Bluff history – an overview

Grasmere moored Bluff 1850s
Grasmere moored Bluff 1850s

Bluff was not a settlement until the arrival of Europeans but the area surrounding served a variety of functions for the Maori before European settlement. The main Maori settlement in the area which became known as Southland, was Ruapuke Island, which with its seven pas was the base of the paramount chief of the South Island, Tuhawaiki, otherwise known as ‘King of the Bluff’ or ‘Bloody Jack’. Smaller Maori settlements were scattered along the Southland coast, including villages at Ocean Beach, Omaui and Oue on what is now known as the New River Estuary. This short video highlights some or the history of Maori in the area from pre-european times to the present day.

The European arrived in Bluff sooner than in many other parts of New Zealand. The first record of a boat entering Bluff Harbour was in 1813 when a Sydney expedition, on board the ‘Perseverance’, was sent to report on the possibilities of trading in flax.

The first European to settle at Bluff was James Spencer, a veteran of Waterloo. He arrived in 1823, aboard the ‘St Micheal’. He left to return the following year and established a permanent home. Spencers settlement was one of the earliest in New Zealand – the first to survive to become a town. Bluff therefore has a longer history than any other town in New Zealand.

In 1856 the town was surveyed by JT Thomson, who called it Bluff Town and named the streets after rivers in Ireland. That did not meet instant approval for he was ordered by the Superintendent of the Province, Captain Cargill, to change the name of the towns main street from Shannon to Gore street, to honour Governor Gore Brown, and to rename the town Campbelltown to honour the Governors wife who was a Campbell. The Governors word was law and the town was officially known as Campbelltown until march 1917 when the name of Bluff was officially adopted.

Bluff township has a lot of notable historical sites to be seen, Whalers point on the Foveaux walk, remains of the Ship wreck ‘Konini’ also on the Foveaux walk, the old cemetery at the end of Lagan St, to name a few.

Bluff Heritage TrailIMG_1912-1

The Bluff History Group’s Heritage Trail is another fantastic new attraction for the area. Featuring seventeen sites, the trail begins at the Greenhills Church and takes you to a variety of sites including the Greenpoint Walkway, the Monica, several buildings and homes of historic interest, the old Bluff Cemetery and Stirling Point to name just a few.

A good place to find further information and directions on Bluff’s landmarks is here or at the Bluff Maritime Museum, who are one of many stockists of the Heritage Trail brochure.

A look at Bluff’s past