The Blenkinsop Indenture: Dirty deeds done dirt cheap!

The Blenkinsop Indenture: Dirty deeds done dirt cheap!

The story of the 1832 deed for the purchase of the Wairau valley from Ngāti Toa by Captain John William Dundas Blenkinsop. By Curator Historic Māori Visual Materials Matiu Baker.

Deed of sale of Cloudy Bay from Te Rauparaha, Te Rangihaeata, et al to John Blenkinsopp October 1832 On loan from Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga (NZC133 24/1)
Detail from the deed of sale of Cloudy Bay from Te Rauparaha, Te Rangihaeata, et al to John Blenkinsopp October 1832
On loan from Archives New Zealand Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga (NZC133 24/1)

The 1832 Blenkinsop Indenture is best known for two things. Firstly, as a duplicitous land purchase agreement for the Wairau valley, which was later purchased by the New Zealand Company (N.Z. Co) in an attempt to wrest it from its Ngāti Toa owners with tragic results. And for the elaborate and expertly rendered pencil drawing of the moko (facial tattoo) that appears on the deed, long assumed to be that of Te Rauparaha.

The circumstances around the events associated with the Blenkinsop Indenture and its key protagonists appears as a tragic sequence of coincidental relationships. A kind of ‘perfect storm’, that occurs out of the convergence of colonial artifice, greed and ambition.

It’s also interesting to observe that the indenture’s elaborate moko, so long attributed to Te Rauparaha, may in fact represent another of its signatories. But more on that later.

The 1843 Wairau Conflict

View looking west over the Wairau Plain with the Tuamarina Stream winding across it
View looking west over the Wairau Plain with the Tuamarina Stream winding across it. In the foreground is a fenced grave for the Pakeha victims of the ‘Wairau Incident’ of 17 June 1843. Image: Gold, Charles Emilius, 1809-1871 :Wairau April 1851.. Ref: A-329-014. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23236682

On 17 June 1843 an envoy of special constables led by Nelson Police Magistrate Henry Thompson and Captain Arthur Wakefield, principal land agent for the privately owned N.Z. Co., arrived at Tuamarina on the Wairau river to execute an arrest warrant for Ngāti Toa chiefs Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata on charges of arson. The chiefs were charged with evicting surveyors from lands purchased by the company and setting fire to the buildings they had constructed on the fertile, but disputed, Wairau Plains valley for future settlement. The resulting encounter, variously referred to as the Wairau Massacre, the Wairau Incident, and the Wairau Affray, remains one of the most notorious and bloody events of our early colonial history.

Scene of the Wairau Massacre
Gold, Charles Emilius, 1809-1871. [Gold, Charles Emilius] 1809-1871 :Scene of the Wairau Massacre, New Zealand [April 1851]. Ref: B-103-030. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22441327
Thompson and Wakefield arrived at Tuamarina with 47 armed settlers to confront Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata, who were encamped in a small clearing with about 120 armed men, women and children. Ngāti Toa had vigorously protested against N.Z. Co claims for the Wairau, which was premised entirely upon the company’s purchase of the flawed 1832 Blenkinsop Indenture.

In response to Ngāti Toa’s protests the colonial government appointed Land Commissioner William Spain to investigate the purchase. But impatiently, and unwisely, the N.Z. Co saw an opportunity to prosecute the matter when Ngāti Toa evicted surveyors and burned their make-shift buildings.

Tua Marina River, scene of the Wairau Massacre, Blenheim, by Burton Brothers studio. Te Papa (C.013108)

When an exasperated and intemperate Thompson pressed Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata to submit to the warrant, willingly or by use of force, even producing the manacles with which they would be restrained, he unknowingly set in motion a tragic sequence of events.

The tension was now palpable as Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata refused to accept Thompsons’ terms. Thompson called upon his men to join them in a show of force when one of the party accidentally discharged his weapon while crossing the river. Ngāti Toa immediately responded and the two sides exchanged a series of volleys leaving dead and wounded on both sides. Among the dead lay Te Rongo, recently taken into Te Rangihaeata’s care after her husband Te Whāiti, Te Rangihaeata’s first-cousin, had died.

Charles Heaphy Rangiaeata. 1840. Ref C-025-022 ATL
Te Rangihaeata, also known as Mokau, epitomised the classical warrior chief. Born into Ngāti Toa’s aristocratic Ariki class, he was classically educated and an expert in tribal histories, genealogy, and a master carver. Tall (about 6.2″), and powerful,with a muscular physique, and possessing a passionate temperament, Te Rangihaeata was often misunderstood and maligned by Pākehā. His determination to maintain customary practices, his refusal to adopt European clothing, and his persistent maintenance of Maori property rights brought him into conflict with colonial authorities. Image: Heaphy, Charles, 1820-1881. Heaphy, Charles 1820-1881 :Rangiaeata. 1840. Ref: C-025-022. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22837595

Captain Wakefield ordered the men to down weapons and signalled their submission. Some of the party took this opportunity to quietly slip away into the surrounding bush. The remaining captives disarmed and rounded up, seated themselves on the ground. Before long an enraged Te Rangihaeata strode up the hill toward the group, according to some accounts casually dispatching the wounded as he went, until he arrived among the assembly demanding that Te Rauparaha hand over the captives to him as utu (cultural redress) for the death of Te Rongo. Te Rauparaha appealed to Te Rangihaeata reminding him that there were dead on both sides, but he remained unmoved.

Coates, Isaac. E Ranguera. Rangiahaeta's wife. The woman that was killed at the "Wiaroi". [1843?]. Ref: A-286-015. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Te Rangiuira, one of Te Rangihaeata’s wives, was one of a group of subjects painted by Quaker Isaac Coates at Nelson in March 1843 while Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata visited Nelson to express their ongoing going over New Zealand Company claims to Wairau. Te Rangiuira was later misattributed as Te Rongo, another wife, who was shot and killed in the opening volley of shots fired at the Wairau Incident. According to notes in James Cowans papers Te Rangiuira died in 1852. Image: Coates, Isaac, 1808-1878. [Coates, Isaac] 1808-1878 :E Ranguera. Rangiahaeta’s wife. The woman that was killed at the “Wiaroi”. [1843?]. Ref: A-286-015. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22710428
Te Rangihaeata executed Police Magistrate Henry Thompson, Captain Arthur Wakefield and several other captives, probably using his pātītī, a tomahawk made from trade axe-heads. In all, 22 settlers lost their lives that day, at least half of which left families behind. It struck fear into the hearts of the small settler town of Nelson, which was only established the previous year, and was the first major conflict of its type following the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Although it wasn’t to be the last.

Land of memories, The monument at Tuamarina
Land of memories: The monument at Tuamarina, 25 February 1988, Marlborough, by Mark Adams. Purchased 1996 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (O.004170)

When Te Rauparaha was interviewed by Governor Fitzroy on 12 February 1844, nearly a year after the incident at Waikanae, he said:

“Land was the foundation of all their troubles. The Europeans say it is theirs, but who says so besides themselves. The Tory came to Port Nicholson, and that was the commencement of the evil.”

Read Part Two


  1. Joseph Thoms in his Schooner,the Three brothers transported te Rauparaha down to the Wairau from Kapiti .

    1. Author

      Yes, and Te Rangihaeata! the Three Brothers was brand new at the time, having been built earlier that year. She has been described as ‘most beautiful’ and well fitted out inside and out with a yacht-like appearance and equipped for whaling. All the crew gave evidence following the Wairau Incident.

  2. We need this information, this education, so much! Thank you for taking the suppressed narrative and bringing it into the light.

  3. Kia ora Matiu,
    very good post.

    Young McKillop who was also there wrote entries into his journal and I believe some of the sketches of where everyone stood is in his journal.
    He also talked about what he heard Police Magistrate Thompson call out; Some say he said “forward Englishmen forward!” and others said it sounded like “fire Englishmen fire!”.
    After viewing evidence of the bullet wound to Te Rongo, it had been claimed she was hit with a settled marksman shot passing in direct line from temple to temple.
    If anyone knew about the indenture more than anyone else, it would have been Te Rongo and if she had lived, as my mother always said, she would have been able to reveal the true intent of her husbands motivations and how this indenture was signed in the first place.
    So there are more details yet to be drawn out and discussed, although it was very obvious the desperate situation Arthur Wakefield found himself in on behalf of the NZ Company and was trying all he could to secure lands he sold back in England before even buying it off the Māori land owners here in Aotearoa New Zealand.
    It is a shame that many innocents were pulled into this unnecessary affray and could have been avoided if Arthur Wakefield had not pushed and egged Henry Thompson into pursuing Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata.
    All this over his own illegal purchase and the chiefs exercising their landlord duties to move surveyors off their lands for trespassing. Surveyors were unharmed, clothing and blankets even folded and boxed, they were ferried by canoe to a boat and returned to Nelson.
    I believe Te Rauparaha had wished for the best, but prepared always for the worst.
    Thank you for this awakening updated article Matiu.

    1. Author

      Tēnā koe e te tuakana e Toa
      Thank you for your kind words Toa. It’s gratifying to know you enjoyed the blog. Yes, I think this event deserves a more thorough and nuanced retelling. Certainly more so than I could do here in a blog. Ngā mihi nui e te whanaunga.

  4. Kia ora! How names change: When I grew up in Koromiko, we drove past the “Wairau Massacre” site at Tua Marina. Then, for a while, we drove past the place where the “Wairau Incident” occurred. Now, visitors to the site arrive where the “Wairau Affray” happened. What will the next name be? This is a good post, by the way. Excellent coverage of the facts too. Interestingly, (Land) Commissioner Spain was unequivocal: it was Ngati Toa land still. Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata tried to use the law before they resorted to guns, but when this failed…

    1. Author

      Thanks Lloyd. I quite like Te Rauparaha’s comment, ‘“Land was the foundation of all their troubles. The Europeans say it is theirs, but who says so besides themselves.”
      Ngā mihi

  5. To know our history …both sides … is to begin on a path to peace and reconciliation.

    1. Author

      Thank you Ruth. Yes, ‘from knowledge comes understanding..’ as they say.

  6. My Great Great Grandmother’s first husband, John Brookes, was one of the settlers killed. He was Arthur Wakefield’s translator, obviously not a very good one! Emily, his wife, was left with two young children but she went on to marry my Great Great Grandfather and here I am. If it wasn’t for the Wairau I wouldn’t be here so there are some positives stemming from that disaster!

    1. Author

      Thank you for responding to the blog Nancy. I think poor Mr Brooks found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. What I’ve always enjoyed is being able to locate yourself in the stories and narratives of our own unique Aotearoa New Zealand history.

  7. This is a really great post. Thank you, The illustrations add hugely, taking me back to the time of the “Incident”. Thanks again.

    1. Author

      Thank you Ian, glad you enjoyed it.

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