Picton is situated on a small flat enclosed on the north by Waitohi Bay, commonly called Picton Harbour, an inlet of Queen Charlotte Sound, and elsewhere by high hills. It is 18 miles by road or rail north of Blenheim, and is 23 miles east by road from Havelock. The South Island Main Trunk railway terminates at Picton, 218 miles north-east of Christchurch. Picton is the main port of Marlborough and is the South Island terminal of the inter-island rail-car ferry. The port is an important part of the launch transport system serving Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. The main activities of the district, including the Sounds area, are sheep raising and cattle grazing. Some dairying is practised and there is a cheese factory at Koromiko (6 miles south). Sea fisheries around the coast are worked by vessels based at Picton. At Te Awaiti (18 miles north-east) on Tory Channel, a whaling station was established by John Guard in 1827. It ceased operations in 1965.
Picton is a servicing and distributing centre not only for its immediate environs but also for the greater part of Marlborough Sounds. It is also an important tourist centre and serves as a dispersal point for visitors to the Sounds. Industrial activities of the town include meat freezing, fish packing and curing, general engineering, and small-boat building.
The site of Picton was originally occupied by the Maori settlement of Waitohi, also called Te Wera o Waitohi. Waitohi Bay is said to have been discovered by Captain William Steine, of the ship King William the Fourth, in 1832. Steine named it Horne Bay after the owner of the ship. In December 1844 Francis Dillon Bell, representing the New Zealand Company, and Sir George Grey, the Governor, purchased the site from the Maoris, who agreed to move to Waikawa Bay. The town was surveyed in 1849 and the New Zealand Company called it Newton. Until 1859 the settlement was known by several names. When Marlborough Province was created in 1859, the town was renamed Picton after Sir Thomas Picton, “the Hero of Badajoz”, who fell at Waterloo, and was declared to be the provincial capital. But in 1865 the provincial capital was transferred to Blenheim. With the discovery of the Wakamarina goldfield, the population of Picton in 1864 increased to 3,000 but by 1866 had declined due to the rapid exhaustion of payable ground. There was more gold mining activity in 1888 in the Mahakipawa district, west of the borough, but the field petered out after a few years. In 1874 coal of good quality was found at Shakespeare Bay but the seam disappeared after some 600 tons had been extracted. An antimony lode was mined at Endeavour Inlet, in Queen Charlotte Sound, about 1892. This was gradually worked out and mining had ceased by 1953. The railway to Blenheim was commenced in 1873 and was opened for traffic on 18 November 1875. Through-rail communication to Christchurch via Blenheim was achieved in 1945. Terminal facilities established at the port came into operation in August 1962 and provide berthage for N.Z.G.S. Aramoana which maintains a ferry service between Picton and Wellington for railway rolling stock, motor vehicles, and passengers. Picton was constituted a borough in 1876.
POPULATION: 1951 census, 1,924; 1956 census, 2,079; 1961 census, 2,320.
by Brian Newton Davis, M.A., Vicar, St. Philips, Karori West, Wellington and Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.