A new biography of Sutherland, Donald appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Sutherland was born at Wick, Scotland, in 1839. He was brought up on the east coast, and in his boyhood roamed the shorelines from Caithness to John O'Groats. In his teens he tired of the smell of the herring fisheries and went away to sea. He sailed the Seven Seas as a sailor before the mast for some years, and finally came ashore for good in Auckland in 1862. Like so many more of his kind he became embroiled in the Maori Wars, and when the fighting was finished he left the Armed Constabulary and took a job before the mast on a Government steamer. Gold prospecting attracted him for a time, and he made an indifferent living, first in the Thames area and later on the West Coast. He tramped the lower reaches of Westland when few Europeans knew much of the locality, and for a while he settled at Martins Bay. From there he penetrated to the head of Milford Sound and continued prospecting for gold. There was not much to be found, but a meagre living from sealing enabled him to continue with the lone exploring that seemed to be his métier.
Sutherland cultivated a small holding in the Cleddau Valley but it was only a means of sustenance. The still virgin country of Fiordland fascinated him and he sometimes disappeared for weeks at a time. The Arthur River valley was one of his favourite spots, and on his travels he discovered Lake Ada and the highest falls in New Zealand, the 1,904 ft Sutherland Falls which were named after him. He found the Mackinnon Pass between Otago and the West Coast and named it Ballon Pass, quite unaware that McKinnon had already traversed it. At the age of 51 he met and married a widow of his own inclinations and character, and for 12 years the pair conducted an accommodation house at Milford Sound, where Sutherland settled down to the unexciting, but to him absorbing, existence of bird watcher and student of the flora of the Sounds and the habits of the tides and the weather. He died at Milford Sound on 24 October 1919 at the age of 80 years, a well-known and popular identity of a region which in his later years he regarded almost in the manner of a manorial possession. His character developed only from the contacts he made with tourists at Milford, and he was regarded as a cheerful friendly type, hospitable and interesting, though he brooked little contradiction or argument when it came to matters concerning the locality which he considered to be peculiarly his.
by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.
- Pioneers of Martins Bay, McKenzie, A. (1952)
- Far Famed Fiordland, Beattie, H. (1950).