Marlborough’s first recorded horse-racing meeting took place on 10 January 1854, when Blenheim – then the Beaver – was barely established. By December 1860 the Marlborough Cricket Club had been formed – it asked members to attend a field day on New Year’s Day 1861.
Marlborough had its own rugby football union from the early 1890s until 2006, when it became a sub-union of the Tasman union along with Nelson Bays. The Tasman Makos have competed in the Mitre 10 Cup provincial rugby competition since its inception in 2006, and won the premiership title in 2019.
The Seddon Shield was first competed for in 1906. Named for the recently deceased premier Richard Seddon, it is New Zealand’s second-oldest rugby competition after the Ranfurly Shield, and draws in the West Coast and Buller unions and teams from the Nelson Bays and Marlborough sub-unions. Marlborough defeated Canterbury 13–6 in 1973 to win the Ranfurly Shield, and kept it for a year.
The Marlborough back country has long been popular with hunters, particularly for pigs and deer.
The Sounds became a favoured holiday area, especially in the 20th century, for locals, Wellingtonians and Cantabrians. Boating, fishing and swimming have always been popular, and from the later 20th century so were kayaking and tramping (hiking). Kaikōura became a major tourist centre in the 1980s, with a focus on whale watching.
The Marlborough Convention Centre, incorporating the Clubs of Marlborough, was opened in 2007.
Get your gondola
A performance of The gondoliers was taking place at Ewart’s Hotel in High Street in Blenheim in 1890 when the rivers rose in sudden flood. Wags in the audience pointed out the appropriateness of the subject matter.
Writing and publishing
The Marlborough Express was founded by Samuel Johnson in 1866. The Furness family were the paper’s principal owners from 1879 until 1998. In 2014 the Express had a circulation of 6,700. The Kaikoura Star has been published since 1880.
One of Marlborough’s most distinguished sojourners was the Australian poet Henry Lawson, who spent six months as a teacher at Mangamāunu Māori school, just north of Kaikōura, in 1897.
A woman possessed
Katherine Mansfield’s story ‘The voyage’ tells of a girl’s journey with her grandmother, who is returning to Picton – where Mansfield’s own grandmother lived. Writing to a friend in 1921 about the composition of the story, Mansfield explained that it felt ‘terribly vivid … It wasn’t a memory of a real experience. It was a kind of possession. I might have remained the grandma for ever after if the wind had changed that moment.’1
Katherine Mansfield had family connections with Picton and the Sounds, and memories of both informed her thoughts and her writing.
Janet Frame’s mother Lottie grew up in Picton, where she worked for Mansfield’s Beauchamp grandparents. Frame’s story ‘The lagoon’ derives its setting from the Waitohi lagoon, now mostly reclaimed land. Poet Eileen Duggan was raised in Tuamarina and educated there and at Marlborough High School.
Christine Cole Catley founded her publishing company Cape Catley in the Sounds in 1973, and published from Whatamangō Bay, near Picton, until 2000. Writer Joy Cowley was based in the Marlborough Sounds for many years and returns frequently. Poet and fiction writer Ian Wedde was born in Blenheim in 1946.
Office with a view
Author Joy Cowley, who was based in the Sounds for many years, wrote, ‘The desk in the Marlborough Sounds has a view of a bush-rimmed bay, green water licking a stony beach, weka and seagulls and sometimes, a boat chugging to a mussel farm.’ 2
There are local histories of all Marlborough’s communities, of which the most impressive is J. M. Sherrard’s 1966 history of Kaikōura county.
Two provincial histories are Lindsay Buick’s Old Marlborough, or the story of a province (1900) and Alister McIntosh’s centennial history Marlborough: a provincial history (1940).
Veteran journalist Don Grady published many titles about the ‘top of the south’ in the 2000s, and Cynthia Brooks has also contributed to a number of writing projects. Blenheim-based Ron Crosby has written extensively on 19th-century Māori history and New Zealand military history.
The Marlborough Historical Society was established in 1955. The Marlborough Museum and Archives building was opened at Brayshaw Heritage Park in 1990.
Theatre, music and art
The Marlborough Civic Theatre opened in 1985 in the former Farmers department store building, 10 years after the demolition of His Majesty’s Theatre had deprived Blenheim of its main live-performance venue. The Boathouse Theatre on the Ōpawa River in Blenheim was home to the Marlborough Repertory Society. Le Café in Picton also hosted live music performances.
The Millennium Public Art Gallery was in Seymour Square, Blenheim. An exhibition of significant works of art from public and private collections in Marlborough, ‘Province’, was held in the gallery in 2010. The Marlborough Art Society was established in 1961 and in the 2000s had a gallery on High Street in Blenheim. The Diversion Gallery was located at Grove Mill winery, on the outskirts of Renwick.