Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This week in New Zealand history: first shipment of frozen export produce

Frozen meat had been successfully exported from Australia in 1879, and a few years later New Zealand had its own first shipment.

On the 15th of February 1882, the Dunedin sailed from Port Chalmers for London. The Dunedin was a sailing ship, but a steam-powered freezing plant had been installed on board, and thousands of sheep carcasses frozen for shipping. The exporters must have been delighted with the outcome; a carcass that would have fetched 13 shillings in New Zealand returned over 22 shillings on the London market.

That first shipment carried butter as well as meat, and marked the beginning of a true export market for New Zealand's dairy produce. No longer were farmers limited to selling what butter they could persuade the local storekeeper to take, often in exchange for goods rather than for cash. Herd numbers expanded, more butter factories opened, and the co-operative system of factory ownership blossomed.

In Mud and Gold, Frank first gets the idea of trying to set up one such co-operative in Ruatane, although he will face some scepticism from the older farmers.

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