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Cambridge Military Settlement - Detail from a sketch by Major Von Tempsky

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On 13 July 1864 it was decided that the site for the settlement of the 3rd Waikato Militia would be on both sides of the Waikato River halfway between Maungatautari and Pukerimu.
The Karapiro Stream offered a safe harbour for the steamers and travel any further up the Waikato was difficult.
Cambridge was named after the Duke of Cambridge, then Commander in Chief of the British Armed Forces. In official records it became known as 'Camp Cambridge'.
A fort was built covering five acres of land, on the right bank of the river (Fort Street). The 'Ten Star Redoubt' overlooked the Karapiro Stream and commanded a view of the Maungakawa Range and Maungatautari.
Formed in the shape of a star, the walls were 4.2 metres high surrounded by ditches 3.6 metres deep. This was a frontier town.

Several of the officers' wives were already in the town by September, when the steamer 'Rangiriri' arrived with another party of soldiers' wives and children.
Tents were being replaced by thatched whares, cooking was commonly done in a 'hole in the bank', most water came from a spring on what is now the Westpac Bank corner.
Already three soldiers had drowned in the Waikato River but the Karapiro Stream was a popular place for the family wash day with clothes spread over the bushes and children splashing in the stream.

In the new year of 1865, the men of the 3rd Waikato Militia were allocated their one acre town section and then their farms.
A new year's race meeting was held at Pukekura on the flat below the 'Crows Nest' Redoubt (now the site of the water reservoir overlooking Lake Karapiro) with the prize for the main race being 10 sovereigns.

For the first two or three years men formed the greater part of the population. In 1868 this included 866 men, 87 women and about 200 children.
A number of families settled on their farms but with the opening of the Thames gold fields in 1867, many allotments were sold for £5 or a bottle of rum. And so Cambridge was born.

Researched and written by Eris Parker

 

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