Marlborough is the north-eastern region of the South Island, running north from the boundary with Canterbury to the shores of Cook Strait and west to Tasman Bay. It became a separate province, breaking away from Nelson, in 1859, in accordance with the provisions of the new Provinces Act of 1858, although its European population at the time was only 2,300.
The area had previously been heavily settled by Maori, but the numbers had been reduced dramatically by tribal raiding parties from the north during the 19th century.
The rectangular province, 210 km long by 80 km wide, has three distinct components: the Sounds; the fertile, alluvial Wairau plains; and the vast, tussock-covered back country which was the second major area in NZ (after the Wairarapa) in which large-scale sheep farming became established.
The first European settlers were the whalers, who set up shore stations in the 1830s at Port Underwood and on the shores of Queen Charlotte Sound. They were followed by the large run-holders, who thrived, until overgrazing by their sheep and the depredations of rabbits, goats and deer seriously damaged the plant cover both in the valleys and the higher country. Many of the farmers walked off their land, which was, in many cases, later subdivided into smaller sheep runs and mixed farms.