Palmerston North is situated in the Kairanga County on four wide river terraces near the right bank of the Manawatu River. This forms the south-west boundary, while the rest of the city is bounded by the Manawatu Plain. Access to the east is by the Manawatu Gorge, cutting through the Tararua Ranges 15 miles away. The Manawatu Plain lies to the west and south, while to the north the land rises to the hills west of the Ruahine Range. The North Island Main Trunk railway passes through Palmerston North, as do the New Plymouth, Hawke's Bay, and Wairarapa lines. By road the city is 90 miles north-east of Wellington (87 miles by rail), 46 miles south-east of Wanganui (57 miles by rail), and 17 miles east of Woodville by road and rail. It is served by the three ports of Wellington, Auckland (339 miles north), and Wanganui, with Wellington handling 80 per cent of the shipping cargo. Mainly steel is shipped through Wanganui. Milson Airport, 3½ miles north of the city, is used by passenger, freight, and aerial-topdressing aircraft. It also has the Royal New Zealand Air Force jet-engine testing plant, workshops, and an aircraft-assembly factory. There is an emergency airport at Ohakea, 18 miles north-west.
In the early years sawmilling was the chief industry of the district, but today its main rural activities are dairying, sheep farming, mixed cropping, cattle fattening, and market gardening. Kairanga County is one of New Zealand's richest agricultural areas and is well known for its stud and pedigree farms. The functions of Palmerston North are essentially regional. It is a transport, market, and commercial centre, with a growing industrial and administrative sector. Secondary industries include foundries, engineering works, timber mills, the manufacture of concrete products, clothing factories, woollen mills, motor and tractor assembling, and printing and steel works. Fertilisers, bricks and tiles, furniture, brushware, and chemical preparations are also manufactured. Among the food industries are bacon factories, the manufacture of confectionery, ice-cream factories, a brewery, cordial manufacturers, and dairy factories. Industries in the district include a freezing works and breakfast-food factory at Longburn (3 miles south-west), and the manufacture of woolpacks, underfelt, and floor coverings at Foxton.
The importance of Palmerston North as an educational centre has become more pronounced in recent years with the opening of a Teachers' Training College and a branch of the Victoria University of Wellington. In 1963 the College amalgamated with Massey Agricultural College (established in 1926) to become Massey University College of Manawatu. Included in and around the College grounds are the Bernard Chambers Veterinary Clinic, the New Zealand Dairy Research Institute (established in 1927), and the Grasslands Division and Plant Chemistry Laboratory of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The new veterinary college is now an added facility.
The first white man known to have passed through the Manawatu lands of the Ngati Rangitane was Jack Duff, a trader, who in 1830 went up the Manawatu River in a whaleboat, going through the gorge as far as the site of the town of Woodville. He reported his discoveries to the whaling settlement at Porirua and when Colonel Wakefield arrived in New Zealand and heard of the potentialities of the Manawatu district, he visited it in 1840 and subsequently acquired land from the Maoris there. The present site of the city was not discovered by Europeans until 1846 when Charles Hartley, another trader-explorer, heard about it from the Maoris and pushed his way through dense bush to reach it. The place was a natural clearing in the bush, with an area of about 600 acres. The Maoris called it Papa-e-oia (How beautiful it is). On the completion of the Government surveys in 1866–67 the Ahuaturaga Block, including Papaeoia, was sold at the Land Office in Wellington. But the settlement faced setbacks for many years. In 1868, for instance, there were only 30 Europeans in the whole district. Finally, however, the value of the magnificent totara forest at the northern end of the settlement brought sawmillers to the area, the logs being sent downstream to Foxton for shipping. In 1869-70 the military road between Wellington and Hawke's Bay was constructed, bringing with it Cobb and Company's coaches.
It was not until the 1870s that Palmerston North started to grow with any rapidity. One of the earliest arrivals was a former Prime Minister of Denmark, Bishop Monrad. Later, when he returned to his homeland, the Bishop sent to New Zealand a band of Danish settlers who took up land near Awapuni. During the next 30 years the bush was cleared, and the extensive swamps of the Manawatu provided the basis for a flax industry, centred at first on Foxton and later on Shannon and Tokomaru. A railway line from Palmerston North to Wanganui was opened in 1878. Because Government action on the important line to Wellington was delayed, the Manawatu Railway Co., a private venture, was formed to construct it (the opening was in 1886). Five years later the line through the Manawatu Gorge to Napier was opened. Palmerston North was proclaimed a borough on 12 July 1877 and was raised to the status of a city on 11 August 1930. The town was named after Lord Palmerston.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 32,908; 1956 census, 37,775; 1961 census, 43,185.
by Susan Bailey, B.A., Research Officer, Department of Industries and Commerce, Wellington.