Land Claims Commissioner William Spain’s 1844 decision on the New Zealand Company purchase resolved nothing. Ngāti Rangatahi and Ngāti Tama refused to leave the Hutt Valley, and were now regarded as trespassers.
In March 1844 Spain visited the Ngāti Tama chief Te Kāeaea at his pa, Maraenuku (near the current Boulcott Golf Course in central Lower Hutt). Te Kāeaea and his people were cutting a line in the bush ‘according to the directions of [Te] Rauparaha’ in order ‘to divide between the lands of the European and our own.’ Te Kāeaea insisted that Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata had refused to agree to the boundaries set by Spain for the New Zealand Company. To reinforce this point, by the end of May Te Rangihaeata was camped in the upper Hutt Valley with 500 followers.
Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata were now divided over continuing Māori occupation of the Hutt Valley. When the two chiefs met at Ōtaki in March 1845, Te Rangihaeata accepted that the matter now rested with Ngāti Rangatahi, Ngāti Tama and the government. But he also made it clear he would not allow the iwi to abandon their claims in the Hutt. He sent word to Ngāti Rangatahi that he would support them if they were attacked by the Europeans.
Te Kāeaea maintained his position at Maraenuku. In early 1846, with the Northern War with Hōne Heke and Kawiti at an end, the new Governor, George Grey, turned his attention to the Wellington region. He arrived with soldiers and two navy vessels. Grey met Te Kāeaea, who promised to withdraw his people from the Hutt Valley once they were compensated for the 300 acres of potatoes they had growing there. Grey was adamant that there would be no discussion of compensation until Ngāti Tama had actually left.
Grey then met the Ngāti Rangatahi leader, Kāparatehau. Once more the issue of compensation was raised. Once more Grey made it clear that no negotiations would take place until the land had been cleared.
By late February Ngāti Rangatahi and Ngāti Tama had left the valley. Immediately settlers began to take possession of the land. Maraenuku was destroyed and the village’s chapel and urupā (cemetery) were desecrated in the process. Incensed by these actions, Ngāti Rangatahi and Ngāti Tama returned to the disputed land and attacked settlers’ property.
Some of Te Rangihaeata’s warriors took part in the plunder and looting of settlers’ property. Grey sent troops to the area and a number of forts were built. On 3 March 1846, a company of the 96th Regiment repulsed a Māori attack at Taita and Grey declared martial law. The British positions in the Hutt were strengthened in anticipation of further fighting.
Richard Taylor, a missionary from Whanganui, had helped persuade Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Rangatahi to leave the valley. Following the settler occupation of the abandoned land, Te Kāeaea informed Taylor: ‘I thought the word of a Governor was sacred, but now I see that he too is worth nothing in the eyes of his own people’. Taylor received a similar message from an angry Te Rangihaeata, although the chief also said that he had written to Kāparatehau ordering him to return any property looted from settler houses.
Te Rangihaeata told Taylor that the situation would be resolved if Kāparatehau was given some land. He urged Taylor to inform Grey of this fact. Te Rangihaeata was reluctant to meet Grey himself as he had heard that the Governor planned to arrest and hang him for his role in the Wairau incident. He stressed that he had no desire to fight.