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 been at the centre of important historical aviation events on many occasions, on both a national and international scale. That legacy continues strongly today, with the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre at its heart.
Much of Marlborough’s history has been preserved, or restored, exactly where it happened. Think Ship Cove, the site of Captain James Cook’s frequent Marlborough visits; the remains of the Perano Whaling Station; the ancient fortified pa of Karaka Point; the wooden immigrant ship Edwin Fox. Learn more about these historic sites.
With almost 4,000km² of coastline in the Marlborough Sounds alone, our region has played an integral role in New Zealand’s maritime history. From a thriving whaling industry to the many ships that wrecked along our rugged shores, there are countless tales from the sea.
Long before Marlborough’s world famous wine industry took hold, the land provided for its people in many ways. Read how early Māori thrived around the plentiful riches of the Wairau Lagoons, how flax was turned into money and how Blenheim/Te Waiharakeke received its first nickname, Beavertown.
Did you know the man who split the nuclear atom was schooled in Havelock? Woven throughout our history are many intriguing stories of those who lived in times gone by and created Marlborough as we know it today.
Underpinning our nation’s early beginnings are the ancient stories, legends and myths passed down through generations of Māori. Here is a selection of the legends that describe how Marlborough came to be.
From Rai Valley to Ward, each Marlborough settlement had its own fascinating and unique beginnings. Learn about the heritage of our villages and towns.
- Classic Fighters
- Marlborough Airport Heritage
- Omaka Aerodrome Heritage
- Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
- Picton Airport Heritage
- Maud Island Heritage
- Wairau Bar Heritage
- Pelorus Heritage
- Karaka Point Heritage
- Kakapo Bay Cemetary Heritage
- Horahora Kakahu Island Heritage
- Molesworth Station Heritage
- Mt Taupae-o-Uenuku
- Perano Whaling Station
- Ship Cove/Meretoto Heritage
- Wairau Affray Heritage
- Wairau Lagoons Heritage
- Cape Campbell Heritage
- Cape Jackson Heritage
- Cook Strait Ferries Heritage
- Mikhail Lermentov Heritage
- Opawa River Heritage
- Pelorus Jack Heritage
- Wine Heritage
- Antimony Mining Heritage
- Farming Heritage
- Gold Mining Heritage
- Arthur Clouston
- Sir Edward Chaytor
- Captain Cook
- Sir Edmund Hillary
- Elizabeth Lissaman
- Lord Ernest Rutherford
- James Sinclair
- Blenheim Heritage
- Havelock Heritage
- Picton Heritage
- Rai Valley Heritage
- Renwick Heritage
- Seddon Heritage
- Ward Heritage
Steve Austin Marlborough Museum
“Marlborough is incredibly rich in terms of heritage nationally and internationally, and we are in the process of discovering even more.”My insider guide to Marlborough
“I have broken the machine and touched the ghost of matter.”*
The scientist who split the atom, Ernest Rutherford, spent some of his childhood in Marlborough.
Born in 1871 near Nelson, Ernest Rutherford was the fourth of 12 children.
When he was 11, he moved with his family to Havelock, where his father and uncle set up a flax mill at Ruapaka Stream.
During their time in Havelock, three of Rutherford’s siblings died. The first was of whooping cough and the other two during an ill-fated fishing trip that Rutherford would have been on had he not been sent to the flax mill to deliver a message.
Around the same time, Rutherford earned the Marlborough Scholarship to attend Nelson College, where he topped his classes and – after winning the Canterbury College scholarship and earning three degrees – went on to work at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory in England as the University’s first non-Cambridge-graduate research student.
He went on to McGill University in Canada, where he demonstrated the principle that forms the basis of the modern smoke detector, and discovered the radioactive gas Radon.
His early work was acknowledged with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances.”
His most famous experiment, “splitting” the atom, took place in Manchester in 1917. During this successful experiment he also discovered – and named – the proton.
His achievement led to his distinction as “the father of nuclear physics” and one of the world’s greatest scientists.
A memorial in Havelock is dedicated to Rutherford and to fellow New Zealand scientist Sir William Pickering, who both spent part of their childhood in the township.
* Ernest Rutherford on splitting the atom
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