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Feilding and the Manchester Block

Colonel Feilding & wife

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 H.W. 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.

Photo from Feilding Public Library

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, then travelled 25 miles over half-formed roads from Foxton to Palmerston North where they bought stores and equipment. Using bullock drays and horse wagons, they embarked on the final eleven mile journey to Feilding. 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. How different this must have seemed to the English villages and countryside the settlers left behind.

Feilding 1870

Manchester Square, Feilding. Harding, William James, 1826-1899 :Negatives of Wanganui district.Ref: 1/1-000332-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

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.

Feilding settlers

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 1910

Kimbolton Road, Feilding circa 1910. Head, Samuel Heath, d 1948 :

Negatives Ref: 1/1-007503-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.


Manawatu District council Cemetery Search:



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

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