29 Aug 2014

Totara Estate

From Country Life, 9:29 pm on 29 August 2014

Totara topbarJim Howden in front of the slaughterhouse.

New Zealand's first export shipment of mutton was slaughtered at Totara Estate and sent to Britain from Port Chalmers in 1882.

The meat was frozen on board the ship 'Dunedin', which had a steam-powered Bell-Coleman refrigeration system installed, and arrived in Britain three months later.

Totara Estate's volunteer guide Jim Howden enjoys taking people through the North Otago slaughterhouse.

"There were six butchers and they each did 50 sheep a day. The next morning they (the carcasses) were taken by wagon across the field here to the rail head and loaded onto special wagons which had ice buckets on them. The meat was taken straight to Port Chalmers and loaded on the boat because there were no freezing units on the dock at the time."

It was the beginning of New Zealand's multi-billion dollar frozen meat industry. 

Totara Estate was established during the 1850's and was known for growing sheep, cattle and grain. It was purchased by the Glasgow-based New Zealand and Australian Land Company in 1866.

Because of the downturn in wool prices during the 1870's, New Zealand farmers were extremely interested in the results of the first frozen meat shipment from Australia to Britain in 1880. Once this proved successful, the company built a slaughterhouse at Totara in 1881.

By the end of the 1890's the export of frozen meat had become of considerable importance economically, politically and socially, to New Zealand.

Anne Sutherland is manager of Totara Estate and says the restored farm buildings and displays are a tribute to the courage and determination of New Zealand's early pioneers.

The property is now owned by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

totrara group webAllan Thompson, Margaret Jamison, Averill Jamison, Anne Sutherland and Jim Howden.