Topic: Hamilton’s history: from militia settlement to city
A brief overview of Hamilton's progress from when the first permanent European settlers arrived in 1864, until 1945 when its population reached 20, 000 and it became a city.
The history of Hamilton and the surrounding area is dominated by the Waikato River. Over thousands of years its altering course has resulted in the creation of numerous lakes, such as Hamilton Lake, and deposits of silt have built up the rich alluvial soils of the Waikato basin.
Waikato's fertile soils have supported human occupation since at least the 16th Century. Kirikiriroa was one of several Ngatiwairere settlements along the Waikato River. Other pa sites included Te Rapa and Miropiko.
The first permanent European settlers arrived by river in 1864. The 4th Waikato Militia Regiment landed at Kirikiriroa on 24 August and built redoubts on opposite sides of the river at what are now the sites of St Peters Cathedral and the Hamilton East end of Bridge Street. William Moule, the commanding officer of the 4th Waikato, named the new settlement after Captain John Charles Fane Hamilton, a naval officer who had been killed at the Battle of Gate Pa.
Initial growth of the settlement was slow and by 1868 the population consisted of only 250 people. For many years contact between the two communities was by punt and each had their own town board. But conditions slowly began to improve. A railway station was opened at Frankton Junction in 1877 and the need to pool resources for a traffic bridge linking Hamilton West and Hamilton East led to the amalgamation of the town boards in the same year. I. R. Vialou was elected as the first mayor of Hamilton Borough in 1878 and the following year the appropriately named Union Bridge was opened.
Other elements of infrastructure steadily followed. In 1886 the Waikato Hospital Board was formed. The streets of Hamilton were lit by gas in 1895 and the water works were completed in 1903. The next year the telephone exchange opened with 39 subscribers.
By 1906 the population of Hamilton was over 2100 with a further 800 people living outside the boundary in Claudelands and Frankton. The borough of Hamilton continued to expand, taking in Claudelands in 1912 and in 1917 amalgamating with that of Frankton. The 1945 census revealed Hamilton's population to have reached 22,000, enabling the borough to formally call itself a city.