The Dog Tax war is described by some authors as the last gasp of the 19th century wars between the Māori and the Pākehā, the British settlers of New Zealand. This is not altogether accurate in two respects. It was a very minor affair, certainly not a war. Also there were later, more serious incidents, notably in the Urewera Ranges, that can be attributed to the imposition of Pākehā authority on the Māori.
In the 1890s the Hokianga County Council imposed a tax of 2/6d on each dog in the district. Many people, particularly in the Waima area, refused to pay. In 1898 thirteen of them were arrested.
The actual story is more complicated. The Pai Marire or Hau Hau movement was involved. This was a vehemently anti-Pākehā cult that had developed in the 1860s and spread throughout the North Island, and had been heavily involved in the later major conflicts, the Second Taranaki War and others subsequently. Its aim was the total eviction of all Europeans from New Zealand.
However the real issue was the increasing marginalisation of the Māori people. In 1840 they had owned the whole of New Zealand. By 1898 they owned less than 10% of the more marginal land. Meanwhile their population had fallen, largely through disease, to less than 10% of its 1840 level. The Māori were seen by many at this time as the embarrassing remnant of a successful colonial enterprise.
Returning to the Hokianga, on 28 April, 1898, the sole police officer in the area, Constable McGilp. went from Rawene to Waima to investigate the trouble. There he found a considerable number of men lead by Hone Toia, ready armed and determined in their refusal to pay the dog tax. They announced their intention of marching on Rawene (the administrative centre of the area) to continue their dispute with the County Council. The constable immediately phoned Rawene and advised the evacuation of the women and children which was promptly done. Further threats resulted in the total evacuation of the town and an appeal to government for military assistance.
A police inspector and five constables arrived by boat from Auckland and set up a cannon on the wharf. The war party duly appeared, well armed and looking for a fight. The outnumbered police sensibly fled leaving their cannon behind. Rawene was deserted apart from a few neutral Māori and two Pākehā: Rev. Gittos, who soon left, and Bob Cochrane. At some risk to himself Cochrane managed to talk the Māori out of doing anything rash and persuaded them to return to Waima the same night.
Descendants of the men involved described how Bob Cochrane ran the local hotel. Despite it being a Sunday and therefore illegal, he agreed to open the bar and served the visiting war party with beer. This gesture of goodwill went a long way to defusing a hostile and potentially very unpleasant situation.
Some four days later the authorities had assembled an army of 120 men, soldiers, constables and sailors together with a machine gun and were prepared to go off and battle the rebels. Meanwhile the rebels had prepared an ambush at the crest of the hill between Waima and Rawene. However the soldiers were allowed to pass unmolested and carried on to set up camp at Waima School. Toia and his men being camped some distance away.
The potential was there for serious conflict. However the situation was defused by the timely arrival of the Member of Parliament for the Northern Māori electorate, Hone Heke Ngapua. He was the grand-nephew of the original Hone Heke. At a great hui or meeting he persuaded the Māori that they had nothing to gain from continuing their insurrection. They agreed to submit to the troops who, in turn acted with reasonable moderation in that they arrested only five of the leaders, allowing the rest to disperse.
And this was effectively the end of the Dog Tax War (although later more men were arrested and some arms were confiscated).
The arrested men were subsequently fined and heavy costs imposed but these were later remitted. However, it does appear that they were required to pay the dog taxes.