Invercargill, the southernmost city in New Zealand, is situated on the banks of the Waihopai River not far from the junction with the New River estuary. To the north, west, and east of the city is open plain, which rises to the higher country of the Catlins in the east, the Hokonui Hills in the north, and the Longwood Range and Takitimu mountains in the west. The suburban areas are Rosedale, Waverley, Hawthorndale, Georgetown, Newfield, Heidelberg, Kew, Clifton, and Waikiwi. The main north line connects the city to Dunedin by rail, while provincial lines run to Bluff (17 miles south), Riverton (26 miles west), and Winton (19 miles north). By road the city is 138 miles south-west of Dunedin (139 miles by rail), 40½ miles south-west of Gore, and 18 miles from Winton. Bluff is the port, but there are also minor port facilities in the New River estuary. Tonnage handled in 1962 was 409,518 tons, the major exports being frozen meat, fish and oysters, wool, grain, and timber. A passenger service links the port with Stewart Island. There is an airport 1½ miles west of the city, although it was only in 1956 that Invercargill was connected by direct services to the main trunk air routes of the Dominion. Before that Dunedin (Taieri) was the terminus for large aircraft from the north. Gore airport is the secondary airport.
Though there is timber milling, dairying, cattle rearing, and the growing of grass for seed, the main rural activity of the district is sheep farming. On the plains, where fat lambs are raised, there is a great dependence on fodder crops. Invercargill is thus the centre of a large sheep-farming community. Its secondary industries are few – butter making, woollen manufacture, timber milling and joinery work, a flourmill, engineering works, and foundries – but its servicing industries are more important and it is a warehouse and storage centre. Many retired farmers have made their home there and it has become the social and cultural centre of the present-day Murihiku. Bluff has a freezing works at Ocean Beach (1 mile from the town) and is the centre for many commercial sea fisheries. Its secondary industries include fish processing, oyster canning, and meat preserving. There is a paper mill and freezing works at Mataura (33 miles north-east), lime quarrying at Winton, the preparation of breakfast foods at Gore, and dairy factories at Edendale (23 miles north-east), Riverton, and Wyndham (26 miles north-east). Tuatapere (56 miles north-west) is a timber-working centre.
In 1844 the surveyor Frederick Tuckett described the Invercargill region as “a mere bog and unfit for habitation”. For many years the Murihiku could claim no white inhabitants except the sealers and whalers who found temporary anchorages in its harbours and made temporary homes on its shores. In 1853 the district was purchased from the Maoris and the initial £1,000 deposit was paid at Bluff. In that year James Kelly, a sealer and whaler, proceeded inland and gained the impression that the place was suitable for settlement. He married a Maori wife and, after her death, journeyed to Dunedin, where he married a Scottish widow. It was this pair who travelled from Dunedin to Bluff by sea in 1855 to become the first settlers on the site of Invercargill, which for a time was known as Kelly's Point. By October 1856 there was quite a little settlement, but most of the inhabitants were living under canvas. On 6 November the Star arrived in the New River estuary with 30 passengers. In 1857 a post office was established and the first sale of town sections took place on 20 March 1857. At a banquet in Dunedin, Colonel Gore Browne, the Governor, suggested that the settlement be named after Captain William Cargill, the Superintendent of Otago. J. T. Thomson, the first surveyor of Otago, planned the town and it was surveyed by George Hartley in 1859. By this time there were over 200 dwellings and the number of inhabitants was close on 1,000.
In 1861 Southland became a separate province, with Invercargill as its capital. Before long the young province became involved in financial difficulties and suffered from a general exodus of population after the gold discoveries of the early sixties. There followed a period of stagnation, but a revival came in 1869 and 1870 when Sir Julius Vogel's public works scheme brought huge sums of borrowed money and thousands of immigrants to the country, many of whom settled in the South. With this impetus, Invercargill grew steadily. It was made a borough in 1871 when the first town council was elected. It became a city in 1930.
by Susan Bailey, B.A., Research Officer, Department of Industries and Commerce, Wellington.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 31,613; 1956 census, 35,107; 1961 census, 41,088.