the groups involved moved about a lot.

More definite indications are provided by the numbers for all Maori in New Zealand. The next two graphs are of the ratio of children per 100 adults for all Maori in New Zealand (not children related to the total population as in the previous figure), and the ratio of females to males.

Children per 100 adults, all Maori

Females per 100 males, all Maori


Here is the same pattern, of a very poor situation in 1858 and a steady improvement throughout the rest of the nineteenth century. The population trends obviously reflect the health of the population, being a combination of survival, new births and infant mortality. The New Zealand Maori population had decreased considerably from 1800. After 1840, while population decline continued, the rate of decline steadily decreased as the population stabilised, setting the scene for recovery by the end of the century.

GRAPH Maori population in New Zealand, 19th century.

While estimates (which could be described as guesstimates) vary considerably, reasonable estimates of the Maori population are 120,000 in 1800 and 70,000 in 1840. The 1857/1858 Census value (again with some uncertainty but much more definite) was 56,049. This declined further to 47,330 in 1874. Thereafter the Maori population stabilised (43,927 in 1886) and was growing in 1900. The data tell us that the demographic situation of Maori was dire at the beginning of the period after the 1840 Treaty, and was recovering rapidly so that within 30 years the ratios of young people to the whole population, and of young people to women, were approaching those expected in a steady underdeveloped population.

Maori were no longer a dying race. The census data does however show continuing female infanticide by Maori through to the end of the century.

But before I was paid I was required to rewrite my report, to argue a deleterious impact from land loss during that period; that message had to be written in. Needless to say, I am not proud of that work, when I adapted the analysis away from the facts to fit the client’s requirements.

Significantly, I was not instructed to look further at what the numbers had to say. I continue now with the analysis that would have been followed by anyone free to search for the truth.

The experiences of the South Island groups were similar to those of all Maori. The number of children per 100 adults was very low in 1858, 37 for all Maori in New Zealand. This recovered rapidly, to 43 in 1874 (in just 16 years) and on to 58 in 1901. The population had declined precipitously in the years of the musket wars, 1800-1840, leaving a harmed and struggling society. The rate of decline slowed, to be followed within 40 years by stability and then recovery.

The major loss of population and harm to society occurred before 1840.

With a preponderance of older Maori in 1858 a population decline for some further decades was inevitable even when the basic cause was removed. It takes decades for a demographic recovery to work through.

Any change in population will be determined by both the initial demographics (population structure) and by the subsequent rates of birth and survival (including loss of female children due to infanticide, which continued). At the time of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (1840), the period of war and disruption of the musket wars (together with introduced disease) had reduced birth rates. Despite the killings of many warriors in the wars, there were fewer Maori women than men, probably due to female infanticide.

It was then inevitable that the Maori population would decline further even as peace returned and as health improved. The events of that period of warfare are considered in the next section, dealing with the “Musket Wars”.

The demographic recovery spread over a full generation until the Maori population stabilised and grew later in the century. The simple model outlined in Appendix 1 illustrates that evolution. The decline from 70,000 in 1840 to 56,000 in 1878 at the time of the first census is consistent with an initial shortage of young people, fewer women (in part due to previous infanticide of female babies) and a modest birth rate. The further decline to 47,330 in 1874 is similarly consistent with model calculations assuming a slight improvement in fertility. This was a period of definite improvement.

These estimates are based on the limited available data. Other estimated measures, such as life expectancy, are consistent with the suggestion that Maori health improved steadily throughout the 19th century once the intertribal wars ceased.

Any interpretation of Maori health and population dynamics is highly dependent on the estimates of numbers prior to the first census of 1858.

There is a considerable range of estimates in the many available reports, both published and on the web. One reference for a population of 70,000 (assumed here) is the NCEA website. That estimate comes from Te Ara, the online encyclopaedia of NZ prepared by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

Even though that population estimate is reasonable, the online encyclopaedia includes a number of highly questionable claims. My comments are interpolated here throughout the text in italics and within square brackets.

“There were barely 100,000 Maori in New Zealand when Captain James Cook first visited in 1769 [This is lower than almost any estimate], and demographers estimate the population to have been 70,000 to 90,000 when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. It is likely that the Maori population had continued to grow after 1769 [This is in no way supported by evidence, just conjecture creating an impression of an early healthy population] – but that growth rates declined in the early 19th century because Maori were exposed to new diseases to which they had no immunity (like measles, influenza and tuberculosis), introduced by Pakeha settlers [There is no evidence that disease was a main cause of that decline, although it no doubt contributed. Indeed in some cases disease put an end to war parties]. The musket wars of the 1820s and 1830s added to rising mortality rates, but not to the extent that some commentators have suggested. [The evidence is overwhelming for tens of thousand of dead in the warfare and associated disruption.]

Very high levels of mortality meant that the Maori population declined for most of the 19th century. The most rapid decrease occurred between 1840 and 1860, when the Maori population dropped by up to 30%. [This is simply wrong. The population drop was 120,000 to 70,000 (40%) from 1800 to 1840. It dropped another 20% to 56,049 in 1858 (Census figure). The former drop is primarily due to war, the latter a consequence of demographic trends (existing lack of young and women plus low birth rates and survival rates). The text creates throughout the impression of a healthy population brought down by European contact, which is simply not so.] Immunity to communicable diseases gradually improved and the rate of decline slowed from the late 1870s. In 1891 the population reached its lowest figure at just under 42,000.” [The population in 1891 was 44,177 and the lowest census population was before that, 43,927 in 1886 (the 1896 census is widely considered to have been defective). The population had pretty much levelled off from 47,330 in 1874.]

A majority of references on the web report a much higher Maori population in 1840. Examples are 135,000 from the Google Docs factsheet, 115,000 from The Cambridge History of the British Empire (quoting Diefenbach) and from New Zealand in History, 100,000 from Wikispaces, Te Papa (treaty2u) and history how stuff works, and 90,000 from New Zealand Wars (Danny Keenan). Those higher estimates have been used to support claims of massive disruption (such as the “cataclysm” claimed by the Crown Forestry Trust) following colonisation.

They cannot be brought into accord with the far more accurate later census figures. A small decrease during the musket wars, and then sudden plunge (by 44%) between 1840 and 1858, required to fit the higher estimate of 100,000 Maori in 1840 (as shown in the next figure) is simply not credible.

GRAPH Maori population in New Zealand, 19th century.

With alternate 1840 estimate



As shown in Appendix 1, natural change – the consequence of a poor initial demographic structure and modest childbirth – together with female infanticide readily explain the decrease from 70,000 in 1840, but cannot possibly have reduced the number from anything like 100,000. That would have required an additional 30,000 deaths. Such an extraordinary loss of life would have to be evident and widely reported in historical accounts for that estimate to have any credibility. There is no such observation, and the higher estimates of Maori numbers in 1840 found frequently in the literature and on the web are impossible. The unrealistic, distorted and impossible picture of a basically healthy Maori population prior to the Treaty and colonial government and subsequent decline is creating an impression of wrongs that fuel grievance.



Since the change in population was largely determined by what went before, the next step in our research is to describe the previous Maori experience and to identify what led to such a poor population structure.

The answer is not hard to find; indeed it is blindingly obvious. And it is not introduced diseases as stated in my reformulated report. Those diseases existed and were harmful, but they were not the dominant factor.

That was war.

The period 1800-1840 was the time of the musket wars, when Maori groups attacked one another – killing, eating, enslaving and taking the land. Many of the captured were kept as slaves and held like cattle on the hoof, to be killed and eaten later. Frequently crops were destroyed or not adequately tended. As well as the direct loss of life, the social fabric was devastated. The horror of the times is well documented, the slaughter extreme.

“Of an estimated 100,000 – 150,000 Maori living in New Zealand at or around 1810, by 1840 probably somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 had been killed, enslaved or forced to migrate as a result of the wars (working from estimates generated by Ian Pool and others). In the main that occurred in the short space of twenty-five years from 1815 to 1840.”

According to Travers, this was a period of slaughter unparalleled in any country. On occasions around one thousand perished in the fighting, to be feasted upon thereafter. The cruelty was severe and cannibalism was considered glorious, leading on to the most dreadful atrocities. Europeans witnessed captives being lined up and standing silently, with the utmost stoicism, while the victors hacked them to death with tomahawks, cut them into pieces, and cleaned, cooked and ate them ‘with greedy delight’. In this atmosphere of fear and foreboding a captured chief, Te Maiharanui, strangled his daughter to prevent her from an even crueler death at the hands of their enemies. He and his wife were later tortured until they both died in considerable agony.

Human life, particularly the lives of slaves and the conquered, was cheap; such people had no rights, not even the right to life itself. When a slave girl, apparently about fifteen years of age, infuriated an old chief woman, she was promptly killed and eaten. The head was thrown to the children as a plaything. Not even in the deep south of the USA was the treatment of slaves as brutal as that.

Life was cheap in traditional Polynesian societies, with an indifference to death. “From the 1790s missionaries to Melanesia and Polynesia encountered and tried to eradicate savage customs – infanticide, cannibalism, human sacrifice – that they saw as diabolical and as a primary reason for depopulation.”

“[Earle] maintained that the practice of female infanticide had greatly diminished since large acquisitions of European goods, through extensive prostitution of Maori women to Europeans, had markedly enhanced the value of Maori women to the community.

It is, however, impossible to prove whether Maori infanticide diminished at this time or not (many writers have claimed it increased) for there is no reliable evidence to establish the extent to which infanticide was practised either in pre-historic Maori times or the 1820s and 1830s, this being a subject on which Maoris did not willingly talk to European observers.”

All of the identified causes of depopulation were practiced in New Zealand. Infanticide, particularly of female children, provides one further reason for the decay of the Maori population leading to the shortage of women and the lack of children noted around the time of the first census in 1858.

“Even within a community, and even toward the most vulnerable, death could be inflicted with apparent ease. Infanticide was said by some early European visitors to Maori settlements to be widespread – particularly the killing of baby girls (who would never grow into warriors), taurekareka and half-caste children.”

An anonymous but formal complaint was made to the NZ Human Rights Commission concerning the quoted publication, arguing that it “describes the whole of Maori society as violent and dangerous. This is a clearly racist view claiming a whole ethnic group has these traits.” One of Paul Moon’s critics, Margaret Mutu, acknowledged that cannibalism was widespread throughout New Zealand but argued that Moon, as a Pakeha, “did not understand the history of cannibalism and it was ‘very, very hard for a Pakeha to get it right on these things’.” Given that criticism, it is important to note that Moon’s description of infanticide is based on a significant set of references (see the endnotes 9 to 16 in his Section 3), and three additional sources are quoted here. As for the inability to “get it right”, either there was cannibalism and infanticide or there was not.

Understanding of history is not ethnically determined.

Since the data considered in Appendix 1 points clearly to female infanticide, it has been important to establish that possibility; it is in fact widely recognised.

“There is much evidence to support the conclusion that both infanticide and induced abortion were widely practised in pre- and early-European New Zealand by the Maoris. Reasons for the practice of both abortion and infanticide were more often social than medical. The desire to stay young, fertility control, and the fear of social disgrace are cited as some reasons why abortion was practised. Methods of inducing abortion included drugs, religious methods, and constrictive belts. Infanticide was practised as revenge by a mother on a wandering husband or as a means of matching the population to the food supply. Because female babies were less highly valued than males, it was females who were almost always killed.”

Maori culture was not just dysfunctional but mad, criminally insane. The consequences of those decades of killing, social disruption, destruction of crops, infanticide, fear and uncertainty was a society in shock. There was widespread desolation and devastation among Maori communities.


The above is an extract from the new book, “The Corruption of New Zealand Democracy” by John Robinson, $20, Tross Publishing, and is available at PaperPlus stores or direct from Tross Publishing at P.O. Box 22 143, Khandallah, Wellington 6441

About the author:

Dr John Robinson has master of science degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of Auckland and a doctorate from MIT. He has lectured at several universities and worked as an interdisciplinary research scientist, including reports for DSIR, OECD, UNESCO, UNEP and UNU.

He has written and edited Social science methods and the decision-making process (1982, editor, for UNESCO), Energy and agriculture: their interacting futures; policy implications of global models (1984, edited with M Levy, United Nations University), Pacific Islands; issues in development (1986, edited with A Haas, R Crocombe and R Rollason, Asia Pacific Books), Excess capital (1989), Business in New Zealand (1990-91, editing and updating, with R Love), Rebuilding New Zealand (1994), Destroying New Zealand (1996), NZ 2030, the world’s lifeboat (2009) and Cars at the end of an era, transport issues in the New Zealand greenhouse (2011, Friends of the Earth).

Research on Maori issues has included work for the Faculty of Business Studies at Massey University (The Maori in Aotearoa; transition into uncertainty – the coming decades, with Maori statistics, past and recent experiences and future prospects), the Royal Commission on Social Policy (1988, Maori futures – the paths ahead; two scenarios of development of Maoridom in Aotearoa/New Zealand), the Ministry of Maori Affairs (including contributions to Te hurihangi o te ao Maori, a collection of statistics on the situation of the Maori), the Treaty of Waitangi Unit at the Department of Justice, Te Puni Kokiri, the Treaty of Waitangi Research Unit at the Victoria University Stout Centre and the Crown Forestry Rental Trust.

Related posts: