The history of Hamilton began on August 24, 1864, when the vessel Rangiriri
landed a group of settlers at Kirikiriroa. The smallest of three large Maori villages in
the area, Kirikiriroa was first settled by the Ngatiwairere, a sub-tribe of the Tainui,
around 1700, on the western side of the river. Today, a plaque on the front wall of the
Public Trust Office, in Victoria Street, marks the
northern boundary of the original pa site.
At the time of settlement, two other Maori villages shared the area, one being
Te Rapa Pa, the other, on the east side of the river, Miropiko Pa, named after a crooked
Miro tree growing on a nearby hilltop.
Hamilton, proclaimed a borough in 1877, was named after Captain John Charles
Fane Hamilton, who met his death in the battle of Gate Pa. First mayor of the fledging
city was Isaac R. Vialou, an architect of some renown with several other business
interests in the area. He held office till February 1878.
More fascinating firsts in the region included the arrival of Walter Hamilton
Nairn as the first white baby born. Having misfortune to be the first white fatality was
Private Norris, who upset a load of firewood on himself. Andrew Kay became proud owner of
the first store in the area when he had premises built on the corner of Clyde and Grey
Streets, in East Hamilton. Captain James McPherson of the 93rd and 70th Regiments entered
history as the first member of Parliament for the Waikato Electorate, a position he held
for one year.
An early aviator landed the first bi-plane in Hamilton at Claudelands
Showgrounds in 1920. Claudelands, originally covering 400 acres, was named after Francis
Richard Claude, third owner of the land. Long before the showgrounds came into being, Hamilton began its proud tradition
of A and P shows in 1892, on grounds covered in scrub and cabbage trees. Despite the
rugged terrain, the show was a huge success, playing host to such persons of importance as
the colonial governor of the day.
Movies first came to Hamilton when films were shown in the King's Theatre in
1911, followed by a touch of Hollywood with film-making in the 1920's. Rudall Hayward, New
Zealand's leading film producer of the time, created the first community comedy in
Hamilton in those times. This saucy epic, originally filmed as "Hamilton's Hectic
Husbands," had its title rejected by the censor! The film, renamed "Military
Defaulters and Others," first screened in Hamilton in 1928. The children of today see
worse items in cartoons!
On the industrial front, business saw a surge of expansion after the Second
World War, with a fifth of the workforce involved in manufacture by 1961. In the same
period, service and commercial activities to complement industry accounted for more than
half the workforce. Notable on the industrial scene early in the century were Ellis and Bernard,
timber merchants from 1905, and the concrete business established by the Firth family in
1910. When Mary Jane Innes, wife of Charles, bought Waikato Breweries in 1889, she
laid the foundations not only of today's brewery but also of the soft-drink giant that
became Oasis Industries Ltd in 1979.