Guide

Heritage, Culture & Arts

Marlborough’s rich history runs wide and deep, from the earliest Polynesian settlers of the Wairau Bar to the first European pioneers who built our towns and planted our first grapevines.

These people, the way they lived their lives and how they dealt with history’s major events has shaped Marlborough into what it is today. Those stories are all here, waiting to be discovered all over again.

Marlborough has a wealth of arts and culture, from art galleries to museums through to concerts and theatre productions.

Follow the Marlborough Arts and Crafts Trail, enjoy a glass of wine while listening to live music at a vineyard or on stage at Marlborough's new ASB Theatre.

Blenheim Heritage

Marlborough’s largest centre, Blenheim (Waiharakeke in Māori), was established in the 1850s.

Built on waterlogged land, it was dubbed The Beaver and Beavertown by many of its European settlers.

Blenheim’s popularity increased after a massive earthquake in 1855 deepened the Ōpawa River, allowing sea-going vessels to reach the town itself. Blenheim became Marlborough’s capital in 1865 and was made a borough in March 1869.

One of Blenheim’s most notable settlers includes nationally renowned surgeon Dr George Cleghorn, who performed New Zealand’s first successful appendicectomy. He was appointed medical officer to the new Wairau Hospital in July 1878, where he stayed for more than 20 years. Dr Cleghorn was also a philanthropist who offered free medical services to the poor. He helped establish Blenheim’s gymnasium, swimming pool, the Marlborough Cricket Association and football club. Dr Cleghorn’s memory was honoured by the construction of a band rotunda that remains today in Market Place.

Another piece of history that remains today is Thomas’s department store.This was first opened on Market St South in 1912 by John Emlyn Thomas and his wife Kathleen.

John and Kathleen’s son, Terence, entered the family business in the 1930s and persuaded his brother-in-law Austin Andrews to also join.

Subsequent generations of the Thomas and Andrews families have kept the business running despite many and varied challenges including The Depression, WWII, strict import controls followed by deregulation, competition within the local market.

Today, the local store remains a vibrant cornerstone in Blenheim’s central business district.

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