War in Whanganui

Page 2 – Background

In May 1840 Edward Jerningham Wakefield purchased 40,000 acres (16,200 ha) of land on the banks of the lower Whanganui River from 27 chiefs. Māori received £700 worth of goods, including ‘muskets, umbrellas and Jews’ harps’.

The New Zealand Company’s second settlement, Whanganui was essentially an adjunct of Wellington. Settlers began arriving in February 1841. From the outset there was confusion about the nature and extent of the company’s land purchase. Lower-river Māori from Pūtiki pā saw the new settlement as ‘their’ town, but chiefs such as Hōri Kīngi Te Ānaua described the company’s deed as ‘of no significance’.

In 1844 Land Commissioner William Spain ruled against the company. In a judgement that mirrored his findings in Wellington, Spain accepted that most settlers had purchased land from the company in good faith. Rather than punish them by ordering the return of land, he instructed the company to pay local Māori monetary compensation. But the formula for compensation was to be worked out by the company, undermining the credibility of this solution.

Most Māori living further up the Whanganui River opposed European settlement on the river. The establishment of Whanganui town raised questions as to who had mana (traditional authority) over the river. The conflict that was to follow European settlement on the river was not simply a matter of Māori versus non-Māori.

In early 1845, the key chiefs at Pūtiki assured settlers that the original purchase would be honoured. But when fighting broke out in Hutt Valley in 1846, there were fears that Whanganui might face a similar threat. These fears were heightened when the upriver leader Tōpine Te Mamaku (Ngāti Hāua-te-rangi) with 200 men joined Te Rangihaeata in opposing European settlement in Hutt Valley. Te Mamaku led the attack on Boulcott’s Farm in which six soldiers were killed, and called on other Whanganui River Māori to join him.

Settlers had constructed a ‘Lower Stockade’ following the fighting in Wellington. When Te Mamaku returned to the Whanganui River in September 1846. he assured Whanganui’s 200 settlers that he would protect them provided no soldiers were stationed there. The British reacted by building the Rutland Stockade, which was completed in April 1847. Two blockhouses were added later.

Initially manned by the Rutlandshire Regiment, the stockade dominated the Whanganui landscape even after the withdrawal of its last garrison – the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment – in 1870. The smaller York Stockade was built nearby in June/July 1847.

How to cite this page

'Background', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/war/wanganui-war/background, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Oct-2021