Heritage, Culture & Arts

Marlborough’s rich history runs wide and deep, from the earliest Polynesian settlers of the Wairau Bar to the first European pioneers who built our towns and planted our first grapevines.

These people, the way they lived their lives and how they dealt with history’s major events has shaped Marlborough into what it is today. Those stories are all here, waiting to be discovered all over again.

Marlborough has a wealth of arts and culture, from art galleries to museums through to concerts and theatre productions.

Follow the Marlborough Arts and Crafts Trail, enjoy a glass of wine while listening to live music at a vineyard or on stage at Marlborough's new ASB Theatre.

Wairau Affray Heritage

At a small rest area alongside State Highway 1 north of Blenheim, a gnarled old titoki tree marks the spot where Marlborough's bloodiest battle took place between Māori and Europeans.

Known as the Wairau Affray, Ngati Toa chiefs, men, women and children faced a group of armed Europeans across the Tuamarina Stream on June 17, 1843.

Nine Māori and 22 Europeans died in the clash, which was the first serious clash of arms between Māori and British settlers after the signing of New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi and which reflected wider Māori feelings of grievance.

The clash was over legally-owned Wairau land that had been included in a fraudulent deed by European settlers, and which Ngati Toa chiefs Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata tried to protect for their people.

The issue resulted in a warrant of arrest being executed for Te Rauparaha by almost 50 armed Europeans - mostly labourers without firearms experience.

The titoki tree stood central to the ensuing clash.

Following the affray, Ngati Toa left Marlborough and many Te Atiawa in Queen Charlotte Sound returned to Taranaki.

In 1844 the chiefs were officially found to be right: the Wairau had not been sold. If the matter had gone to court as planned, before the settlers took up arms, the affray would likely have been avoided.

In 1869 the Nelson community erected a memorial at nearby Tuamarina Cemetery to remember the European casualties of the affray. The memorial still stands.

Today Ngati Toa is acknowledged as guardian of the site, in accordance with their Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

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