The region currently known as Marlborough has enjoyed a long and varied history. The Wairau Bar holds remains of some of the first humans to reach New Zealand, and throughout the region there are a number of significant Maori pā sites. The first Europeans to arrive were whalers from various nations who based themselves in Port Underwood intially. The well known Māori chief Te Rauparaha (author of the All Blacks' haka) spent time in the region, and ongoing disputes over land rights in the region led to a bloody confrontation between him and a party led by members of The New Zealand Company. While Te Rauparaha was exonerated of blame for the killings due to provocation, the incident was referred to by many Europeans as the 'Wairau Massacre'.
Once European settlement did commence in earnest, ongoing disputes with Nelson led to the region seeking provincial independence which was achieved in 1859.
Local body restructuring in the 1980s saw an attempt at reintegrating Marlborough with Nelson, but Marlborough strongly rejected the proposed changes and as a result the Marlborough District Council was formed as one of a handful of unitary authorities in NZ. As a district, the boundaries were reduced from the old provincial boundaries which had stretched as far south as the Conway River, however the district still covers a large area for the size of the population.
More recent developments include the establishment of Marlborough as an internationally recognised wine region, with a corresponding decline in pastoral farming, also the growth of marine farming in the Marlborough Sounds.
2009 involved a number of commemorations marking 150 years of provincial independence.