James Wynen was one of Marlborough’s first shopkeeper and one of its earliest businessmen. He and his brother William established a store at the entrance of the Wairau Bar in the 1840s while across the river, Francis MacDonald ran a rival business. Foundations of Wynen’s store have been excavated in recent years.
Mr Wynen also built a raupo warehouse and hotel upstream at the confluence of the Taylor (then Omaka) and Ōpaoa Rivers. The warehouse later became a shop.
When Wynen’s businesses were joined by Scotsman James Sinclair’s rival shop in 1852, the beginning of modern-day Blenheim was formed.
But Wynen’s story goes much deeper than his role as businessman.
When he left for a visit to Nelson in 1842, his Maori wife Rangihaua Kuika and 18-month-old son were brutally murdered. Their baby daughter was taken in by others, but died a few days later.
Everyone knew who was responsible - Richard Cook, who walked free. At his trial in the Supreme Court in Wellington, his own wife Kataraina gave evidence of his guilt. However, according to English law a wife could not give testimony against her husband and Kataraina's evidence was dismissed.
It has been claimed that ongoing tensions in the wake of the acquittal, which caused further disillusionment among Maori already weary of the English justice system, carried over to some degree to the Wairau Affray at Tuamarina which followed in June 1843.