Like all the early governors Thomas Browne had a military background. He was appointed Governor of New Zealand in 1855, replacing George Grey. Carrying out the 1852 constitution was intended to be his major task, but race relations soon loomed large.
The growing number of settlers were demanding land, while many Maori, worried that they would be swamped by the rising tide of European colonisation, were very reluctant to give up any more territory. Maori expressed their concerns through the growing King Movement (the Kingitanga) in the 1850s.
Browne tried to balance these competing interests. He continued to purchase land, but also tried to ensure that Maori held land for their future needs and gained the benefits of schools and hospitals. He also fought hard to keep control of Maori affairs himself, rather than hand over this responsibility to the settler-dominated Parliament. He feared that unrestrained colonisation would inevitably lead to conflict.
His governorship was defined by his decision in 1859 to persist in purchasing land at Waitara in Taranaki, despite the opposition of the region's most powerful chief, Wiremu Kingi Te Rangitake. War followed, and some Kingitanga warriors from Waikato became involved.
In early 1861 peace was made in Taranaki. Browne resolved to invade the Waikato, but his six-year appointment ended before this could happen. These plans were later carried out by the next Governor, George Grey.