The history of Martinborough is inextricably linked to that of the early settlement of the Wairarapa Region and the British Imperial legacy as evidenced in its street names, geographic layout and World War I War Memorial.
Early European settlement of the Wairarapa settlement started effectively from the early 1840s with the introduction of sheep to the open grass plains on part of which Martinborough now stands.
From the mid 1840s, settlement continued at a pace with the Crown purchase of the district from the local Maori in 1853, the settlement of Masterton in 1854, a railway from Wellington to Featherston in 1878, the Ruamahunga Bridge in 1873 and telephone links to Featherston in 1881.
Martinborough itself was settled in 1881 by John Martin, an Irish immigrant, on land he purchased adjacent to another settlement called Baird’s Town (also known as Waihenga or Warekaka) and dated from 1870 with the establishment of a ferry crossing.
John Martin was both a well travelled man and an imperial enthusiast. The nature of the layout of Martinborough in street names and structure reflects this.
Martinborough is laid out in the shape of the Union Jack and its street names are named after places that he visited such as Venice, Kansas, Strasbourg, Texas, Naples, Suez and New York.
A gentle stroll around the streets of Martinborough will conjure up in the mind of the viewer famous names of the British Empire in its heyday, such as Grey, Roberts, Kitchener and French.
This is a reflection of the fact that many of the early settlers, and indeed for several generations later, held strong emotional links to Great Britain and its Imperial role in the world.
The town’s economic prosperity was, from its settlement in 1881 until the mid to the late 1970s, reflected in the farming community which was traditionally sheep with some limited dairy farming.
While the town’s prosperity is still strongly linked to traditional farming, with the advent of grapevines being planted on a commercial scale in the late 1970s, the economic base for the town and the surrounding region has become considerably more diversified.
Since the late 1970s, Martinborough has evolved into an award winning wine growing region with excellent restaurants, bed and breakfast homestays and an internationally recognised hotel and wine centre.
The Martinborough region produces some of the finest Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand. This is evidenced by the many awards its wineries have won.
Martinborough has blossomed into a fashionable weekend destination for Wellingtonians who are comfortably within one hours drive and is also a tourist attraction for many overseas guests.
The spin off to the region has been a steady growth in activities and facilities to cater for the growing tourist trade. A far cry from its early days of an outpost of imperial dreams, but a fitting testimony to the many generations of people who have laboured on this land.