Marlborough History

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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.

Brownlee's Milling

A sawmilling business of international status, that aggressively utilised technology to fell large tracts of Marlborough forests during the 19th and early 20th Centuries.


The Echo was a veteran WW2 supply ship and the last remaining Port Blenheim ship.

Edwin Fox

The 9th oldest ship in the World and the only surviving wooden immigrant ship to New Zealand.

Old Seddon flax mill

Flax Milling

An industry that came into existance for the sole purpose of supporting the allied war effort during the Second World War.

Historical Timeline

A historical timeline of signficant events in Marlborough, from prehistory until the present.

Mangatapu Murders

Marlborough has had its share of criminals, and in the 'good old days' some were as bad if not worse than those of today.

Port Blenheim

Port Blenheim was a port operated on the Opawa River up until 1968, providing a shipping connection with Wellington

Historic Awatere Road/Rail bridge

Rail History

The coastal rail link between Marlborough and Canterbury was the largest railway construction project in New Zealand's history.

Samuel Ironside Diaries - Mission in the South Island

Samuel Ironside was a Wesleyan missionary to New Zealand between 1839 to 1858. From 1840 to 1843 he was based in Port Underwood in the Marlborough Sounds. His diaries are an important record of the early colonial period of NZ history.

T.Eckford & Co Ltd.

T.Eckford & Co Ltd. was Port Blenheim's longest serving shipping company providing service between Blenheim and Wellington from the 1880s to 1960s

Waverley Shipwreck

T.S.S. Waverley

T.S.S. Waverley was a steam ship that serviced Wellington, Nelson, the West Coast in the late 19th and early 20th Century, until the hulk was stranded in the Wairau Lagoons in 1928

Tom (T.E.L.) Roberts, 1916 (seated, second from right)

The bike ride to a ballot for Starborough in Marlborough, 1899

A Nineteenth Century account of travel between Canterbury and Marlborough, to attend the division of Starborough Estate by ballot.

The First Hundred

The First Hundred

The story of the Borough of Blenheim 1869-1969

Wairau Incident

In 1843 a notorious and tragic incident occurred at Tuamarina between Maori and European settlers, as a result of tension over land.

Rore Pukekohatu's Account of the Wairau Incident

The Wairau Incident as described by an eye witness