Monday, 14 March 2016

The Dog Tax War, 1889

If you have never heard this piece of history before, don’t worry yourself overmuch. It was a war in which no shots were fired and nobody got hurt, except in their pockets.

The “combatants” were the Maori natives and white settlers of a district of New Zealand’s North Island. The European colonization of New Zealand had been a disaster for the Maoris, who, after only about fifty years of large scale immigration, had seen their population fall by around 90 per cent, mainly because they had no natural defences against diseases such as influenza that the Europeans brought with them.

A Maori independence movement was created, named Pai Marire, with the aim of expelling the Europeans. It was keen to find an excuse for conflict, and in 1889 one was presented to them by the county council of Hokianga. This was the imposition of a tax of two shillings and sixpence on every dog owned by the residents of the district. Given that many Maoris used dogs for hunting and therefore owned several dogs each, this was a considerable imposition on them.

When the Maoris of Waima refused to pay the tax they were arrested. Pai Marire assembled an armed group of about twenty warriors who marched off towards the administrative capital of Rawene, which was defenceless. The sole police officer for the district advised that the town be evacuated, which was done. Six policemen arrived from Auckland, but ran away as soon as the Maoris turned up.

There was only one white man left in town, namely Bob Cochrane who ran the hotel. He invited the Maoris into his bar, offered them all a drink, and discussed their grievances with them. After this they all went home again.

The real armed forces then turned up, in the shape of 120 soldiers and a warship. The Maori leader was advised to stand his men down, which he did, but he was then arrested along with some of his followers. Jail sentences were handed out, and the dog tax still had to be paid, but, as wars go, it was a fairly peaceful one.

© John Welford