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Waihenga township turns 150

Mate Higginson looks out at the Weld Rd, Jellicoe St intersection – both roads had been important business areas for Waihenga. PHOTOS/ELI HILL

October 8 will be 150 years since the settlement of Waihenga was founded. The town predated Martinborough by 10n years but became part of Martinborough when the two areas merged. Reporter Eli Hill spoke to Martinborough historian Mate Higginson about the history of the settlement.

The settlement of Waihenga was formed in 1870 when James Daniel Baird bought 100 acres of Waihinga from the estate of E. Meredith, Higginson said.

Spread over his coffee table is an orderly clear folder with names, newspaper clippings, photographs, and dates detailing everything Higginson has been able to find on the settlement.

Over the course of its life the settlement has also been called Waihinga, Wharekaka, and Bairdsville. It was predated by a small Maori village called Waihinga.

Mate Higginson with his research on Waihenga.

Mate flicks through the folder and stops at a sheet of paper.

“The first official notice of Waihenga was in the Wairarapa Mercury on the 8th of October 1870. By me, that was the first time we saw it advertised.”

Baird turned the 100 acres into 60 one-acre sections, and six five-acre blocks, with roads drawn up.

“The next advertisement in the papers was a quote that in December 1870 that most of the sections had sold.”

Exactly how fast the sections were taken up is hard to determine.

“A lot of people bought these sections in speculation, but in reality, you’ve got to move from where you are situated in Greytown, which is the next populous. The question is: when you’re over here what are you going to sell?”

The first person to set up was Mr Bright, a blacksmith from Greytown who set up a smithy and forge.

“Those are the sort of things – you had to be practical, there was no point setting up a baker’s shop or a butcher’s shop here because you had to be practical.

“He was a blacksmith and they needed him. One room of his house also acted as the post office.”

The next to move in was the Presbyterian Church which opened in June 1871.

After that a boot maker arrived and gradually other things came and took up the sections.

“I want to emphasise that it was not taken up immediately as soon as they bought them. Things just had to improve.

“There was just nothing – that’s what we’ve got to get across.”

One of the big things that changed the early town of Waihenga was the construction of the Waihenga bridge in 1873.

People changed their direction of travel and the Waihenga business area moved from Weld St to Lower Valley Rd [Now Jellicoe St] in order to catch more patrons.

“Human beings go the shortest way possible, so shops all had to change place.”

Ten years after Waihenga was founded, Martinborough began being developed by John Martin who shared a family tie with Baird through his wife.

“There was always the rivalry that Martinborough was the business place and people lived down in Waihenga.

“They set up small businesses as they saw the town was going to develop this way – you couldn’t develop the other way.”

Gradually the town evolved and in 1905 the two areas amalgamated to become one town – although the merge wasn’t universally popular.

“There was discussions all right – It’s never recorded because of the taste in the mouth at the time.

“The to-be commissioners had a job on their hands convincing them to join and to obtain the name Martinborough.”

Before the merger the area had been governed by Greytown Ward Five – Otaroa Roading, by becoming an official town Waihenga and Martinborough would be able to have its own commissioners and a town clerk.

This also allowed the town to apply for roading.

The combined town was named Martinborough and had a population of 605.

“Once they accepted that we became a town and in 1928 became a borough everything died out in Waihenga – the post office came up here in Martinborough, the churches wanted to come up here.”

Higginson says there was a great divide in 1890 among the Presbyterian Church.

“Half left the church because they wanted to stay [in Waihenga], the other wanted to come up here.

“There’s the old saying, money talks, in the end the financial gains of being a town, being a borough, and getting things done collectively meant Waihenga didn’t survive.”

To commemorate the 150th anniversary 150 trees will be planted on Pain Farm, and a seat of reflection will be installed outside the Martinborough Museum facing Martinborough Square. On

October 26 – Labour Weekend – there’ll be a cycle tour of the Waihenga area, with Higginson guiding.

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