Wairau Affray occurred in the Wairau Valley on 17 June 1843. A party of 50 Europeans, led by Captain Arthur Wakefield and including a Police Magistrate, walked into the Wairau Valley from Nelson to deliver a warrant against Te Rauparaha and another formidable warrior chief, Rangihaeata. The warrant accused them of arson in an earlier action to prevent a European survey of the disputed Wairau Valley land.
When Wakefield’s party found the chiefs, they refused to accompany the Europeans as captives, although they agreed they would later accept adjudication on the matter of land ownership. While the two parties were conferring, a gun was accidentally fired by one of the Europeans and, during a short outburst of firing, individuals on both sides were killed. The settlers began to retreat, and Wakefield ordered them to lay down their guns in a bid to prevent further bloodshed. Some of them refused and continued to fight, and then Rangihaeata demanded utu for the death of his wife, Te Rongo, who had been killed by a stray shot. Wakefield and others in the European party were then executed.
The incident struck fear into the hearts of settlers in Nelson and Wellington, many of whom demanded that the government take revenge. After a period the Governor, Robert FitzRoy, spoke to the Maori leaders involved, including Te Rauparaha, and his verdict was that the Maori had been provoked by the unreasonable behaviour of the Europeans. FitzRoy was never forgiven for this act, which was regarded as cowardice by many of the colonists. The incident was once called perjoratively called the Wairau ‘massacre’, but it now accepted that the Maori were provoked.
The Wairau Valley, now an attractive farming locality, is about 40 km south-west of Blenheim. The Wairau River, 257 km long, rises in the Spenser Mountains, and flows through the Wairau Valley into the Pacific at Cloudy Bay.