Cambridge is situated on flat land on the banks of the Waikato River close to the eastern fringe of the Mid-Waikato Plain. Within 8 miles to the north-east, the land rises gently to the Maungakawa Hills and about 4 miles south-east the flat is broken by the Pukekura Range, which extends north-west from Maungatautari Mountain (2,639 ft). The main highway between Hamilton, 14 miles north-west, and Rotorua, 53 miles southeast, passes through Cambridge. A branch goods-traffic line links Cambridge with the Hamilton-Rotorua railway at Ruakura, 12 miles north-west.
The main primary industries of the Cambridge district are dairying, sheep raising, and cattle fattening. Pig farming is carried on in conjunction with dairying, and poultry raising is also practised. Dairy factories are located in several nearby country settlements, the main product being cheese. Cambridge is chiefly a servicing and distributing centre. Among its industrial activities are the production of cheese, sawmilling, general engineering, and the manufacture of concrete products. To a small extent Cambridge serves as a dormitory for workers in the nearby city of Hamilton.
In pre-colonial days Cambridge was the site of an important Maori pa called Horotiu, the same name being applied to the course of the Waikato River from the vicinity of this pa to Ngaruawahia. Cambridge was chosen as a military settlement in June 1864, largely due to its position near the upstream limit of navigation for the steam vessels employed by the forces under General Sir Duncan Cameron during the Waikato War. Colonel Theodore Minet Haultain, Commandant of the Waikato Regiments, was responsible for the fixing of the actual site but he was assisted by General Cameron, and by Captain Cadell, the officer in charge of the river steamers. The 3rd Waikato Regiment camped on the site in 1865 and constructed a redoubt capable of accommodating a garrison of more than 1,000 men. With the end of hostilities and the expansion of farm settlement, Cambridge grew as a market town. In 1868 Cambridge became a highway district administered by a board of trustees. It was created a town district in 1882 and in 1886 attained borough status. The settlement of Leamington, which grew up on the left bank of the Waikato River opposite Cambridge, is linked to it by a traffic bridge. Leamington was created an independent town district in 1905 and, following merger proposals in 1956, became part of the Borough of Cambridge in 1958. The name Cambridge is stated to have been given by General Cameron because of a supposed resemblance of that part of the Waikato River to the River Cam in Cambridgeshire.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 3,020; 1956 census, 3,408; 1961 census, 5,284.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.