The Wairau Affray, also known as the Wairau Massacre or the Wairau Incident, was the first significant armed conflict between Māori and British settlers after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. On 17 June, 1843, four Māori and 22 Europeans were killed at Tuamarina, 10km north of what is now Blenheim, when an armed party of New Zealand Company settlers clashed with Ngāti Toa over the purchase of land in the Wairau Valley.
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The Nelson Settlement, planned in England, was to consist of 221,100 acres of cultivable, arable land. Despite warnings of insufficient land of suitable quality in Tasman and Golden Bay, the settlement proceeded. When the New Zealand Company realised it was 70,000 acres short, surveyors were sent to the Wairau Plains in Marlborough. They and senior Ngāti Toa chiefs, including Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata, were adamant that the Wairau had not been sold. They believed that ownership of the Wairau should be decided by Land Commissioner Spain, who was coming to Nelson to hear the Company's claims to land in the region. The Company was unmoved, and ordered three survey parties to the Wairau to begin work. The Ngāti Toa chiefs petitioned Spain to hear their claim immediately, but he declined to interrupt his Wellington hearings.
Te Rauparaha, Te Rangihaeata and other senior Toa chiefs travelled to Nelson in early 1843 to convince the Company to withdraw from the Wairau. They escorted the survey parties from the Wairau to the Company's ship, offering no violence to the men or their equipment, although they burnt temporary shelters made from local materials, and destroyed survey pegs and ranging rods.
When the survey party returned to Nelson, Magistrate Thompson issued a warrant for the arrest of Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata, on charges of arson. Thompson and Arthur Wakefield, the Company agent in Nelson, recruited forty-seven Special Constables (many labourers) and sailed to the Wairau to execute their warrant. Most recruits had no police or military training, and some had never handled a weapon. The weapons themselves were not in good condition.
On 17 June 1843 the Company party formed on one side of the Tuamarina Stream, with Te Rauparaha and his party, including women and children, opposite. Despite pleas for peace by the Christian chief, Rawiri Puaha, Wakefield and Thompson ordered their ragtag constabulary forward.
There are differing accounts of what triggered the battle. Māori accounts say that Te Rongo, Te Rangihaeata's wife, was the first to die, perhaps from a stray shot. The ensuing skirmish saw several Special Constables killed and the remainder put to flight. Some who attempted to surrender were executed by Te Rangihaeata, as utu for the deaths of his wife and comrades, and as retribution for other perceived evils and insults. These included the failure to convict the whaler, Dick Cook, for the rape and murder of Te Rangihaeata's close relative, Rangiawa Kuika (sister of Rawiri Puaha, and wife of James Wynen) and her child.
Twenty-two Europeans, including both Wakefield and Thompson, and between four and nine Māori died at the Wairau. There were immediate impacts. Ngāti Toa vacated Marlborough to support their chiefs in the North Island, many Te Ātiawa in Queen Charlotte Sound returned to Taranaki, and Māori who stayed feared they would be attacked by Government forces. European settlers were shocked and frightened, a Public Safety Committee was formed, and Church Hill in Nelson was fortified.
Governor FitzRoy, who arrived in New Zealand in December 1843, investigated the Wairau Affray and exonerated Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata. When Spain sat in Nelson in 1844 he declared that the Wairau had not been sold.
Updated April 2020
Sources used in this story
Allan, R (1965) Nelson: A History of Early Settlement. Wellington, N.Z. : A H & A W Reed, pp. 241-308.
Barnicoat, J W: Diary. [Barnicoat Papers]
Burns, P (1989) Fatal Success. Auckland, N.Z. : Heinemann Reed, pp. 224-240.
Burns, P (1983) Te Rauparaha. Auckland, N.Z. : Penguin Books, pp. 239-253.
Mitchell, H A & M J (2004; 2007) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough. Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers in assoc. with the Wakatū Incorporation. Vol I pp320-330, 337; Vol II pp234-240.
Nelson Examiner (1843)
Saunders, A (1896) History of New Zealand. Christchurch , N.Z. : Whitcomb and Tombs, pp186-213.
Saxton, J W: Diary 1841-1851. Bett Collection qMS SAX typescript [Nelson Provincial Museum]
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Further sources - Wairau Affray
- Allan, R (1965) Nelson: A History of Early Settlement. Wellington, N.Z. : A H & A W Reed.
- Andrews, J.L (1999) Wairau massacre : mindsets of the 1840s. Blenheim, N.Z. : J.L. Andrews.
- Broad, L. (1976) The jubilee history of Nelson from 1842 to 1892. [Nelson, N.Z.]: Capper, p.45-70
- Burns, P (1989) Fatal Success. Auckland, N.Z. : Heinemann Reed.
- Burns, P (1983) Te Rauparaha. Auckland, N.Z. : Penguin Books
- Dillon, C. (1954) The Dillon letters, the letters of the Hon. Constantine Dillon, 1842-1853, Wellington, A.H. & A.W. Reed, pp.20-4.
- Domett, A (1844-46) Petition to Parliament for the recall of Governor Fitzroy, together with, A narrative of the Wairau massacre .[N.Z.?] : New Zealand Company
- McAloon, J. (1997). Nelson a regional history. Whatamango Bay, Queen Charlotte Sound, N.Z : Cape Catley Ltd in association with Nelson City Council, p. 29-35
- Mitchell, H & J (2004) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough, vol.1 The people and the land . Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers in association with the Wakatū Incorporation, pp70, 71, 302-303, 424-426.
- Mitchell, H & J (2007) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough, Vol 2. The new society. Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers in association with the Wakatū Incorporation, pp245, 247, 251, 373-375
- Prickett, N. (2002) Landscapes of conflict : a field guide to the New Zealand wars. Auckland, N.Z. : Random House New Zealand
- Saunders, A (1896) History of New Zealand. Christchurch , N.Z. : Whitcomb and Tombs
- Bowden, G.R, (1981) Wairau - a massacre? Journal of the New Zealand Federation of Historical Societies, 1(11), p.3-7
- Davies, J. (1995) Kakapo Bay. Marlborough's Past & Present,3, p.8-9
- Kidd, R (1988) Te Rangihaeata : a personal analysis. Journal of the Nelson and Marlborough Historical Societies, 2, n.2:p.26-29
- Martin, T. (1991) What was the basis of Maori strategies in the inter-racial conflicts of the 1840s, and what was their significance for race relations? Selected Essays (Massey University. Department of History), pp.18-24
- Mitchell. H.&J. (2022) Who was "the woman that was killed at the Wiaroi"? Nelson Historical Society Journal, 9(2), pp.37-46
- Narrative of the Wairau massacre, and proceedings connected therewith (1843, December 23). Supplement to the Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle.
- Ogilvie, G (1995, Jan) An affray at the Wairau. New Zealand Historic Places, n.51:p.7-9
- Remarks on the Causes and consequences of the massacre (1843, December 23). Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle,2(94), 23, p.10
- The Wairau affray (1971) New Zealand's heritage: the making of a nation, v.2. Sydney : Hamlyn House, pp.449-454
- Wairau Massacre (1844, June 22) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 3(12), p. 62.
- Marlborough Museum and Archives holds information and artefacts about the Affray and the Tua Marina cemetery
- Barnicoat, J W: Diary. Barnicoat Papers HLD ; includes letter dated 23.8.1843 recounting details of the fray, published "Nelson Examiner" 26.8.1843.]
- British Parliamentary Papers: 0556.02.a17.008. No. 8. Colonel Wakefield to the Secretary of the New Zealand Company. Wellington, New Zealand [Notes of the Meeting between his Excellency Governor FitzRoy and the Chiefs Rauparaha and Rangiaiata, at Waikanai, on Monday, 12 February 1844]
- Saxton, J W: Diary 1841-1851. Bett Collection qMS SAX typescript.
- Ballara, Angela.(updated 2007, June 22) Te Rangihaeata ? - 1855. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 13 November 2008 from:
- Hocken Collection: Reference Guides: Researching the New Zealand Wars: Part one - 1840's [bibliography and guide to research in the collection; full bibliography of the Wairau Affray]
- McLintock, A.H. (Ed.)(1966) Wairau Affray. Updated 18-Sep-2007. Retrieved from Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand:
- Oliver, Steven (updated 2007, June 22) Te Rauparaha ? - 1849. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 13 November 2008 from:
- Rore Pukekohatu's Account of the Wairau Incident (n.d). Retrieved 13 November 2008 from Marlborough Online:
- Taylor, R. (1855) Te Ika a Maui, or New Zealand and its Inhabitants :Chapter XXII. - Te Rauparaha and Rangihaeata. [N.Z] : Wertheim and Macintosh. Retrieved from NZETC:
- Today in history 17 June 1843: Wairau Incident (n.d). Retrieved 13 November 2008 from New Zealand History Online:
- The Wairau incident (2009) Retrieved from Ministry for Culture and Heritage, New Zealand History Online: