Story: New Zealand wars

Page 3. Wellington and Whanganui wars, 1846–1848

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Martial law in Wellington

From the time that British settlers arrived in the Wellington area in 1839, land disputes had caused friction between Māori and settlers. British troops exchanged fire with Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Rangatahi near Fort Richmond in the Hutt Valley on 3 March 1846, leading Governor George Grey to declare martial law in Wellington. Māori retreated but on 2 April 1846 killed Lower Hutt settlers Andrew Gillespie and his son, heightening tensions. Several weeks later, on 16 May 1846, Māori attacked the redoubt at Boulcott’s farm, killing eight of its defenders.

Extending martial law

Further military posts were then constructed along the Wellington–Porirua road. Barracks were built at Paremata for British reinforcements, initially 20 men of the 58th Regiment commanded by Major Edward Last. On 18 June, hearing that a war party was approaching from the north, Grey extended martial law to include Whanganui. He also travelled to Waikanae to urge Te Āti Awa to intercept the war party as it moved south, which they agreed to do.

Arresting Te Rauparaha

Grey decided to arrest Ngāti Toa chief Te Rauparaha, whom he blamed for the Hutt Valley attacks. On 23 July 1846 a naval party raided Te Rauparaha’s village, Taupō (near Porirua), and took the elderly chief into custody, along with other key allies. When news of these arrests reached his nephew, Te Rangihaeata, a rescue attempt by 50 fighters was mounted but easily driven off.

End of Wellington war

The remnants of Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Tama, Ngāti Rangatahi and their allies then retreated into the hills above Pāuatahanui, pursued by the British army and their Māori allies from Wellington. Te Rangihaeata’s people eventually reached Poroutawhao in Horowhenua where they were allowed to settle in peace.

Whanganui: tensions rise

Disputed land purchases around the settlement of Whanganui also caused tensions between Māori and settlers. The Ngāti Hāua-te-rangi chief Tōpine Te Mamaku had returned from fighting at Boulcott’s farm and warned settlers not to station troops at Whanganui. However, troops arrived in December 1846. Tensions were heightened on 16 April 1847 when Whanganui chief Hapurona Ngārangi was shot, supposedly accidentally, while working aboard the brig Calliope.

Attack on Gilfillan farm

Possibly in reaction to Ngārangi’s wounding, some followers of Te Mamaku attacked the Gilfillan farm in the isolated Matarawa valley in April 1847, killing four members of the family. The perpetrators of these killings were apprehended and all but one were hanged on 26 April.

Whanganui attack

Under the leadership of Te Mamaku, Whanganui Māori gathered upriver, and on 19 May 1847 several hundred fighters attacked Whanganui town, looting and destroying property and raiding outlying farms. A British gunboat entered the fray from the river but had negligible impact. British troops and Whanganui settlers took refuge within the Rutland stockade and withstood the attacks, which came to within 300 metres of the fortification.

Peace terms

On 20 July 1847 the British moved out of the stockade to engage Te Mamaku at St John’s Wood. The inconclusive battle left Māori with few options but to withdraw. Governor Grey pressed for peace and on 21 February 1848 announced that he had reached agreement with Te Mamaku, bringing peace to Whanganui.

How to cite this page:

Danny Keenan, 'New Zealand wars - Wellington and Whanganui wars, 1846–1848', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 October 2021)

Story by Danny Keenan, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 8 Feb 2017