Matanaka (1843)

From whaling to farming

Not all missionaries disliked whalers. Bishop Selwyn felt that ‘the whalefishers impart a considerable amount of civilisation to the natives’, and praised the men’s love for their children, the half-caste, bilingual youngsters who daily bridged the cultural divide. When whaling declined, their Māori wives followed the retired whalers to small ‘shagroon’ colonies scattered about the coast, where the men took up boatbuilding, fishing and subsistence farming. Some did better than subsist. The former Sydney waterman John Jones owned a string of southern New Zealand whaling stations and supply craft before turning coloniser. He sent immigrants and livestock across to his Waikouaiti station in 1840, and followed three years later. Visitors found touches of civilisation such as a piano. Jones’s farms prospered, supplying the Free Church settlers who waded through the mud and sand to found Dunedin in 1848.

The oldest of the simple red-brown buildings at Matanaka Farm have stood facing the sea, Jones’s highway to prosperity, since at least 1843. They are the oldest farming buildings in the country, having been shipped across the Tasman in kitset along with Jones’s settlers in the Magnet. There are five: the stables, granary, schoolroom, store and communal privy. The largest, the two-storey, six-stalled stable, was built of pit-sawn timber. The harness room was lined in Baltic pine, tongued, grooved and lined. A weathervane tops its loft, which has a door for loading fodder from drays. The schoolroom was probably converted from a farm building. But none of the bigger buildings can compete with the three-seater communal privy for visitor interest. Its raised central seat suggests a strongly hierarchical community.

Jones moved to Dunedin in 1854. Here his impressive stone residence, Fernhill, became that bastion of Otago propriety, the Dunedin Club. One of his many ventures, the Harbour Steam Company, would form the basis of New Zealand’s biggest colonial-era business, the Union Steam Ship Company.

Further information

This site is item number 16 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.

On the ground

The site is not staffed but is interpreted. It is closed between 14 August and 30 September for the lambing season, and no dogs are permitted at any time.



  • Hardwicke Knight and P. Coutts, Matanaka, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1975

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