The first European to record a sighting of New Zealand was Abel Tasman in 1642.
Captain James Cook claimed the islands for Great Britain in 1769, but it wasn’t until 1815 that the first sealing ships arrived in Canterbury, although there had been earlier contact with Pakeha (Europeans) in Otago and Southland.
European contact brought chaos and destruction to the Maori in the form of disease, alcohol and firearms, and the period of adjustment was harrowing. For Canterbury Ngai Tahu, already weakened by a civil war, this time was terribly destructive.
The Ngati Toa tribe, led by Te Rauparaha, had obtained muskets (an early type of gun), and swept down from the North Island to ravage the Ngai Tahu settlements from Marlborough to Banks Peninsula. It’s believed that only 500 Maori remained living in Canterbury at this time, the rest having fled inland or been killed.
A number of North Island Maori leaders formally asked for the rule of law to be imposed by the British after a prolonged period of skirmishing, inter-tribal warfare and frank land-grabbing by the Pakeha incomers, traders, missionaries and settlers alike.
Lawlessness had reached such a peak by 1830 that Kororareka (near Russell) in the Bay of Islands was known as “The Hellhole of the South Pacific”. It was to end this that Captain William Hobson, under the direction of the Colonial Secretary, Lord Normanby, drafted the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of modern-day New Zealand.