The Wakatipu Flourmill Complex (Former), the surviving structures associated with William Gilmour’s mill which was founded at Speargrass Flat near Lake Hayes in 1871, recalls the importance of grain growing in the Wakatipu region in the nineteenth century.
Following on the heels of the success of Bendix Hallenstein’s Brunswick Flour Mill at nearby Frankton, William Gilmour, a self-taught miller established his own business on Mill Creek. By 1882 the detached outbuildings in the complex included a stone oat-drying kiln, stone stable and buggy house, carpenter’s and blacksmith’s shops, men’s sleeping room and coal shed.
The mill remained in Gilmour ownership until 1888 when the land and water-rights for Wakatipu Flourmill were transferred to Thomas Murray. The complex was transferred again in 1902 to William Reid and Robert McDowell, storekeepers from Macetown. After the dissolution of their partnership in 1910 the mill traded as William Reid and Sons. The mill remained operational until 1945 when it was closed due to the high cost of transportation to the coastal port. In 1950 the property was sold and the millhouse was demolished.
Since that time the site has been redeveloped and the surviving building is a private residence. The remaining structures associated with the Wakatipu Flour Mill are the oat-drying kiln and adjoining remains of the stables and blacksmith shop. A hut, shed (possibly the former coal shed) and remains of a cottage also remain on the site, though are in generally poor condition. A stone-lined tunnel from the site of the millhouse to Mill Creek remains undisturbed. The wheel pit and millstones also remain at the site of the millhouse.
Visible from Speargrass Flat Road, the stone oat-drying kiln is the most prominent feature of the Wakatipu Flourmill Complex and lends the place aesthetic value. The Wakatipu Flourmill Complex combines both standing structures and sub-surface remains present the story of both building technology and technologies in processing wheat and oats. The Wakatipu Flourmill Complex relates to the horticultural history of the Wakatipu Basin. The production of flour and oatmeal from locally grown wheat and grains was a valuable contribution to the local market, supplying staple foods for the settled population. The Wakatipu Flourmill was the last operational mill in the Wakatipu Basin.
The stables and oat-drying kiln were converted to a residence in the mid-1990s by former owner, architect Mark van der Wilt, and in 2012 it remains a private home.
Historical Significance or Value
The Wakatipu Flourmill Complex relates to the horticultural history of the Wakatipu Basin. Although renowned for its gold mining heritage, the production and processing of food crops was an important early industry in the region that continued beyond the gold rush as part of a sustainable local economy. The production of flour and oatmeal from locally grown wheat and grains was a valuable contribution to the local market, supplying staple foods for the settled population. The Wakatipu Flourmill was the last operational mill in the Wakatipu Basin.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Visible from Speargrass Flat Road, the stone oat-drying kiln is the most prominent feature of the Wakatipu Flourmill Complex and lends the place aesthetic value. The age and patina of this building and the associated complex have attracted responses from a number of visual artists including Peter Beadle, Don Donovan and Audrey Bascand.
Archaeological Significance or Value
The Wakatipu Flourmill Complex combines both standing structures and sub-surface remains that were built prior to 1900. The mill race and wheel pit provide insight into the flour mill technologies associated with the Wakatipu Flourmill and the remaining structures present the story of both building technology and technologies in processing wheat and oats. The complex has potential to reveal information through archaeological methods and as such has archaeological significance. The rarity of the oat-drying kiln further adds to the archaeological value of the complex.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
The Wakatipu Flourmill Complex (Former) represents the period of early agricultural development in the Wakatipu Basin, in particular the establishment of the grain industry. Wakatipu was a major grain growing region in the later nineteenth century, and the farm developed to provide wheat for its own mill. The story of the grain industry is one which is not often remembered in the history of the Wakatipu area.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The operation of the oat-drying kiln was praised in its day for the technical accomplishment of the design especially the system of elevators and shoots that removed any requirement for the product to be touched. Many features associated with these mechanisms remain in the building.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
The oat-drying kiln at Wakatipu Flourmill is a rare example of a nineteenth century oat kiln. It is possibly the earliest surviving example of its type in the Otago provincial region.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
Wakatipu Flourmill was one of three mills in the Wakatipu Basin, two of which were situated in the Speargrass Flat area and powered by Hayes (Mill) Creek. Adjacent to Ayrburn Farm, the Wakatipu Flourmill Complex relates to the past era of horticulture and agriculture in the area.
The lakes region of interior Central Otago was traditionally important to Kai Tahu whānui who travelled to sites throughout the region to māhika kai (food and resource gathering sites) to gather resources for their own use, as well as for trade. The hunting of moa, weka, eels, ducks, the digging of fern root and tī root, gathering of taramea, and precious stone resources such as pounamu and silcrete, were a main focus of activity. Numerous ara tawhito (traditional pathways) passed through the area and a number of sites of permanent residence were located near lakes Whakatipu-wai-Māori, Wanaka and Hāwea. Ka-muri-wai (the Arrowtown Flat) and the Haehaenui (Arrow River) area were particularly noted as hunting grounds for weka. The Kawarau River which drains Whakatipu-wai-Māori to the south of Arrowtown was part of the major ara tawhito linking the interior with the east coast of Te Wai Pounamu by way of the Mata-au (Clutha).
The land in the Arrowtown area was alienated through the 1848 Kemp’s purchase for the Crown and subsequent declaration as part of the Otago goldfields. Today tangata whenua for the area retain strong connections to the land, and this is borne out by the names and stories of the area.
Gold was first discovered on the Arrow in 1862 by William Fox. In the same year the goldfield was opened and miners poured into the region, many from Victoria, Australia. During the goldrush years the total population of the Shotover and Arrow districts was estimated at about 3000.
The Arrow township (originally called Fox's) was established and Fox remained in the district as proprietor of the 'Golden Age' hotel. Like other goldfield towns in Central Otago, Arrowtown grew rapidly. In the early years accommodation for the miners consisted merely of calico tents, but this gradually changed with the erection of more permanent structures of timber and iron, and later in stone. At the end of 1864 Arrow contained 19 wholesale and retail stores, 10 hotels and several private dwellings. Arrowtown was constituted a borough in 1867 and was declared a municipality on 14 January 1874.
When the goldrush ended the town's economy centred on wheat and cereals grown in the vicinity. Speargrass Flat, the area north of Lake Hayes, provided fertile ground for agriculture with ample water supply in natural waterways and mining water-races. In 1862 James Flint at Glenpanel near Lake Hayes harvested the first grain crop in the district. The first flourmill in Wakatipu was the Brunswick Mill at Kawarau Falls established in 1866 by businessman Bendix Hallenstein and J. W. Robertson, the first mayor of Queenstown. Hallenstein and Robertson encouraged wheat growing in the region by making cash advances to local farmers, and the Wakatipu district soon became the foremost wheat growing region in the country.
The Wakatipu Flour Mill was founded at Speargrass Flat by William Gilmour around 1871. Secondary sources record the date of the mill’s establishment from 1868 to c.1870. The company prospectus published in 1882 described the business as being in operation for ‘the last eleven years’, suggesting a slightly later establishment date of 1871. However, the land area was not formally transferred to William Gilmour until 1873.
The mill originally occupied two acres (8094 square metres) of land extracted from William Paterson’s pastoral holding. Paterson settled in the district in 1862 and established Ayrburn Farm, north of Gilmour’s land. Ayrburn Farm was one of the first in the Wakatipu Basin and many of the original stone buildings are retained in situ. The Butel brothers, John and Peter, established their farm, wheat field and flourmill soon after on land now occupied by Millbrook Resort.
Gilmour, a self-taught miller, soon had the Wakatipu Flourmill in full operation and was notable in 1874 for producing at least 740 tons of flour in one season. The mill was driven by a 25 foot (7.6 metre) water-wheel fed by an abundant water supply from Mill Creek (formerly Hayes Creek). The main building in the complex was a three storey mill built from beech felled at the head of Lake Wakatipu. By 1882 the detached outbuildings in the complex included a stone oat-drying kiln, stone stable and buggy house, carpenter’s and blacksmith’s shops, men’s sleeping room and coal shed. A small residence for the manager or miller was erected on the opposite side of Mill Creek.
Gilmour’s ingenuity and enterprise was especially praised in his production of oatmeal, a popular product in the Arrow and Lakes districts. While stones for grinding wheat for flour were imported from France, shelling stones for husking grain for oatmeal were sourced locally. Rather than wait for imported stones from Great Britain, Gilmour had sandstone quarried from a reef at Twelve Mile, Lake Wakatipu.
The operation of Gilmour’s oat-drying kiln was equally highly praised, especially as the millwright was amateur:
After leaving the kiln the oats are shot into a bin, from whence they are conveyed to a second floor by the operation of the elevators from the kiln. They are never touched by hand until they descend the shoots in the form of oatmeal, ready for bagging for market.
Ownership of the mill was formally transferred to William’s brother Robert Gilmour in 1879. However, Robert Gilmour was managing the Wakatipu Flourmill by 1877 when he was granted rights to construct a water-race to drive machinery at the mill. The head of the water-race was situated below Hayes Creek Falls (now Mill Creek Falls near Waterfall Park Road) and extended south with a total length of 1100 yards (approximately one kilometre). Survey plans and a recent archaeological survey indicate that the water-race passed through Ayrburn Farm and other sections to the north, entering the Wakatipu Flourmill land from the east. An easement over the land traversed by the race was issued in 1902.
Robert Gilmour floated the Wakatipu Flourmill as a public company in 1882. At that time the mill’s assets were valued at £5,150 and included the buildings detailed above and the ‘never-failing’ water right that was reputed to be the best in the district. The capacity of the driving machinery was claimed to be sufficient for a woollen mill making the complex suitable for conversion if required. However, the company prospectus also stated that the ample supply of top quality wheat and oats with the efficiency of the machinery and reliable water supply made for a profitable business.
The share float was presumably unsuccessful as the mill remained in Gilmour’s ownership until 1888 when the land and water-rights for Wakatipu Flourmill were transferred to Thomas Murray who had held a mortgage interest in the land since 1879. The complex was transferred again in 1902 to William Reid and Robert McDowell, storekeepers from Macetown. After the dissolution of their partnership in 1910 the mill traded as William Reid and Sons. The mill remained operational until 1945 when it was closed due to the high cost of transportation to the coastal port. In 1950 the property was sold and the millhouse was demolished.
Since that time the site has been redeveloped and the surviving building is a private residence.
The Wakatipu Flourmill Complex (Former) is located on Speargrass Flat Road, approximately two kilometres south-west of Arrowtown. The remaining structures associated with the Wakatipu Flourmill are the oat-drying kiln, which is clearly visible from the road, and adjoining remains of the stables and blacksmith shop. A hut, shed (possibly the former coal shed) and remains of a cottage also remain on the site, though are in generally poor condition. A stone-lined tunnel from the site of the millhouse to remains Mill Creek remains undisturbed, though has been partially filled-in for safety reasons. The wheel pit and millstones also remain at the site of the millhouse. The miller’s house remains in situ and is well-maintained and occupied. The miller’s house is not included in the registration.
The stables and oat-drying kiln were converted to a residence in the mid-1990s by former owner, architect Mark van der Wilt. While the schist walls of the stables remain (plastered over in part), the floor level has been raised and the roof has been replaced. The stables form the main living and kitchen area with an extension to the north accommodating bedrooms and bathroom facilities.
The oat-drying kiln has the highest integrity of all remaining buildings in the complex. It retains the original timber sprung mezzanine floor and remnants of features associated with the technical operation of the building such as shoots and metal levers and tracks for the elevator transport system. The stone building is now used as an additional living area and bedroom.
Adjoining the oat-drying kiln to the south is the former blacksmith’s shop, now used as a storage shed. The original schist walls are in a dilapidated state and are clad externally in corrugated iron.
The remaining buildings have been significantly modified and limited original heritage fabric is visible. The exception to this is the oat-drying kiln, which retains much original fabric.
The kiln is a rare example of its type and is possibly the only surviving nineteenth century oat-drying kiln in the Otago region. These structures were particularly prone to fire, given the flammable nature of the product and the process. An oat-drying kiln at Clark’s Mill, Maheno (Record No.346) was deconstructed and rebuilt in the late-1970s. The oat kiln at Somerville Park, Waitepeka (Record No. 7723) is in a relatively dilapidated state and is likely to post-date the Wakatipu Flourmill oat-drying kiln. No other examples are identified in the Otago region on NZHPT’s Register of Historic Places, Historic Areas, Wahi Tapu and Wahi Tapu Areas.
1870 - 1882
Oat-drying kiln, stables, carpenter’s and blacksmith’s shops, men’s sleeping room and coal shed
Water-race from Mill Creek Falls
Demolished - Redevelopment
1994 - 1996
Alteration and addition to stables and oat-drying kiln as residence
Stone, timber, iron
8th November 2012
Report Written By
F.W.G Miller, Golden Days of Lake County, 5th edn, Christchurch, 1973
Otago Daily Times
Otago Daily Times
5 November 1877, p.3
3 July 1875, p.18
6 September 1882, p.1
Geoffrey G. Thornton, New Zealand's Industrial Heritage, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1982
A fully referenced registration report is available from the Otago/Southland Office of the NZHPT.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.