Hamilton is situated on the Waikato Plains on the banks of the Waikato River, 80 miles from its mouth. The city, surrounded by hills, lies in a basin comprising rolling land, low hills, and extensive swamps. Claudelands, Fairfield, Hillcrest, Hamilton East, Melville, and Beerescourt are residential suburbs, while Frankton has been partly zoned for industry. The Main Trunk railway passes through Frankton (1 mile west) and branch lines run to Thames (61 miles north-east), Rotorua (86 miles south-east), and Tauranga. By road the city is 82 miles south-east of Auckland (85 miles by rail), 67 miles west of Tauranga (95 miles by rail), and 49 miles north of Te Kuiti (42 miles by rail). Auckland, Tauranga, and Raglan (31 miles south-east by road) are the three ports serving the city. At Rukuhia, 7 miles south, there is an airport, used mainly by passenger aircraft, although several aerial-topdressing firms have chosen it as their headquarters.
The most important rural activity is dairying, for the surrounding country is very rich when it is properly drained and supplied with the appropriate fertilisers. The district is also noted for sheep and stock raising on the higher land. Around Hamilton the farms are small and, consequently, the density of rural population is great. The city is a major communications, distributing, and business centre, but also supports a variety of secondary industries. These include dairy factories, brewing, boxmaking, engineering and metal working, aerated-water factories, bacon and ham processing, sawmilling and brickworks. Stock foods, farm implements and machinery, joinery, and prefabricated buildings are also manufactured. The majority of the factories are located between the central business area and Frankton. There is a freezing works at Horotiu, 9 miles north-west.
Two important establishments in the vicinity of Hamilton are the Ruakura Animal Research Station (of 970 acres), near Claudelands, and the Rukuhia Soil Research Station (of 60 acres), 7 miles south. The former was an experimental farm in 1899, but became a farm of instruction in 1912. In 1939 it was organised to investigate various problems associated with farm animals. The station at Rukuhia studies soil fertility, the effects of fertilisers, weed control, and related subjects. Also in Hamilton is a teachers' training college and the new University of Waikato. Other educational institutions include four public and two private post-primary schools, two intermediate, and 19 primary schools.
The town of Hamilton was established on the site of a deserted Maori village called “Kirikiriroa”, on the western bank of the river, by military settlers who comprised the Waikato Militia. The First Waikato Regiment was dispatched to Tauranga, the Second Waikatos to Pirongia and Kihikihi, the Third Waikatos to Te Kowhai, Ngaruawahia, and Cambridge, and the Fourth Waikatos settled at Hamilton. According to rank, each man was allotted a farming section of 50 acres or more and a town acre. The advance party of 118 men under Captain W. Steele landed from the river gunboat Rangiriri on 24 August 1864.
Two settlements came into being, one on each bank, and until the late seventies were separate town districts called Hamilton West and Hamilton East. Canoes and, later, punts provided access between the townships. A fleet of river steamships ran between Port Waikato and Hamilton. In 1867 the road was opened to Auckland and a regular coach service commenced. On 19 December 1877 the railway from Auckland reached Hamilton.
Fibre production from native flax was the staple industry in the early years, but by intelligent methods of husbandry and especially by the introduction of superphosphates during the closing decades of last century, land formerly not valued for agricultural purposes has been made very productive. The city is named after Captain John C. F. Hamilton, the commander of HMS Esk, who was killed while leading the Naval Brigade at the Battle of Gate Pa, near Tauranga. Kirikiriroa, the original Maori name, refers to “a long stretch of gravel” by the riverside. Hamilton was proclaimed a borough on 27 December 1877 and reached city status on 13 December 1945.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 33,137; 1956 census, 40,646; 1961 census, 50,505.
by Susan Bailey, B.A., Research Officer, Department of Industries and Commerce, Wellington.