The Settlement of Feilding and the Manchester Block

From 1830-1870 there was widespread discontent and hardship amongst the rural population in England. One of the protests was made to the 7th Duke of Manchester in Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire and as a result the Emigrants' and Colonists' Aid Corporation was formed in 1867 with the Duke as Chairman and other members being the Earl of Denbigh, Lord Ashurst, Mr Balfour, Colonel HW Feilding, and Mr Bailey as secretary. They subscribed large sums of money to float the venture but the corporation's purpose was a combination of business and philanthropy.
Colonel Feilding came to New Zealand in 1871 and bought 106,000 acres from the Government for £75,000 (this had been part of the Rangitikei/Manawatu block purchased five years before from the Maori for £25,000). The Corporation agreed to bring 2000 immigrants before 1877 and the NZ Government undertook to pay their £15 passage, accomodate them on arrival and employ 200 men a year on public works in the area.
Arthur Halcombe was appointed the Corporation's NZ agent, with D.H. Macarthur and Mr Maysmoor his sub-agents. Halcombe had arrived in Rangitikei in 1855, managing Sir William Fox's estate at Westoe and acted as Provincial Secretary and Treasurer from 1864-1870.
The first carefully selected immigrants arrived on the "Duke of Edinburgh" in 1874 and by August, 614 settlers had arrived on the Salisbury, Ocean Mail, Mongol, Woodlark, Golden Sea, La Hogue, Waikato and Euterpe. From Wellington they landed at the mouth of the Manawatu river and travelled 25 miles over half-formed roads from Foxton to Palmerston North where they bought stores and equipment before embarking on the eleven mile journey to Feilding using bullock drays and horse wagons. The first settlers were housed in tents in a clearing in the bush until barracks were built.
Halcombe was careful to keep the settlers together rather than letting them choose sites at random and by the end of 1874, 50 cottages had been built, ten miles of road cleared, 3 miles of road and 2 miles of tramway laid. This must have seemed very different compared to the English villages and countryside the settlers had left behind.

A view of Manchester Square, Feilding, showing the general store to the right of centre, tree stumps in the left foreground, and the bush in the background.
Photograph taken 1878 by William James Harding of Wanganui. Reference No. 1/1-000332; G
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand,
Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Before the obligations of the contract had been fulfilled the government instituted free passage to NZ immigrants placing the Corporation at a disadvantage in attracting further settlers. With skilled and tactful re-negotiation of the contract by Feilding and Halcombe this problem was overcome and by 1877 the settlement was firmly established with 1600 residents (70% of which had been brought in by the Corporation).
By careful management and consolidation rather than hasty development, and meticulous attention to the individual interests of the colonists by Halcombe, the scheme was a success, both for the settlers and financially for the Corporation. The "New Zealand Mail" (7 Mar 1874) describes Halcombe as firm but kindly in his dealings, cheerful and generally popular, and states that "Halcombe and his sub-agent, Macarthur, were most solicitous for the welfare of the colonists and the success achieved was in great measure due to their foresight and humanity."
Settlers could buy

  • half an acre for £25
  • one acre for £10
  • country sections for £4 per acre
  • New towns quickly followed; Halcombe, Ashhurst and Bunnythorpe.

    This group picture taken in the 1870's shows officers and surveyors of the Emigrants' and Colonists' Aid Corporation.
    From left, back row; Charles Mountford, Frank Owen, Alfred Atkinson, -Kempthorne, Percy Earle.
    Front row; James Beattie, Howard Jackson, Arthur Halcombe, Douglas Macarthur, Hugh Sherwill.
    There are many family connections in this photo;
  • Douglas Macarthur was my great-great grandfather
  • When he died, his widow Mary married Hugh Sherwill
  • Mary's sister Ida married Frank Owen
  • Two of James Beattie's children married Pickerings (cousins of Fred Myers who married Alice Macarthur -my great grandparents)
  • Lily Macarthur (Alice's sister) married John Halcombe a nephew of Arthur Halcombe

  • Kimbolton Road, Feilding, circa 1910. Horses and carts are alongside the drapery business of W Domigan & Co. The post office, with clock tower, is also visible.
    Photograph taken by Samuel Heath Head. Ref No 1/1-007503.G
    Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand,
    Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

    Manawatu District Council Cemetery Search


    Borrie W.D. Immigration to New Zealand 1854-1938, Pages 108-114.
    Canberra: Australian National University, Highland Press, 1994.

    Holcroft M. The Line of the Road -A History of the Manawatu County 1876-1976
    McIndoe Publishers, 1977.

    Davies D.A. and Clevely R.E. The Manchester Block 1874-1974
    Oroua County Council, 1974.

    George I. Apiti -Where's That? 1977

    Gibson T.A. The Purchase and Settlement of the Manchester Block
    Fisher Printing, Feilding, 1936.

    The Myers Family History -The Settlement of Feilding and the Manchester Block

    Cathy Clarke, Wellington, New Zealand
    Last updated: 12 Aug 2013

    home page