The invention of refrigeration saved the New Zealand farming industry from economic depression in the 1880s. Formerly dependent on the sale of wool and hides, farmers welcomed refrigerated vessels that made it possible to export meat as well.
The first shipment left Port Chalmers for Britain aboard the Dunedin on February 14th 1888. The shipment was arranged by Thomas Brydone of the New Zealand and Australia Land Company, who had nearly 5,000 sheep slaughtered at its North Otago property in Totara. The Totara homestead is now a national historic place.
Freezing works soon became a feature of country districts and provincial centres, and a major industry. Changing standards and demands during the 1980s led to a rationalisation of meatworks. Large factories continue to close while new specialist slaughterhouses have begun butchering meat to the requirements of more selective foreign markets. The best meat still goes abroad.
Excerpts from Kiwiosities, a book by Gordon Ell on the traditions and folklore of New Zealand.