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Donald Sutherland, Milford Sound Explorer

Donald Sutherland in 1888

Years before official expeditions were made to Milford Sound en-masse, the original Milford Sound explorer, Donald Sutherland, chose to set up his home there. Originally from the Highlands in Scotland, Sutherland hailed from an area of the world that prepared him for the challenging conditions of Milford Sound. His adventurous temperament had already seen him work in the fishing industry at a startlingly young age, before setting off to explore everything else the world had to offer.

How Donald Sutherland Came to Arrive at Milford Sound

After becoming bored with his career as a fisherman, Sutherland chose to volunteer with the other British volunteers striving to unite Italy. This career choice saw him join the British Coastal Trade, which eventually led to his arrival in New Zealand.

Prospecting gold appears to be what drove Sutherland to explore the areas he frequented. At first, he tried his luck in Gabriels Gully, where his attempts to unearth precious metals came to be unsuccessful. Undeterred by his failures at Gabriels Gully, Sutherland continued his work at Pukerimu, after joining the Waikato Militia.

Throughout the 1860s and into the late 1870s, he spent time working with the Armed Constabulary. Eventually, in 1877, he chose to set sail from Dunedin with his small dog, in an open boat. He landed in Milford Sound on the 3rd of December, and did not leave for another 40 years.

Donald Sutherland in Milford SoundDonald Sutherland’s Early Years at Milford Sound

Initially, Sutherland chose to establish his home at the base of Bowen Falls, where he could see Mitre Peak and everything that surrounded it. His initial plans saw him form streets that he hoped would later become a city, which may have disrupted the Milford Sound landscape as the world knows it today.

Soon some of his fellow explorers from the earlier years of his career joined him: John Mackay and James Malcolm. Both men were on the look out for asbestos and bowenite, but eventually left the area when they were not successful in their search.

In November 1880, Sutherland discovered the waterfalls that are now known as ‘Sutherland Falls’. His discovery came after he saw water flashing through the treetops, and following his instincts, he chose to go and seek out the source. Eight years later, the New Zealand government paid him to carve out a path that would reach the falls.

Donald Sutherland: Becoming a Permanent Milford Sound Explorer

Although Sutherland paid the odd visit to Dunedin, he essentially lived as a hermit at Milford Sound. On a six-monthly basis a steamer would visit the area, giving Sutherland the chance to interact with others. Otherwise, he returned his attentions to finding precious minerals, such as diamonds. Eventually, Sutherland became a keen bird watcher and took a little time to paint the area.

Although it seemed as though Sutherland would continue to live his life as a virtual hermit at Milford Sound, he did eventually return to Dunedin to marry a woman named Elizabeth Samuels. Like Sutherland, Samuels originated from the UK, and unlike Sutherland, she had been married twice before.

The couple continued to live at Milford Sound through to 1919, when Sutherland died. During this time, they kept a small farm, continued to explore the area, and had no children. Of the few people who remember Sutherland, many described him as being a large man, who spoke slowly, and had a kind temperament.