Totara Estate

Totara Estate

Totara Estate Totara Estate Totara Estate Totara Estate Totara Estate Totara Estate Totara Estate Totara Estate

Totara Estate (1882)

Birthplace of the frozen meat industry

Totara Estate is one of New Zealand’s most important historic places, more important than these austere Ōamaru stone buildings may suggest. This was the testing ground for the technological revolution that enabled an agricultural colony to enjoy First World living standards. Before the 1880s wool was the only sheep product that could be exported. William Soltau Davidson, who pioneered our frozen meat trade, recalled ‘having to erect yards at the edges of cities, into which thousands of these old sheep were driven, so that they might be knocked on the head and thrown over the precipice as a waste product’. Davidson managed the New Zealand runs of the colossal Scottish-owned New Zealand and Australian Land Company.

In 1881 the Albion Line fitted a Bell-Coleman plant to its sailing ship Dunedin and at Totara Estate, just outside Ōamaru, the Land Company added a slaughterhouse to these late 1860s farm outbuildings. Davidson and local manager Thomas Brydone supervised the slaughtering of 300-400 sheep a day. Ōamaru's harbour works were incomplete, so they railed the carcasses to Port Chalmers for freezing aboard the Dunedin, which sailed for London on 15 February 1882. The ship landed the cargo in perfect condition. Over the next few decades refrigeration reshaped the New Zealand economy, making meat and dairy products new staple exports. ‘A new economy and society was created’, the New Zealand Historical Atlas noted: ‘one of sheep bred for meat as much as for wool, of owner-occupier farms rather than stations with large numbers of hands, of freezing works and their associated communities, and of ports, some of the activities of which were dominated by this industry.’ By 1902 frozen meat made up 20% of all exports.

The former Historic Places Trust, helped by the meat industry, bought, restored and opened these buildings to the public on 15 February 1982, exactly 100 years after the Dunedin’s historic sailing. The Trust was too late to save the carcass shed, but you can still inspect its concrete floor and blood gutter. The other buildings include the men’s quarters and workshop, stables and granary.

Related Places: The privately-occupied Totara Estate Homestead is a Category II historic place. If you are feeling fit, the Brydone Monument that has crowned Sebastopol Hill since 1907 is worth the hike.

In Ōamaru itself there are two other pioneering meat trade sites: Sumpter Wharf and the old Humber Street freezing works (1885-86) behind the railway tracks, a few hundred metres north of the historic precinct.

Further information

This site is item number 60 on the History of New Zealand in 100 Places list.

On the ground

The site is staffed and interpreted. It is closed June-August, Christmas Day and Good Friday. Check the Trust website for opening hours and special events.



  • Martine E. Cuff, Totara Estate, New Zealand Historic Places Trust, Wellington, 1982

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