Story: Manawatū and Horowhenua region

Page 11. Government

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Manawatū and Horowhenua formed part of Wellington province until 1876.

Counties and boroughs

A Manawatū county council was established in 1876 to administer the huge region between the Rangitīkei and Waikanae rivers. But the different areas, and town and country, had varied needs. By 1910 many smaller entities had formed, including a Horowhenua county reaching from Foxton to Waikanae, and a number of boroughs (towns).

In 1989 Foxton and Levin merged into the district of Horowhenua. Feilding joined with Pohangina, Kiwitea, Ōroua and Manawatū counties as Manawatū district. Palmerston North city expanded to include Ashhurst, Whakarongo, and areas across the Manawatū River.


Local politics mostly reflected wider patterns of political allegiance. Flax workers were able to elect the socialist John Robertson for Ōtaki in 1911, because of a brief split in the non-socialist vote (he lost three years later). In 1935 Palmerston North elected Labour candidate Joseph Hodgens, who represented the electorate for the next 11 years. After that the seat alternated between Labour and National. Notable MPs have included lawyer Matthew Oram (1943–57) for National and businessman Joe Walding (1967–75; 1978–81) and academic Steve Maharey (1990–2008) for Labour. Iain Lees-Galloway has held Palmerston North for Labour since 2008.

Increased town populations gave the region one fully urban electorate from 1938 and a second in the 1980s. The redistricting that accompanied the introduction of the MMP (mixed member proportional) system in 1996 saw a return to one urban seat bounded by two more rural ones.

The whole region was part of the Western Māori electorate until 1954, and then Southern Māori until 1984. Under MMP the region has been part of Te Tai Hauāuru.

School and scandal

Julia Millen, biographer of teacher and writer Guthrie Wilson (1914–1984), records his successful suing of the Manawatu Daily Times in 1957. The paper’s review of his novel Sweet white wine claimed the work was written in revenge for Wilson’s failure to be made rector (principal) of Palmerston North Boys’ High School. The case divided the community, and Wilson left town soon after.


Boys’ and girls’ high schools were established in Palmerston North in the early 1900s. Feilding, Levin and Palmerston North set up technical high schools. The Feilding institution evolved into Feilding Agricultural High School, opened by Prime Minister William F. Massey in 1921, which was famed for its integrated academic and farming curriculum. At the tertiary level, Palmerston North is presently home to Massey University, a campus of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, IPU New Zealand (formerly International Pacific College, with an offshoot in Japan), and the main campus of UCOL, an institute of technology.


A Palmerston North hospital board was set up in 1891, and Horowhenua affiliated in 1918. Two important influences were matrons Ellen Dougherty (in the early years of the hospital) and Winnifred Train (after the Second World War). Dougherty was one of the first state-registered nurses in the world.

How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Manawatū and Horowhenua region - Government', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 April 2024)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 24 Jul 2006, updated 1 Apr 2015