Wairau Affray: Australian natives vs. European settlers (June 17, 1843) - History Key

Wairau Affray: Australian natives vs. European settlers (June 17, 1843)

Just like the American continent, the Australian continent was populated by indigenous people when the Europeans arrived. In this article you’ll find one of the most serious clashes between Maori people (the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand) and the British settlers in New Zealand. The conflict between the two sides is known today as the Wairau Affray (in older writings as the Wairau Massacre).

How it all started?

At first, we need to define few things before we continue.

Treaty of Waitangi – it was signed in 1840 by the official representatives of the British Crown and Maori chiefs from the North Island of New Zealand. The treaty contained the declaration of British sovereignty over New Zealand.

New Zealand Company – it was actually a real company established in England which played a critical role in the colonization of New Zealand.

The coat of arms of the New Zealand Company
The coat of arms of the New Zealand Company © Archives New Zealand / CC BY-SA 2.0/Image Source: Wikipedia

Te Rauparaha – the leader of the Ngati Toa tribe

The Wairau Affray was triggered when a representative of the New Zealand Company claimed that the company have purchased the Wairau Valley. He led a group of European settlers on that territory. The leaders of the Ngati Toa tribe disagreed and they started destroying the European huts. After this incident, Te Rauparaha insisted for an investigation by the European representatives. Te Rauparaha was convinced that the European settlers didn’t respect the Treaty of Waitangi. Instead, the “alien nation” issued warrants for the arrest of Te Rauparaha and his nephew, Te Rangihaeata.

A profile head and shoulders portrait of the Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha
A profile head and shoulders portrait of the Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha © Hall, R/Alexander Turnbull Library /Image Source: Wikipedia

No shake, more problems

On the morning of June 17, 1843 the about 60 Europeans approached the Maori camp. The New Zealand Company provided them with bayonets, pistols and muskets. On the other hand, Te Rauparaha was surrounded about his people, including women and children. When the two sides met, Te Rauparaha allowed one of the European leaders to approach, but the rest of the army to remain on their side.

The Scene of the Wairau Affray near Tuamarina
The Scene of the Wairau Affray near Tuamarina © Macey/Image Source: Wikipedia

The settlers refused to shake hands with the natives. Even more, the European leader told Te Rauparaha that he had come to arrest him and to burn their huts. The critical moment was when the rest of the Europeans started to advance towards the natives. Apparently by accident, one of the British fired a shot which triggered the chaos. Several people from both sides were killed including Te Rauparaha’s daughter.

Therefore, Te Rauparaha ordered to his warriors to catch the “invaders”. After they caught them, the Maori people killed immediately two of them and in short time he killed the rest of the prisoners. After this incident, 22 Europeans and 4 Maori died.

“White man don’t kill”

Robert Fitzroy
Robert Fitzroy © Hemus Charles /Image Source: Wikipedia

The effects of the Wairau Affray were felt also in England where the so called New Zealand Company was profoundly affected. Land sales in New Zealand nearly stopped and the trust of the New Zealand Company wasn’t the same. In January 1844, Governor Robert Fitzroy went in New Zealand and demanded the resignation of the surviving magistrates who issued the arrest warrants of the Te Rauparaha.

However, the Maori chiefs were invited to tell their version of the events. During that time, Fitzroy told the chiefs that they committed a horrible crime, but he considered the events a “natural and immediate sequence” and urged British and Maori to live peaceably with no more bloodshed.

The settlers and the New Zealand Company didn’t agree with the decision and did everything possible for Fitzroy to be replaced. After the Wairau incident, Te Rauparaha never returned to the Wairau Valley and he was captured in 1846 because he organised a uprising against the settlers in the Hutt Valley.

Wairau Monument
Wairau Monument © Archives New Zealand/ AAME W5603 Box 111/ 11/1/99/Image Source: flickr.com
Wairau Memorial in Tuamarina cemetery
Wairau Memorial in Tuamarina cemetery © Image Source: Wikipedia

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