When provinces were formed in 1853, the southern part of New Zealand belonged to Otago Province. Settlers in Murihiku, the southernmost part of the South Island purchased from Māori in 1853 by Walter Mantell, petitioned the government for separation from Otago. Petitioning started in 1857, and the Province of Southland was proclaimed in 1861. It was named Southland despite the wishes of settlers and Māori, who preferred Murihiku.
The province started to accumulate debt, whereas Otago prospered due to the Central Otago Gold Rush. By the late 1860s, most settlers wanted to become part of the Otago Province again, and this was achieved in 1870.
The province was much smaller than the present day Southland region. The area was bounded by the Mataura River (east), the Waiau River (west), and a line from Eyre Peak to Lake Manapouri (north). Stewart Island was purchased by the Crown in 1863 and added to the area. The capital and largest settlement of Southland Province was Invercargill.
The Southland Province began a number of railway projects. The branch to Bluff (Which was known as Campbelltown until 1917) opened on 5 February 1867. It was built to international standard gauge of 1,435 mm (4 feet 8.5 inches), wider than the national gauge of 1,067 mm (3 feet 6 inches) gauge. When the central government passed legislation setting a single standard for track gauges, the line was converted to the new gauge in a single day, 18 December 1875. The railway later became part of the New Zealand Railways Department.
Founded: 1 April 1861 
New Zealand law provides an anniversary day for each province.
|1||3 Aug 1861||Nov 1864||James Alexander Robertson Menzies|
|2||13 Mar 1865||Nov 1869||John Parkin Taylor|
|3||10 Nov 1869||Sep 1870||William Wood|
- Foster, Bernard John. "Murihiku". Te Ara. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
- McLintock, A. H. "Otago Province or Provincial District". Te Ara. Retrieved 23 October 2010.
- Grant, David (updated 2-Mar-09). "Southland region - Overview". Te Ara. Retrieved 23 October 2010. Check date values in:
- "Provinces 1848-77". Rulers.org. Retrieved 16 September 2010.