The Wairau incident had its origins in the migration of Ngati Toa and their allies from Kawhia to the Kapiti region of the southern North Island. Led by Te Rauparaha and armed with muskets, Ngati Toa had defeated traditionally armed local tribes Rangitane, Ngati Apa and Muaupoko. After the decisive battle for Kapiti Island in 1824 Ngati Toa extended its sphere of influence into the South Island. Combining brute force with diplomacy, Te Rauparaha developed and fostered alliances with other tribes to maintain control of the lands throughout the Cook Strait region. Kapiti became the centre of a lucrative maritime trading empire. Trade with Pakeha was nurtured and whalers and traders were encouraged to live among Ngati Toa.
It was with these conquering tribes that the New Zealand Company had to negotiate when it arrived in 1839. The Company, through the operations of its chief negotiator Colonel William Wakefield, eventually claimed to have purchased 1.2 million hectares on both sides of Cook Strait. On the basis of three dubious (and soon discredited) purchases, the Company set about establishing its main settlement at Port Nicholson (Wellington), where the first settlers arrived in January 1840.
Port Nicholson struggled to establish itself. Flooding in the Hutt Valley forced the settlers to abandon their original site. When they moved across the harbour to Te Aro and (present-day) Thorndon they ran into more problems. The Maori occupants of these sites denied the Company’s claims to the area. Reliance on Maori for their well-being did not sit well with many Company settlers. They viewed Maori as meddlesome and a hindrance to European settlement.
The second of the Company’s planned settlements was Nelson. The Company claimed to have purchased land at Port Whakatu (Nelson) from Ngati Toa in 1839. Captain Arthur Wakefield, William’s brother, negotiated with the resident Te Tau Ihu chiefs who rejected Ngati Toa’s claims to the area.
By the end of February 1842 there were 500 settlers in Nelson with a further 1500 on the way. Nelson Maori initially benefited from supplying the new settlers with food but relations began to sour when both the Company and Crown reneged on certain terms of their purchases. When the Company decided to push ahead with plans to survey the Wairau plains things took a serious turn for the worse.
How to cite this page: 'Ngati Toa and the New Zealand Company ', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/wairau-incident/ngati-toa-and-the-new-zealand-company, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012