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The Hamilton area has a history of 700-800 years of Maori occupation and settlement, highlighted by pa sites, traditional gardens and agricultural features along the Waikato River. The main hapu of Hamilton/Kirikiriroa and the surrounding area are Ngati Wairere, Ngati Haua and Ngati Mahanga.

Pre-European Tainui  had several village settlements, and called an area on the west bank of the Waikato River Kirikiriroa ("long stretch of gravel"), which is the Maori name for Hamilton today. The area was later renamed Hamilton after Captain John Charles Fane Hamilton, who was killed at the battle of Gate Pa in Tauranga in 1864. Captain Hamilton's statue can be seen just around the corner from the i-SITE, in Civic Square.

In 1863, the New Zealand Settlement Act enabled land to be taken from Maori by the Crown. This resulted in 1.2 million hectares of land being confiscated in the Waikato region, and part of this land provided the basis for European settlement in Hamilton.

Formal European settlement was established on 24 August 1864, when Captain William Steele disembarked from the gunboat Rangiriri and established the first redoubt near what is now known as Memorial Park.

A military outpost was set up in Hamilton East, which was originally destined to be the main street of Hamilton. Evidence of planning for the centre of the village can be seen in the "village square" concept of Steele Park and the planting of 'English' trees along Grey Street and other streets in the suburb.

The Borough of Hamilton was established in 1877 with a population of 1,245 and an area of 752 hectares. In December 1945, Hamilton became a city with 20,000 citizens, and today has a population of 156,800 people (estimate at June 2015).