In New Zealand history, the Wairau Affray (called the Wairau Massacre in older texts), on 17 June 1843, was the first serious clash of arms between Māori and the British settlers after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the only one to take place in the South Island. Four Māori died and three were wounded in the incident, and among the British the toll was 22 dead and five wounded.
An armed posse of Europeans set out from Nelson to arrest Te Rauparaha. Fighting broke out and a number were killed on both sides, including Te Rongo, the wife of Te Rangihaeata and daughter of Te Rauparaha. Although around 20 of the European party escaped, about 10 others surrendered and were subsequently massacred at the insistence of Te Rangihaeata as utu for the shooting of his wife.
The incident heightened fears among settlers of an armed Māori insurrection and created the first major challenge for Governor Robert FitzRoy, who took up his posting in New Zealand six months later. Although he was strongly criticised by settlers and the New Zealand Company, Governor FitzRoy who arrived in New Zealand in December 1843 investigated the Wairau Affray and exonerated Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata. When William Spain sat in Nelson in 1844, he declared that the Wairau had not been sold.
The New Zealand Company had built a settlement around Nelson in the north of the South Island in 1840. It had been planned to occupy 200,000 acres (810 km2), but by the end of the year, even as allotments were being sold in England, the company's agents in New Zealand were having difficulty in identifying, let alone buying from local Māori, land available to form the settlement. The settlers began to purchase large areas of land from Māori without reference to the newly-established colonial government and often without establishing vendors' rights to sell the land. The situation led to tension and caused disputes between the two parties.
In January 1843 Captain Arthur Wakefield, who had been dispatched by the New Zealand Company to lead the first group of settlers to Nelson, wrote to his brother, Colonel Edward Gibbon Wakefield, one of the principal officers of the New Zealand Company, that he had located the required amount of land at Wairau, an average distance of 25 km from Nelson. He held a deed to the land, having bought it from the widow of a whaling Captain John Blenkinsopp, who in turn had bought it from Te Rauparaha of the Ngāti Toa iwi at Tuamarina, and acknowledged in a letter to the company in March 1843: "I rather anticipate some difficulty with the natives.". Blenkinsopp had drowned on the Murray River. Blenkinsopp's second Ngāti Toa wife claimed that the Sydney lawyer who held all the legal papers had sold the deed without paying her, but it is uncertain if she was ever legally married.Blenkinsop had initially married Te Rongo, Te Rauparaha's daughter, at the Cloudy Bay whaling station.
John (Jacky) Guard, a whaler, bought a cannon in 1833 in Sydney, which he gave to Nohorua (a relative of Te Rauparaha) in exchange for the right to occupy Kakapo Bay. The cannon was allegedly stolen by Blenkinsopp, who in turn gave it to Te Rauparaha in exchange for land. Blenkinsopp had not taken up the use of the land but had used it as a trading post.Some historians have questioned the story of the stolen cannon as this is contrary to the character of Blenkinsopp, who was very highly regarded as an honest trader. As in many land purchases at that time it is possible that the parties were talking at cross purposes; Blenkinsopp thinking he had purchased outright freehold, and the Tāngata whenua believing they had received koha (a gift) from him to have use of the land, i.e. similar to rental or lease in the modern sense. However it is more likely that Te Rauparaha, having recently conquered the tangata whenua of the land, wanted some capital for his efforts. This action is more in keeping with this highly intelligent but devious warrior chief.
One story is that Captain Blenkinsopp got a signed bill of sale through fraud. In this version, Blenkinsopp visited Wairau in 1839, in a whaling ship named the Caroline, and taken on board water and wood. He then sailed to Kapiti Island on the pretext of seeking the chief, Te Rauparaha, in order to pay for the wood. He got Te Rauparaha to sign a receipt for the sale and then left, hurriedly. When Te Rauparaha showed the receipt to another trader, he discovered that he had been defrauded: the receipt was in fact a bill of sale for the whole of the Wairau Plain. At the time this was a fairly pointless crime because Chief Te Rauparaha was the Maori law in the area. The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi a year later, between Britain Crown and 240 Māori chiefs, changed this situation as land could only be sold to the government and in theory the laws of Britain applied to New Zealand. However, Blenkinsopp was drowned in the Murray River, Australia, while exploring and his widow sold the Bill of Sale to Edward Gibbon Wakefield of the New Zealand Company, who used it to claim that the New Zealand Company owned most of the bottom of the North Island and the top of the South Island.
The source of the likely difficulty was simple: chiefs Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata, along with their kinsmen of Ngāti Toa, owned the land and had not been paid for it. But similar disputes had been previously settled through negotiation and Te Rauparaha was willing to negotiate on the Wairau land.
In January 1843 Nohorua, the older brother of Te Rauparaha, led a delegation of chiefs to Nelson to protest about British activity in the Wairau Plains. Two months later Te Rauparaha and Rangihaeata arrived in Nelson, urging that the issue of the land ownership be left to Land Commissioner William Spain, who had begun investigating all the claimed purchases of the New Zealand Company. Spain later wrote that during that visit Arthur Wakefield "wished to make them a payment for the Wairau, but they positively refused to sell it, and told him they would never consent to part from it."
Wakefield rejected the request to wait for Spain's enquiry, informing Te Rauparaha that if local Māori interfered with company surveyors on the land, he would lead 300 constables to arrest him. Wakefield duly despatched three parties of surveyors to the land. They were promptly warned off by local Māori, who damaged the surveyors' tools but left the men unharmed.
Te Rauparaha and Nohorua wrote to Spain on 12 May, urgently requesting him to travel to the South Island to settle the company's claim to Wairau. Spain replied that he would do so when his business in Wellington was complete. A month later, with still no sign of Spain, a party led by Te Rauparaha travelled to Wairau and destroyed all the surveyors' equipment and shelters that had been made with products of the land, including wooden pegs, and burned down roughly-built thatched huts that contained surveying equipment. The surveyors were rounded up and sent back to Nelson, again unharmed.
Bolstered by a report in the Nelson Examiner newspaper of "Outrages by the Maori at Wairoo", Wakefield assembled a party of men, including newspaper editor G. R. Richardson and about 24 labourers press-ganged into service, and swore them in as special constables. Police Magistrate Augustus Thompson issued a warrant for the arrest of Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata, whom Wakefield referred to in a letter as a pair of "travelling bullies", for arson and commandeered the government brig, which was in Nelson at the time.
On the morning of 17 June the party, its size swelled to 49 or about 60 including chief surveyor Frederick Tuckett and others who had joined the party after landing, approached the Māori camp. The men were issued with cutlasses, bayonets, pistols and muskets. At the path on the other side of a stream, Te Rauparaha was surrounded by about 90 warriors as well as women and children. He allowed Thompson and five other men to approach him, but requested the rest of the British party to remain on their side of the stream.
Thompson refused to shake hands with the Te Rauparaha and said that he had come to arrest him, not over the land issue but for burning the huts. Te Rauparaha replied that the huts had been made from rushes grown on his own land and thus he had burnt his own property.
Thompson insisted on arresting Te Rauparaha, produced a pair of handcuffs, and called out to the men on the far side of the stream, ordering them to fix bayonets and advance. As they began to cross, a shot was fired by one of the British (apparently by accident). Te Rangihaeata's wife Rongo was killed from one of the first volleys, sparking gunfire from both sides. The British retreated across the stream, scrambling up the hill under fire from the Ngāti Toa. Eleven settlers and two Maori were killed.
Te Rauparaha ordered the Ngāti Toa warriors to cross the stream in pursuit. Those British who had not escaped were quickly overtaken. Wakefield called for a ceasefire and surrendered along with Thompson, Richardson and ten others. Two of the British were killed immediately.
Te Rangihaeata then demanded utu (revenge) for the death of his wife Rongo, who was also Te Rauparaha's daughter. All the remaining captives were then killed, including Thompson, Samuel Cottrell, a member of the original survey team, interpreter John Brooks and Captain Wakefield - younger brother of Edward Gibbon Wakefield and William Wakefield.
Reverberations of a reported massacre were felt as far away as England, where the New Zealand Company was almost ruined by the news of "British citizens being murdered by barbarous natives". Land sales almost halted and it became obvious the company was being less than honest in its land purchasing tactics and reports on the events in local newspapers were far from accurate.
In the Nelson area settlers became increasingly nervous, and one group sent a deputation to the Government complaining that those who had died had been discharging their "duty as magistrates and British subjects ... the persons by whom they were killed are murderers in the eyes of common sense and justice".
In late January or early February 1844, a month after taking up his post, incoming Governor Robert Fitzroy visited Wellington and Nelson in a bid to quell the hostility between Māori and British, particularly in the wake of the Wairau incident. So many conflicting statements had been published that it was impossible for him to decide who had been at fault. However he immediately upbraided New Zealand Company representatives and the editor of a Wellington newspaper, The New Zealand Gazette, for their aggressive attitude towards Māori, warning that he would ensure that "not an acre, not an inch of land belonging to the natives shall be touched without their consent". He also demanded the resignations of the magistrate who had issued the arrest warrants for the Māori chiefs, but he was already dead.
From Nelson, Fitzroy and his officials sailed to Waikanae in the North Island, where he conducted a one-man inquiry into the incident. He opened proceedings by telling a meeting of 500 Māori: "When I first heard of the Wairau massacre ... I was exceedingly angry ... My first thought was to revenge the deaths of my friends, and the other pakeha who had been killed, and for that purpose to bring many ships of war ... with many soldiers; and had I done so, you would have been sacrificed and your pa destroyed. But when I considered, I saw that the pakeha had in the first instance been very much to blame; and I determined to come down and inquire into all the circumstances and see who was really in the wrong."
Te Rauparaha, Te Rangihaeata and other Māori present were invited to recount their version of events, while Fitzroy took notes and interrupted with further questions. He concluded the meeting by addressing the gathering again, to announce he had made his decision: "In the first place, the white men were in the wrong. They had no right to survey the land ... they had no right to build the houses on the land. As they were, then, first in the wrong, I will not avenge their deaths."
But Fitzroy, who had a background as a humanitarian, told the chiefs they had committed "a horrible crime, in murdering men who had surrendered themselves in reliance on your honour as chiefs. White men never kill their prisoners". He urged British and Māori to live peaceably, with no more bloodshed.
Settlers and the New Zealand Company were incensed by the Governor's finding, but it had been both prudent and pragmatic; Māori outnumbered settlers 900 to one, and many iwi had been amassing weapons for decades, giving them the capacity to annihilate settlements in the Wellington and Nelson areas. FitzRoy knew it was highly improbable that troops would be despatched by the British Government to wage war on the Māori or defend the settlers. FitzRoy's report was endorsed by Colonial Secretary Lord Stanley, who said the actions of the party led by Thompson and Wakefield had been "manifestly illegal, unjust and unwise", and that their deaths had occurred as a "natural and immediate sequence". William Williams, a leading Church Missionary Society missionary, also clearly apportioned blame to "our countrymen, who began with much indiscretion & gave much provocation to the natives".
The effect of the massacre and the passive reaction of Fitzroy set in train a chain of events that still rumble through the New Zealand courts today. Its immediate effect was to alarm settlers in New Plymouth, who also had insecure title to land purchased under not dissimilar circumstances to Wairau. FitzRoy was very unpopular and was recalled to be replaced by Governor George Grey.
A memorial at Tuamarina cemetery was erected in 1869 to commemorate the European casualties of the incident, with the names and the occupations listed on the inscription. This rohe (area) has been the subject of a lengthy but successful land/compensation claim by the original Rangitane Iwi who are recognized as the tangata whenua (home people). Compensation of some $2 million is to be paid by the government of New Zealand. This was the iwi displaced by Te Rauparaha's heke in the 1820s. After the massacre Te Rauparaha never returned to the Wairau Valley. Later he was captured by the British for organizing an uprising in the Hutt valley and was imprisoned on a ship in Auckland. Grey let him out of prison to attend the Kohimaramara conference. Te Rauparaha was then released as he was sick and the government became the owners of much of the unsold land in the Wairau Valley when Te Rauparaha gave up his claim.
- King 2003, p. 182.
- "Te Rangihaeata", Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
- Moon 2000, p. ?.
- Burns 1989, p. 327.
- Keenan 2009, p. ?.
- James, Thomas Horton (1838). Six Months in South Australia. p. 285. Retrieved 21 October 2012.
- McKinnon, Malcolm (updated 25 September 2011). "Puhuriwhenua cannon". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 29 October 2011.
- Belich 1986, p. ?.
- Chapter Vl - Spain's Court. "History of New Zealand". New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. Retrieved 6 March 2012.
- Keenan 2009, p. 138.
- "...a list of white men present at the affray..", 25 July 1888, Marlborough Express
- Keenan 2009, p. 118.
- "Wairau incident memorial", New Zealand History online
- Andrews, Kevin (2009). "Wairau memorial". New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 16 May 2010.
- Andrews, J. L. (1999). The Wairau Massacre: Mindsets of the 1840s. (Blenheim). ISBN 0-473-06103-1.
- King, Michael (2003). The Penguin History of New Zealand. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-301867-1.
- Moon, Paul (2000). FitzRoy : Governor in Crisis 1843-1845. David Ling Publishing. ISBN 0-908990-70-7.
- Burns, Patricia (1989). Fatal Success: A History of the New Zealand Company (1st ed.). Auckland: Heinemann Reed. ISBN 0-7900-0011-3.
- Keenan, Danny (2009). Wars Without End : The Land Wars in Nineteenth-century New Zealand. Auckland: Penguin.
- Belich, James (1986). The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict (1st ed.). Auckland: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-011162-X.
Further reading 
- Buick, T.L. (1900). Old Marlborough (reprinted 1976, Christchurch, NZ: Capper Press).
- The Wairau from History of New Zealand by George William Rusden (1883)
- Te Rauparaha, The Wairau by W Carkeek
- Temple, Philip (2002). A Sort of Conscience: The Wakefields. Auckland, New Zealand: Auckland University Press. pp. 520pp.
- The Wairau Incident by T L Buick
- The Kapiti coast : Māori history and place names / by W. Carkeek.