A home for M?ori for about 700 years, Lyttelton Harbour was discovered by European voyagers passing by on 16 February 1770 during the Endeavourís first voyage to New Zealand.
In August 1849 it was officially proclaimed a port.
Lyttelton was formerly called Port Cooper (after Daniel Cooper) and Port Victoria. It was the original settlement in the district (1850). The name Lyttelton was given to it in honor of George William Lyttelton of the Canterbury Association, which had led the colonization of the area.
The Lyttelton Times was one of the principal newspapers of the Canterbury region for 80 years, published from 1851 until 1929, at which time it became the Christchurch Times, until publication ceased in 1935.
Aiming to establish a Church of England colony in New Zealand, the Canterbury Association was founded in 1848. As Lyttelton was a harbor, and had a large amount of flat land suitable for farming and development nearby, it was ideal for a colony. Pilgrim's Rock shows the place where European settlers first set foot in the harbor. The present location of the rock is well inland from the sea, as much of Lyttelton's dockside has been reclaimed from the harbor waters in recent years.
In 1862, the first telegraph transmission in New Zealand was made from Lyttelton Post Office.
In 1870, fire destroyed all the wooden buildings in Norwich Quay, on the main street of Lyttelton.
The Lyttelton Timeball Station was erected in 1876 and was one of the world's five working timeball stations until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 2011. The castle-like building was located high on a ridge above the port with extensive views over the harbor.
On 1 January 1908, the Nimrod Expedition, headed by Ernest Shackleton to explore Antarctica left from the harbor here.
The Lyttelton Harbour Board was created in 1877 to be in charge of the harborís management. It was dissolved in 1989 after the passing of the 1988 Port