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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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Port Chalmers is situated on the northern shore of Otago Harbour, about 6 miles south-west of Taiaroa Head. The main residential part of the town occupies a hilly headland separating Koputai Bay (containing the port) on the north-east from Sawyers Bay on the south-west. The industrial and business section and the port are at the head of Koputai Bay. The Dunedin-Waitati highway and the South Island Main Trunk railway skirt the slopes directly above the town. By road or branch railway Port Chalmers is 9 miles north-east of Dunedin. Port Chalmers is regarded as part of the Port of Otago.

The chief primary industries of the district are mixed farming and market gardening, and the town functions as a deep-water port for Otago and serves as a base for commercial fishing. There are also large wool stores. The main industrial activities are marine and general engineering, the repair of ships, and boatbuilding. Two graving docks, which can accommodate vessels up to 530 ft in length, are maintained by the Otago Harbour Board.

During the early 1800s sealers visited the vicinity. In the early 1830s, when the Weller whaling station was established at Otakou, near Taiaroa Head, the nearby Sawyers Bay was exploited for timber. Other European explorers were Herd (1826), d'Urville (1840), and W. Mein Smith (1842), all of whom visited the port when inspecting Otago Harbour. Frederick Tuckett also passed through during 1844 when he was seeking a site for the New Edinburgh Settlement, his vessel, the Deborah, giving the name to the bay where it anchored. Formalities for the purchase of the Otago Block were completed on 31 July of that year at the head of Koputai Bay, which is now the town's business centre. Soon after C. H. Kettle's arrival in 1846, the town site was laid out. In 1872, when the importance of the port had increased, a private railway company constructed a line linking Dunedin and Port Chalmers. The first cargo of frozen meat for the London market left Port Chalmers in the Dunedin in 1882. The last expedition led by Captain R. F. Scott sailed in the Terra Nova from Port Chalmers for Antarctica on 28 November 1910. Municipal affairs were administered by a town board from 1846 to 1866, when the township was constituted a borough. The town was named after the Rev. Thomas Chalmers, leader of the Free Church of Scotland.

POPULATION: 1951 census, 2,682; 1956 census, 3,012; 1961 census, 3,120.

by Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.

  • Port of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1951)
  • Port Chalmers – Gateway to Otago, Bowman, H. O. (1948).


Edward Stewart Dollimore, Research Officer, Department of Lands and Survey, Wellington.