The articulation of humanitarian and settler governance: Matthew Marshall Woodbury, Humanitarian Governance in Colonial New Zealand (1833 – 1872), PhD dissertation, The University of Michigan, 2018


Abstract: “Humanitarian Governance in Colonial New Zealand” focuses on a landmark intervention, Britain’s 1840 annexation of New Zealand, to show how officials, settlers, and indigenous Māori implemented a transnational discourse of humanitarian care within the colony. Invoking favorable impressions of Māori capacity for “civilization,” British proponents of colonization in the 1830s and 1840s advocated planned settlement and an intentional approach to managing indigenous peoples. New Zealand constituted an early experiment in humanitarian governance – defined as the administration of human collectivities in the name of a higher moral principle – as a solution to the grim consequences European settlement entailed for aboriginal populations.

Uncertainly surrounding the terms of annexation, competition between a private company and the British government, and the colonial state’s lack of military power relative to Māori slowed early efforts at implementing policies of humanitarian governance. The dissertation examines several areas of government action – land reserved for Māori, the administration of health and education, and programs promoting legal assimilation – to show how colonial officials initially deployed humanitarian governance as the only viable means of assimilating Māori into the colonial state. With the arrival of more colonists in the 1850s and London’s devolution of authority over Māori affairs to New Zealand, humanitarian governance became more assertive. Instead of seeking Māori participation, settlers prioritized the individualization of communal lands and accelerated the legal assimilation of Māori communities.

A hardening of racial attitudes toward indigenous peoples throughout the British Empire, and a decade of intermittent warfare in the 1860s, reframed practices of governance. If in the 1840s agents of empire implemented ideas of humanitarian governance as an experiment in colonization and a way of encouraging Māori engagement with the colonial state, by the 1870s the government conceptualized humanitarian governance as a way to limit Māori autonomy and justify interventions in the name of progress.

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