Marton is situated in the lower Rangitikei basin on the Tutaenui Stream, a north-bank tributary of the Rangitikei River. The surrounding country is alluvial plain. About 6 miles to the north and north-east of the town the land rises to the hilly hinterland. The New Plymouth – Wellington and North Island Main Trunk lines meet at Marton Junction, 2 miles south-east. By road Wanganui is 23 miles north-west (28 miles by rail from Marton Junction), Taihape is 49 miles north-east (45 miles by rail), and Palmerston North is 27 miles southeast (29 miles by rail).
The main rural activities of the district are sheep raising, mixed farming, and dairying. There is a butter factory at Rata (12 miles north-east). Marton is a servicing and distributing centre with well-developed secondary industries. These include sawmilling, timber impregnation, joinery and furniture making, general engineering, motor-body building, the manufacture of clothing and textiles (chenille), wool scouring, seed cleaning, and flourmilling, and the manufacture of concrete products.
In pre-European times an important Maori track followed the Rangitikei Valley and the river carried canoe traffic. The Rangitikei Block, an area extending from the vicinity of Rata to the sea and bounded by the lower courses of the Turakina and Rangitikei Rivers, was purchased on behalf of the Crown by Donald McLean on 15 May 1849. G. F. Swainson, who was established at Tututotara in 1858, was probably the earliest permanent European settler in the Marton district. By the early 1860s rough roads had been constructed linking the district with Wanganui. The future town site was close to a place used by drovers for watering their stock and at which an early accommodation house was built. Four settlers, Charles Follett, Robert Signal, and Thomas and Richard Morris, who were the owners of three 60-acre sections near the accommodation house, subdivided their properties into town lots and sold them for a private township in 1866. The first section to be subdivided and sold was that belonging to Signal. His subdivision was named Tutaenui, after the nearby stream. The adjoining subdivisions adopted the same name, and it distinguished the township from a farming settlement 4 miles north which was already called Upper Tutaenui. For a short period during 1868 the settlers in the lower Rangitikei Valley feared raids by hostile Maoris, and blockhouses for defence and refuge were constructed at several places in the district including Marton (then Tutaenui). Later in 1868 the Marton blockhouse was demolished and St. Stephen's Anglican Church was erected on the site. The first major industry in the town was a flourmill, which was established in 1864 and is still working on its original site. The railway from Aramoho reached Turakina in January 1878 and in February was at Marton Junction (until 1885 called Puketapa). In May of the same year the Halcombe – Marton Junction section was opened and the Government line was thus completed between Foxton and Wanganui via Palmerston North and Marton Junction. Rochfort and a party commenced the survey for the North Island Main Trunk line from the vicinity of Marton in June 1883, and shortly afterwards bridle tracks were cut that later developed into a more or less contiguous highway. Construction of the first section of the North Island Main Trunk from Marton Junction began in April 1885 and the line reached Mangaweka in November 1902. At a public meeting in 1869 it was resolved to rename the town Marton in commemoration of the birthplace of Captain James Cook. As a private township Marton was not originally endowed with Crown land for domains and parks, but this lack has been met by liberal gifts of private land for recreational purposes and by the purchase of suitable areas by public subscription. Marton was created a town district in 1869; in 1879 it was constituted a borough.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 3,475; 1956 census, 4,001; 1961 census, 4,317.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.