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Totara Estate, Oamaru

Established in the 1850s near Oamaru, Totara Estate became nationally significant in 1882 when it exported New Zealand’s first shipment of frozen meat overseas, making it the birthplace of what is now a billion-dollar frozen meat export industry.

Purchased by the New Zealand and Australian Land Company in 1866, Totara Estate, Oamaru was a farm known for its sheep, cattle and grain.

One of the major improvements made during the period of the first Land Company was the construction of Totara House. Tenders for the buildiing were called in October 1867 but the substantial two-storey house residence was not completed for another year at a cost pf 2,000 pounds.

It is reasonable to assume the farm buildings restored by the NZ historic trust were built about the time as Totara House, Oamaru.

A downturn in wool prices during the 1870s focussed the attention of New Zealand pastoralists on the results of the first shipment of frozen meat from Australia to Britain in 1880. When this shipment proved successful, W.S. Davidson, the general manager at Totara Estate, Oamaru began to organise a similar venture from New Zealand. He had a slaughterhouse built at Totara Estate, Oamaru and sent the first shipment of meat from the estate to Port Chalmers in 1882. The meat was frozen on board the ship ‘Dunedin’, which had a steam-powered Bell-Coleman refrigeration system installed, and the meat arrived successfully in Britain. By the end of the 1890s the export of frozen meat had become (and remains) of considerable importance economically, politically and socially, to New Zealand.

The New Zealand and Australian Land Company sold Totara Estate, Oamaru in the early years of the twentieth century and it was bought by the manager John McPherson who farmed it until his death in the 1920s.

The Totara Estate, Oamaru farm buildings, built of local limestone from Oamaru, reflect the functions of the Estate – the Carcass Shed, Stables, Granary, and Cookshop and Men’s Quarters. Their design reflects their simple building utilitarian functions on this large property.

In 1978 the outbuildings were subdivided from the main estate and in 1980 the Totara Estate, Oamaru farm buildings were purchased by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust/Pouhere Taonga (NZHPT), with the assistance of a number of grants including one from the New Zealand Meat Board. NZHPT restored the buildings during 1981-1982 and created displays which illustrate the early history of Totara Estate, Oamaru and the development of the frozen meat industry.

In 2012 the Totara Estate, Oamaru is a NZHPT property of outstanding significance as the birthplace of New Zealand’s frozen meat export industry, which has been one of the country’s economic mainstays throughout the twentieth century.


Totara House, Oamaru [ Author: Martin E. Cuff, 1982 ]