Blenheim and Picton Borough Councils - the early years


Following the separation of Marlborough from Nelson in 1859, the region found itself with no funds, no local taxes and frequent flooding washing away infrastructure. It was to be many decades before the towns of Blenheim and Picton had drainage, water reticulation, street lighting, electricity and adequate roads and footpaths.

Elections were held for the new Marlborough Provincial Council in 1860.1 Under the Picton Improvement Act 1861, a Picton Board of Works was established in September 1862, but was much restricted due to lack of finances.2

Blenheim 1870. Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives. 19950150191
Click image to enlarge

The ‘Board of Works of the Town of Blenheim' held its first meeting on 25 January 1864 at the courthouse.  It took many months for the first valuation of the town to be completed, with the majority of ratepayers questioning the Board's authority and declining to pay.  A small amount of revenue came in and the Board was able to do a few small works around the town.3 After four ‘inglorious' years trying to address the rating problem, the Blenheim Board finally resigned, admitting municipal bankruptcy.4

Blenheim Borough

Blenheim was gazetted as a borough in March 1869 and the first Council was elected in May of that year.5  

Key business dealt with by early councils involved road, bridge and footpath building and repairs.  For example, a tender for the construction of the Grove Road Bridge (108 feet long, 18 feet wide at a cost of £587) was accepted in November 1869.6  

In 1885, the Council borrowed £3000 to build some streets and drainage in the Borough.7 In August 1886, the Marlborough Express described Blenheim streets as: "wet, filthy and deplorable, more like a primaeval swamp..."8

The Blenheim Borough Council was meeting fortnightly by June 1904, when it dealt with some of the following matters:

  • A request to attend to a bridge over a ditch in Eltham Road.
  • A contractor was authorised to kill rabbits and fill holes on the Taylor River banks.
  • The Rival Football Club asked for use of the lighting in Seymour Square for practices a few nights a week. The mayor (Mr W.H. Macey) remarked that gas lamps and football did not go well together.9
Blenheim second Post Office (and possibly Provincial Council Chambers). Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives. 1995.015.0185
Click image to enlarge

Later, in September 1904, a Mr H. Bash complained to the Council of wandering cattle, which cut up the footpath in Scott Street and trespassed on private property. Councillors generally complained that the wandering of horses and cows on the streets and footpaths had become a great nuisance all over the Borough.10

By 1905, Blenheim had a population of 3500. The Council provided street lighting, but no drainage or refuse collection. Blenheim's assets were £30,000 and liabilities including loans were £30,000.11 

In February 1919, the Chamber of Commerce sought more development support from central Government, asking for, among other things: a sugar beet industry, hydro-electric development, marine salt works at Picton, expansion of the bee-keeping industry, completion of the South Island Railway, a two and a half hour steamer service to Wellington and an aerodrome in Blenheim.12

In August 1919, the Council borrowed £110,000 for a water supply and a drainage scheme  and asked the Minister of Public Works to investigate the potential for a hydro-electric scheme in the district.13

A tender for a water and drainage scheme was accepted in 1920.14  A sewage network and treatment system was first installed in the 1930s. Treatment was by a large septic tank arrangement in Dillon's Point with discharge into the Opawa River.15

The Blenheim Borough Council had 20 mayors in its first 50 years; the first five mayors were F.J. Litchfield (1869), H.Dodson (1870-71, 1883-84), G.Henderson (1872-73), J.M. Hutcheson (1874), J.E. Hodson (1875-76), A.G. Fell (1877-79).16

Picton Borough

Picton was constituted a borough on 10 August, 1876.17  Councillors and a new mayor, Thomas Williams, were elected for just two months as elections had to be held annually.  Arthur Seymour, former Provincial Council representative for Picton, and superintendent of the Marlborough province for six years, became Picton's second mayor.18

The earliest European inhabitants set about bridging the many streams which crisscrossed the town.  Between 1866 and 1880 bridges were erected over streams and water channels in Broadway, Canterbury, Buller, Durham, Kent and Scotland Streets.19

Early Picton. Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives. 027
Click image to enlarge

There was an urgent need for a road connecting Picton and Blenheim and work began on the Picton to Koromiko section in 1859. The road was metalled in 1862, but approaches to central Government for funding were unsuccessful and the road had clearly deteriorated by July 1875, when the Marlborough Press reported: "The road is beyond description at the present time....It is composed of about 40% of mud, 20% of water, 20% of rotten bridges, 15% of holes and the remaining 5% of solid ground."20

Last Wairau Roads Board . Marlborough Historical Society - Marlborough Museum Archives. 029
Click image to enlarge

By 1905, Picton residents had a town water supply drawn from a reservoir up the Waitohi stream. The streets were lit by 30 kerosene lamps and rubbish disposal was not undertaken by the Council.21

A sewerage and drainage system came to Picton's town centre by the end of 1909, but the rest of the town was dependent on a night soil collection.  The east and west ends of the town were connected by the end of 1923.22

In 1905, Picton had a population of 950 people and services in the town included: Council Chambers, a shipping port, public school, Government offices, the railway station, police station, a reading room, a public hall, a hospital, hotels, a branch bank, a newspaper office, shops and stores.23

Picton had 17 mayors in its first 50 years. The first five were: Thomas Williams (1876,77-78,79-80), Arthur Seymour (1876-77, 1892-93, 1900-1903), W. Syms (1878-79), Alex Thompson (1880-83, 85-86), S.Swanwick (1883-84).24

2012 (updated 2023)

Sources used in this story

  1. Kelly, H.D. (1976) As High as the Hills. Whatamango Bay: Cape Catley,  pp.23-24
  2. Kelly, pp.27-28
  3. MacDonald, C.A. (1933) Pages from the past: some chapters in the history of Marlborough. Blenheim, N.Z.: H.Duckworth (E.H.Penny and Co), pp.311-12
  4. McIntosh, A.D. (Ed.) (1940)  Marlborough a provincial history. Blenheim, N.Z.: Marlborough Provincial Historical Committee, p.360
  5. McIntosh, p.361
  6. Beverley, A. (1969) The First Hundred Borough of Blenheim 1869-1969. Blenheim (N.Z.). Borough Council, pp.10-11
  7. Beverley, p.39
  8. Beverley, p.41
  9. Blenheim Borough Council (1904, June 18) Marlborough Express, p.4 
  10. Blenheim Borough Council (1904, September 3) Marlborough Express, p.4
  11. The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts.
  12. Beverley, p.96
  13. Beverley, p.97
  14. J. Dovey report, Blenheim Borough Council. 5 March 1984
  15. Personal Communication. Stephen Rooney. Operations & Maintenance Engineer, 29 August 2012
  16. McIntosh, p.426
  17. Kelly, p.29
  18. McIntosh, p.426
  19. Kelly, p.208
  20. Kelly, pp.209-10
  21. Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts]
  22. Kelly, pp.213-214
  23. Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts]
  24. McIntosh, p.426

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  • Hello. I am chasing any information you may have on my grandfather, Reginald Gerald Dawkins Snr. He was Mayor of Picton approx. 1916 and opened the bridge going into Blenheim. Could you pls find out how long he was Mayor for and if you have any photos of him. Anything on him would be appreciated. I know he was a Waitohi Lodge member but they do not have a photo of him either. I am Reg and Kay Dawkins, of Picton, 2nd daughter. Thank you. Shelley

    Posted by Shelley Waltho nee Dawkins, 27/03/2017 3:46pm (7 years ago)

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Further sources - Blenheim and Picton Borough Councils - the early years




  •  Dovey, J. (1984) Blenheim's water supply. [manuscript detailing the history of the town supplies]
  • Held at Marlborough Museum Archives (permission required for access)
    Wairau Road Board Minutes 1887-1924
    Lower Wairau River board Minutes 1874-1881/1891-1921
    Pelorus Road Board Minutes 1870-1914/1923-1924
    Omaka Road Board Minutes 1875-1924
    Awatere Road Board Minutes 1876-1912
    Picton Road Board Minutes 1880-1886/1893-1924
    Blenheim Borough Council Minutes 1869-1989
    Awatere  County Council Minutes 1912-Sep 1976
    Picton Borough Council Minutes Oct 1934-May 1956/Sep 1970-Mar 1987
    Marlborough County Council Minutes July 1978-Dec 1979
    Marlborough Catchment Board Minutes Jan 1956-Dec 1969 (incomplete)
    Marlborough Harbour Board Minutes 1954-1967/1975-1980
    Wairau Harbour Board 1908-1968
    Spring Creek River Board 1874-1924
    Havelock Harbour Board 1906-1965
    Wairau Maori Drainage Board 1905-1921
    Croisilles-French Pass Road Board 1926-1965
    Kenepuru Harbour Board Minutes 1935-1965
    French Pass Harbour Board 1941-1949
    Havelock Town Board Minutes Oct 1873-Oct 1956
    Marlborough Nassella Tussock Board Minutes 1946-1989
    Awatere PestDestruction Board 1887-1896/1935-1974
    Blue Mountain Rabbit (pest) Board Minutes 1934-1966
    Flaxbourne Rabbit (pest) Board 1934-1940/1948-1974
    Marlborough Pest Destruction Board 1943-1988
    Marlborough Pest Destruction Board Minutes 1974-1988
    Redwood Rabbit (pest) Board Minutes 1936-1974
    Wairau Rabbit (pest) destruction Board 1935-1967/ 1970-1974
    Waihopai Rabbit (pest) Destruction Board 1930-1974

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