Walker and McDougall Lime Kiln Complex

Meredith Road, Kakahu

  • Walker and McDougall Lime Kiln.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.
  • Walker and McDougall Lime Kiln.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.
  • Walker and McDougall Lime Kiln.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7613 Date Entered 24th June 2005


Extent of List Entry

The registration includes the land on Certificate of Title CB 24B/912 and the structures thereon, including the kiln, the remains of the adjacent building and associated archaeological features.

City/District Council

Timaru District


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt RS 10910 (CT CB24B/912), Canterbury Land District

Location description

The kiln is located towards the end of an unformed legal road, off Winchester-Hanging Rock Road. The unformed road is identified on some maps (see QuickMap, p25) as Meredith Road. The kiln and ruins of the associated dwelling/stable complex are on the left of this road, some 200 metres from the rising bush clad hills where the cliff faced quarry was located.


In the 1870s the Kakahu Valley was the hub of a lively lime burning industry because of the high quality of the limestone strata that ran through the region. Workers quarried what was then locally known as marble which they burned in kilns to produce lime, an important building component of the time. The Walker and McDougall kiln is one of two which survive in this region.

The kiln is partly cut out from a rocky hillside and completed with a thick circular random rubble wall. It was typical to locate a lime kiln adjacent to a hill side so that it could readily be loaded from the top, but the way this one is partially integrated into the rock face is less usual. Alongside the kiln are the remains of a derelict stone dwelling and stables, all located conveniently close to the quarry from which the limestone was obtained. The structures were built in 1879-1880 by the initial operators James Walker and Charles Morton McDougall. The stone base course of an old brick kiln remains near the quarry face and it is believed that this is where the bricks which line the lime kiln were fired.

The precise use of the various divisions of the semi-ruined dwelling/stable block is not known. It seems probable from its configuration that the larger block farther from the kiln served for storage and stabling, whereas the smaller spaces closer to the kiln provided workers' accommodation.

Walker and McDougall may have ceased their control of the kiln operation in the late 1880s, however it continued to function until at least 1904.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The structures represent the lime burning industry, integral in the nineteenth century to the production of lime for mortar and for agricultural purposes. The Kakahu area sustained six known kilns between the mid-1860s and the end of the nineteenth century, illustrating the quality of the raw materials available and the demand for the lime that was produced. The Walker and McDougall kiln, one of only two surviving here, is in good condition and is distinguished by its construction, being bedded into the hillside. Another aspect of difference, compared with kilns in other locales, is the association with the stable/accommodation block beside the kiln. This reflects the need to accommodate employees in a remote area close to their work place during the early years of the country's settlement.


The site and buildings from the 1870s have archaeological values though they are not formally recorded NZAA sites. The site would benefit from an investigation which could reveal more information about its history and usage and could also map the route from the quarry to the top of the kiln.

The lime kiln has technological value in illustrating the nineteenth century system for producing lime. Its basic form is representative of those built around New Zealand during the nineteenth century, however, because of the site its outer shape was modified to utilise the hillside itself, reducing the amount of construction required and also providing easier access for loading. The structure can be seen as typical in the basic formula used, yet somewhat idiosyncratic because of its integration into the hillside. Compared with some of the lime kiln structures in other parts of the world this is a very simple example. The Sandymount lime kiln, Cat.I, on Otago Peninsula is also a more complex structure.

As there are only few and varied statistics available about lime production through New Zealand it is difficult to compare the scale and output of this kiln with others. Patricia Adams, assessing this kiln's history in 1996 for the NZHPT explained , ... 'in his New Zealand's Industrial Heritage Geoffrey Thornton mentions over 50 kilns of which he found mention in documentary sources. Unfortunately there seems to be no other general survey of the industry and Thornton's coverage contains only fragmentary information on output, distribution and differences in technology'. However, it seems that the Walker and McDougall kiln, at 8.9 meters high, was a comparatively large example described in the 1880 Timaru Herald item as being 'large enough to burn 120 bags at once'. Thornton only provides the dimensions for one kiln, a 6 metre tall lime kiln built at Warkworth in 1866 .

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The kiln represents the important lime burning industry which produced an essential component for the mortar traditionally used when building with brick or masonry. This use of lime was widespread in New Zealand throughout the last forty years of the nineteenth century and though this kiln has some specific individual characteristics it can be seen to represent the lime burning industry as a whole, as well as reflecting the concentration of this activity in the Kakahu area.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

This is a typical lime kiln of its period and is valuable as an illustration of the design, construction and process used in the production of lime through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It demonstrates the skills of the stone masons who successfully adapted the standard kiln design to this site.

Thornton explains the process: 'The lime was prepared by calcining limestone in a kiln to reduce it to a uniform powder state by burning.'

Kerr gives detail of the general method used in the Kakahu area: 'The method of firing was general; a layer of wood, usually manuka, was set at the bottom. A barrow-load of coal then went in and on top three barrow-loads of limestone chips were tipped. This was repeated till the kiln was full, when the wood was fired from the narrow opening below and from where the burnt lime was extracted'.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:

Thornton records evidence of over 50 lime kilns having been built throughout New Zealand, although only a small number now survive, some in a dilapidated state.

The place is a rare, interesting and intact example of a lime kiln. Apart from the five lime kilns on the NZHPT Register a number of other lime kilns in various stages of repair survive, including two un-registered pot kilns built in the 1890s at Staveley, Mid-Canterbury. One of these is partly integrated into the hillside in a similar manner to the Walker and Mc Dougall kiln. The two are reasonably intact and have been recently stabilised by the Department of Conservation which manages the site. Buxton's kiln is another unregistered example which survives near Mt Somers in the Ashburton Gorge. (These three kilns are listed as heritage items in the Ashburton District Council's Plan.)

Nevertheless, there is a considerable degree of rarity to these fascinating structures, often found in remote locations with their rugged appearance described as being like a 'Norman tower'. The Walker and McDougall kiln at Kakahu has the distinguishing features of being constructed as part of the hillside and the linkage to the ruined building at its base. Although there is a cluster of surviving kilns in this region, with varying degrees of integration with the hillside, free standing examples are more usual.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape:

The site is part of the broader landscape of lime burning in South Canterbury, and more particularly, a significant part of the concentration of this activity in the Kakahu Valley area. The Kakahu Gorge is of considerable interest with its varied historical, geological and natural features. A number of Queen Elizabeth II National Trust covenants have been taken out over recent years to protect these features including native vegetation, Maori cave shelters and rock drawings, limestone outcrops and rare fossils

The Walker and McDougall kiln also has historical links to the nearby Kakahu kiln (Cat. I) on Halls Road, because of its similar date, construction and building materials and the fact that it is probable that it was built by the same masons.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Walker, James

James Walker . Emigrated to New Zealand aboard the Canterbury in 1874, and was described as masons on the passenger list.

McDougall, Charles

Charles Morton McDougall. Emigrated to New Zealand aboard the Canterbury in 1874, and was described as masons on the passenger list.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The Kakahu River runs through a rocky gorge area and then through a productive valley in South Canterbury, inland from Winchester. The original Kakahu run was taken up in 1853 by Captain Richard Westenra with other farming settlers following into the district, exploring it carefully and gaining knowledge of the natural resources available. Kakahu was prized by Maori as a food gathering area and there are several rock art sites in the region. Geologically the place is significant as it goes back 310 million years with rock outcrops, the oldest in Canterbury, containing unique fossils of long extinct marine creatures. Stories have been told of early European settlers seeking gold, oil and even opals here, though the only substantiated finds are of a few 'pea sized' gold nuggets . A good clay for brick making was also available, but through the latter decades of the nineteenth century it was the rich limestone deposits which brought activity to Kakahu.

Lime burning is an ancient practice with the Cretan civilisation using lime as masonry mortar some 3,000 years ago. It was widely used by Roman times and the first record of kilns built for burning lime is 184 BC. Various shapes and types of kilns developed, the most common in new Zealand being the 'pot kiln' in which the fuel was layered at the bottom and the lime stone added at the top. It was convenient to locate the pot kilns adjacent to a hill for ease of top loading, with the construction sometimes being partly integrated into the hillside itself. In the United States these were referred to as 'groundhog' kilns.

The lime burning industry was widespread throughout New Zealand in the nineteenth century, providing both an integral component of the traditional mortar used for bonding masonry and brick work and later, lime for agricultural purposes. Three kilns had been constructed in Nelson by 1843 and numerous others were constructed through the country, though not a great number have survived . Demand for lime for building purposes led to the limestone/marble country of the Kakahu Valley and Gorge becoming the centre of a thriving lime-burning (and brick-making) industry from the 1860s.

The lime industry began here in 1867 when George Meredith started burning limestone which produced an adequate but relatively low quality building lime. In 1874 Alexander Fergusson, a Scottish stonemason, in partnership with George Munro, a monumental sculptor, established the 'Pioneer Limekiln, Kakahu' close to marble outcrops from which a superior grade of lime could be obtained, as it was 95 per cent pure carbonate of lime. They advertised their product as 'the best lime ever used in Canterbury' . There are records of a total of six lime kilns operating at Kakahu through the 1870s, though establishing their precise history has been a continuing challenge to the NZHPT since 1970 because of a dearth of documentation . There is documentation for the establishment of the Walker and McDougall kiln in an article published in the Timaru Herald on 30 January, 1880. It states that the two men, 'who have been burning lime in the Kakahu Gorge for some time have lately built a new kiln close to the quarry whence they obtain their stone for burning'. The item describes the kiln and the site, confirming that this surviving structure is the one referred to and it indicates that the two men had begun their project in 1879. The two stone masons had travelled together from Scotland on the 'Canterbury', arriving in Lyttelton on 3 September 1874. They have been credited with building the Halls Road (Cat. I) kiln, which is of very similar construction though there is some dispute about its date. It may have been built in 1876, in which case the contract for this kiln could have brought Walker and McDougall to the area. Another date suggested for the Hall's Road structure is 1881 which does not discount the two masons having built it . Information on an old map at LINZ shows that in 1877 McDougall leased 26 acres of land which had been granted to the Superintendent of the Canterbury Provincial Council for Educational purposes. This land was to the north of the Hanging Rock-Winchester Road opposite where the Fergusson and Munro kiln was sited. (See sketch map, p.27). It is not known what the reason was for leasing this land. Perhaps they were working on other projects in the area and perhaps they considered building a kiln for themselves here, and then obtained access to the site closer to the quarry. During their time at Kakahu their occupation was given as 'lime-burners' in LINZ records.

It has been difficult to unravel the ownership of the land concerned as the quarry was on one title, owned by Henry Le Cren, whereas the kiln and associated buildings are on the adjoining land then owned by John Studholme and Joseph Banks. Walker and McDougall never had title for the kiln site, but they did purchase the 20 acre (8.09 hectares) quarry block on terms in 1881, mortgaging it to John Shears in that year. In 1888 John Shears' son Benjamin foreclosed on the mortgage, repossessing the quarry property and selling it to David Ross, a land broker. The association of its builders with the kiln and quarry may well have ceased at this time, as both had apparently shifted from the area by the mid-1890s. Ross later went bankrupt, and in 1893 the quarry block was sold to William Studholme (the son of John Studholme), who had sub-divided the kiln block on a separate two acre (0.8 hectare) title in 1892. Studholme sold the quarry block to Benjamin Shears in 1896, but retained the kiln block and rights of access to the quarry .

It seems probable that the kiln continued to operate after Walker and McDougall's time, because of the agreement with Benjamin Shears for continued access to the quarry and the subdivision of the kiln site in1892. Although there is no documentary evidence to support Shears' involvement, in 1973 the Shears family held a reunion at the lime kiln site, claiming that the kiln, dwelling and stables were associated with their ancestor. Shears was a brick maker whose brickworks in Timaru were described in 1876 as 'the largest in South Canterbury' . His interest in the quarry site may well have been more closely concerned with the availability of good quality clay for brick making. There is no evidence that Studholme or his agents used the kiln either, and as profits for lime burning decreased through the 1890s (with the increased use of cement for the building industry) it seems likely that a suggested date of c.1904 for the cessation of operations is reasonable. A recorded recollection is that after the kiln closed the adjacent buildings were used in conjunction with a coaching business, but the out of the way location of the buildings makes this unlikely . By 1904 some of the other Kakahu kilns had already failed and been dismantled, in some cases because the hardness of the 'marble' made the quarrying and crushing of the raw material too labour intensive and costly.

There have been several changes in ownership of the Walker and McDougall kiln site through the 20th century. When Ian Morrison purchased his farm block in 1966 he drew the attention of the South Canterbury Branch Committee to the two surviving Kakahu kilns on his property and suggested their preservation. The Halls Road example was chosen because of its easy access sited alongside the relatively busy Halls Road, its good state of repair and its imposing appearance. The NZHPT classified the kiln 'B' (Category I), the site was gazetted a historic reserve on 12 March, 1976 and an interpretive panel was erected. It was always intended that the other kiln, Walker and McDougall, which is of similar significance, should be added to the NZHPT Register.

Physical Description

The 8.9 metre high round kiln is built into the rocky hillside so that only the thick, outer circular wall had to be constructed of random rubble stone. Two heavy stone flanking buttresses support the structure at the base and there are two smaller ones further up the hillside. The main body of the hollow pot-shaped kiln is of random blocks of stone with a demarcation at mid-height where larger regularly shaped stones are used and the arched opening to the firing chamber at the base is similarly defined. The kiln's interior is brick-lined. Because the opening at the top of the kiln was directly accessed from the hill top, no connecting ramp was required as at the nearby Halls Road kiln which is a free standing structure adjacent to the hill side.

The 'L' shaped stable/dwelling building is sited some three metres from the kiln, and consists of five rooms, the largest being the stable, and the smaller rooms living quarters for the workmen. The building's walls were constructed of stone rubble with dressed limestone blocks used for the doors and windows. The walls now remain approximately 1.9 metres high. There is no knowledge of the roof's material as no elements have been discovered on site. It was probably corrugated iron on a timber frame, removed in the past for re-use elsewhere.


The kiln is largely intact though some deterioration has been noted over the past 30 years. The adjacent building is a roofless ruin.

In 1992 a Task Force Green project removed weeds and gorse from the buildings and site, reducing the progress of decay.

Construction Dates

1879 - 1880
Lime kiln and buildings

Original Construction
1879 -
Construction begun

Original Construction
1880 -
January reported complete and functioning

1880 - 1900
Only minor modifications are known to have been made to the dwelling, door partially filled to create window and a door created to provide alternative access.

Construction Details

The structure has been adapted to the particular site, but was probably based on an available plan for a conventional lime kiln.

The kiln, dwelling and stables are built of random rubble, with quoins and surrounds of dressed limestone. Bricks line the interior.

Completion Date

1st April 2005

Report Written By

Pam Wilson

Information Sources

Andersen, 1916

Johannes Andersen, 'Jubilee History of South Canterbury', Whitcombe & Tombs, Auckland, 1916

Christchurch Press

2 July 1972, article by Phyllis Kerr; 24 June 1979, article by Dr John Wilson.


Department of Scientific and Industrial Research

Geological Maps of New Zealand. N.Z Geological Survey, Sheet 20, 1:250,000. DSIR, March, 1963

Harrington, n.d

Jane Harrington, An archaeological and historical overview of limeburning in Victoria. Heritage Victoria.

Kerr, 1971

Phyllis Kerr, 'From the Beginning, Chronicles of a County', Geraldine, 1971

Morrison, 2005

Ian Morrison, Unpublished research notes on the Kakahu Lime Kilns, updated 31 March 2005 (held in the NZHPT Southern Regional Office)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

NZHPT File 12002-002

Thornton, 1982

Geoffrey G. Thornton, New Zealand's Industrial Heritage, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1982

Timaru Herald

Timaru Herald

30 Jan 1880, news item re: Kakahu kiln; 2 Apr, 5 Oct & 14 Dec1887, tender and business notices; 25 Mar 1989, p.6, article by Steve Attwood; 17 Jan 1995, article by John Gunn.

Other Information

A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Southern region office

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.