By 1837 Kororāreka in the Far North was evolving, leaving behind its notorious reputation as a hell-hole. Prior to the arrival of migrants, Kororāreka—"the beach of shells" —was originally a kainga. Then it became a whaling-station; and earned notoriety as a piratical stronghold, and the pandemonium of the Pacific. An uprising of undesirables in the town brought about disruption, and serious crimes flourished. One example was the robbery of John Wright’s store where three men demanded tobacco and gunpowder. There was also a perceived threat of riot and attacks from Māori.
In response to the rising crime, colonists with businesses and property formed the Kororāreka Association on 23 May 1838. This vigilante group without any legal framework for law enforcement, made up the rules to suit themselves. Members encouraged people to conform to their laws by various means including fines and coercion. These men made decisions, gave themselves powers to arrest and brought people to trial and punished them. Every member armed himself.
The Association existed alongside James Busby, the British Government representative who was expected, but not resourced, to provide order.
When Governor Hobson arrived in 1840 the unofficial group was disbanded. However, at times new official police joined with ex-members, now called the Kororāreka Volunteers, to control any obstruction or turmoil.