Totara Estate

Alma-Maheno Road (State Highway 1), Totara Centennial Park, Totara

  • Totara Estate, Otago.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand . Taken By: Malcolm Duff. Date: 1/01/2011.
  • Totara Estate, Otago. Men's Quarters & Cookshop. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 17/11/2019.
  • Totara Estate, Otago. Slaughter House & Carcass Shed. 2010.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand . Taken By: Malcolm Duff.
  • Totara Estate, Otago. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 17/11/2019.
  • Totara Estate, Otago. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 17/11/2019.
  • Totara Estate, Otago. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans . Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 17/11/2019.
  • Totara Estate, Otago. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Shellie Evans. Taken By: Shellie Evans – flyingkiwigirl. Date: 17/11/2019.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 7066 Date Entered 28th June 2012 Date of Effect 28th June 2012


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Lot 2 DP 17093 (RT OT8C/1410) Otago Land District and the four buildings thereon that form part of Totara Estate including: the Carcass Hanging Shed, Granary (Barn); Stables; Men's Quarters and Cookhouse; and the buildings' fittings and fixtures (refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Waitaki District


Otago Region

Legal description

Lot 2 DP 17093 (RT OT8C/1410), Otago Land District

Location description

Totara Estate is located is located 10 kilometres south of Oamaru on State Highway 1. It is 100 kilometres north of Dunedin.


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 was a farm known for its sheep, cattle and grain. 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, began to organise a similar venture from New Zealand. He had a slaughterhouse built at Totara 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 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 farm buildings, built of local limestone, reflect the functions of the Estate - the Carcass Shed, Stables, Granary, and Cookshop and Men’s Quarters. Their design reflects their simple utilitarian functions on this large property.

In 1978 the outbuildings were subdivided from the main estate and in 1980 the Totara Estate 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 and the development of the frozen meat industry.

In 2012 the Totara Estate 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.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Totara Estate has outstanding significance for its pioneering role in the establishment of the frozen meat industry in New Zealand in the early 1880s. In addition, as an early pastoral estate dating from the 1850s, Totara provides insight into the changes within the pastoral sector throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Its association with the New Zealand and Australian Land Company shows the significance of such companies in the development of the rural sector, and in the case of Totara, the Company’s role in the establishment of the meat industry.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

Totara Estate, set in the limestone escarpments typical of North Otago, is an attractive farmstead. Built of the Oamaru stone which surrounds it the Complex, the buildings reflect their setting, the stone architectural vernacular to the area.

Archaeological Significance or Value:

The site of Totara Estate has been occupied since the 1860s and as such has the ability to provide archaeological information about the farm system at work and the way the site has changed over time. There are a large number of structures related to the farming operation, most of which include visible features, and it is part of the archaeological landscape of the wider estate which includes the nearby homestead in its mature grounds.

Technological Significance or Value:

Totara Estate, through its buildings and interpretation provides insight into the early meat industry. The Estate was the site of the slaughterhouse where the first carcasses were prepared for freezing and export.

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

Totara Estate is the only historic farming site in New Zealand related specifically related to the history of the frozen meat industry. The historic farm is an important part of New Zealand’s history as the birthplace of New Zealand's billion-dollar frozen meat industry. Its buildings, the carcass shed, stables, men’s quarters and barn (granary), represent the working part of that estate.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

Totara Estate is directly associated with an event of outstanding significance in New Zealand’s history as the birthplace of the frozen meat industry in New Zealand. W.S. Davidson, the general manager for its owners, the New Zealand and Australian Land Company, had a slaughterhouse built at Totara 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.

Totara Estate is associated with several figures of importance to New Zealand - particularly the early directors of the New Zealand and Australian Land Company - Thomas Brydone and William Soltau Davidson. Other figures such as swagger Ned Slattery ‘The Shiner’ who was known to frequent the place were a colourful part of New Zealand’s history and are remembered at Totara Estate.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

Totara Estate has provided knowledge of New Zealand’s history through archaeological methods. Archaeological investigation has shown much about the slaughtering complex built at Totara Estate, a key part of the meat industry which began there. The place has both the ability and further potential to trace the historical themes and patterns, which operate on a local and national level: the history of farming in New Zealand; the growth of the frozen meat industry and New Zealand’s export trade; developments in shipping and transport; and the story of the ‘swaggers’.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

Totara Estate is held in high public esteem. Totara Estate is recognised as having played a role of outstanding significance in New Zealand’s history and as such became part of the NZHPT heritage property portfolio. It was the venue for the commemoration of 100 years of the frozen meat industry and is a focus for the community during events such as Harvest Home.

(f) The potential of the place for public education:

Totara Estate is owned by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and is managed as a historic property. It is used for public education through its on-site interpretation, guided tours, and use by school groups.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place:

Totara Estate has been the focus of celebrations to commemorate the centenary of the frozen meat trade in New Zealand, and as the place where the first sheep were slaughtered for that shipment; Totara Estate commemorates the foundation of the frozen meat industry.

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

Totara Estate is the remnant of a nineteenth century pastoral landscape. Along with the nearby homestead set within its mature gardens and Sebastapol Hill with its memorial to Thomas Brydone, the farm buildings are part of this historic landscape.

Summary of Significance or Values:

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, c, e, f, h, and k.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 1 historic place.

Established in the 1850s Totara Estate, situated south of Oamaru, is an historic farm that is of outstanding significance. In 1882, it exported New Zealand’s first shipment of frozen meat overseas, making it the birthplace of what became a billion-dollar frozen meat export industry, and one of the country’s economic mainstays throughout the twentieth century. Totara Estate’s buildings represent the working part of that estate - the carcass shed, stables, men’s quarters and granary and are conserved and open to the public.


Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The Waitaki area is traditionally associated the Kahui-tipua, Te Rapuwai, Waitaha and Kati Mamoe peoples. Nearby Moeraki is one of the early cradles of knowledge for Waitaha and Kati Mamoe histories. Key coastal settlements were at Moeraki, Shag Point, Waikouaiti, and Huriawa (the Karitane Peninsula). Ngai Tahu’s prehistoric presence in the area is shown through a range of archaeological sites from middens, urupa, to rock art. Two groups of Maori rock art sites are recorded near the limestone cliffs to the west of Totara Estate on the slopes of Sebastopol Hill, including rock paintings and petroglyphs, and there is further evidence of Maori occupation at nearby Totara. These sites are located on the slopes of the hill which provide views to the south and west of the surrounding country, and they look to date from the ‘Early Period’ of rock art, and the sites may have provided food, shelter as well as a place for cultural expression. The adjacent Waiareka Creek and surrounding country would have provided food and resources such as eels, birds and other seasonal harvests.

In June 1848 the government purchased 20,000,000 acres of the South Island from Ngai Tahu chiefs, including land at Maheno. Kemp’s purchase paved the way for settlement, and legislation formalised tenure under 14-year leases, taken up by runholders or ‘squatters’. Many runholders, often absentee landlords, came from educated, upper-class backgrounds with common business interests and social connections.

European Settlement:

The first European to take up land in the Moeraki area was Carl Eberhard Sjostedt. Sjostedt (anglicised to Suisted) was born in Varmland, Sweden, on 12 May 1810, the son of Carl Eberhard Sjostedt and his wife Britta Juliana Ekermann (1782 to 1824). By 1860 Suisted had concentrated his holdings to the area around Goodwood (near Waikouaiti), and by 1860 had sold Run 13, the part of Otepopo Station which ran from the Kakanui River to the outskirts of Oamaru, to Mathew Holmes.

Irish-born Holmes (1817-1901) came from a commercial family, working in both Australia and Great Britain, before his ‘pioneering spirit’ took him to New Zealand. He came to buy land for himself and business associates Lewis Potter and Thomas Gray Buchanan, trading together as the ‘Holmes Association’. The unincorporated company acquired many fine properties in Southland and Otago including Totara. The Holmes Association bought up selected areas, which included the best land, block by block. Holmes was aided by Henry Campbell who became a co-owner of what became known as Totara Estate.

Holmes and Campbell broke up the tussock, planting English grasses and cereal crops. Holmes set to work improving the Estate’s stock, importing Ayrshire bulls and Border Leicesters around 1860. He also imported Lincolns which formed the basis of the half bred flocks carried on Totara. By 1861 the Estate carried 12,400 sheep. Horses were also important to the Estate, hauling wagons, drawing ploughs, and providing the basis for social life, with the Totara races becoming an institution in North Otago, held on Christmas Day. Holmes and Campbell established a fine operation in North Otago, which was soon caught up in further land development and speculation.

The original station buildings were located near Waiareka Creek, just to the south and west of the current buildings. Henry Campbell lived at Totara Station. Campbell built and lived in the house later occupied by manager Robert Macaulay before moving to Wanaka to take up a pastoral run. . An 1861 survey shows the location of the totara tree after which Totara Estate was named (but no buildings). A survey plan from 1867 shows the cluster of buildings on both sides of the main road south. Accounts from the tragic flood in early 1868 that resulted in nine deaths give a description of the buildings on the original site. The buildings the accounts refer to include the manager’s house, carpenter’s house, blacksmith’s house, and smithy. The Timaru Herald reported that on the north side of the road ‘the flat was occupied by exceedingly prolific gardens and extensive nurseries of young forest and other trees, intended to form plantations on the estate, and that on the west side of the garden was the ‘residence of Mr McAulay and his family, and beyond that, further up the hill, were the offices, store-room, and stabling of the establishment.’ The fatalities and the risk of future flooding may have led to the construction of new buildings at a greater distance from the creek, though Macaulay’s new residence was already in its early stages of construction.

The New Zealand and Australian Land Company (NZALC):

The New Zealand and Australian Land Company was an amalgamation of land syndicates (including the Holmes Association). The Land Company was established by Glasgow financier James Morton in 1866, and was managed from Scotland by colonial agent John Douglas, and superintendent Thomas Brydone.

In December 1866 the New Zealand and Australian Land Company purchased Totara Estate from Holmes along with estates at Moeraki, Ardgowan, Kauru and Kawarau. For the purchase of price of £98,326 5s 1d the Company acquired 17,654 sheep, 200 cattle, 43 horses and 43 pigs on 14,230 acres of freehold land and 397 acres held on lease. The land was said to be the best wheat, potato and mangold land in the Colony.

The development of Totara Estate:

One of the first undertakings of the NZALC was to create a centre for the estate - the Totara Estate Homestead. In October 1867 tenders were called for the construction of the two-storey stone residence. Completed the following year, the house was to have cost £1,300, but ran over budget and the manager Robert Macaulay had to pay the difference of £700 out of his pocket. The architect has not been identified. It is presumed that the associated farm buildings were constructed at the same time as homestead.

A newspaper article in the Bruce Herald in 1873 describes the NZALC holdings at Totara. The 15,000 acre property had 1,000 acres in tussock with the remainder of the ‘magnificent estate’ in crop and pasture. It ran 16,000 sheep (half breds and merinos), 800 head of cattle, as well as two flocks of Leicester and Lincoln sheep. Fifty horses worked the station. The ‘lower farm’ was at the original Totara Station site - and consisted of men’s houses, woolshed, 22-stall stable and loose box. The ‘upper farm’ had Totara House ‘with garden and plantation, offices, barn and stables, piggery, & c.’ Totara House was described as a ‘handsome mansion’, while a passing correspondent noted ‘several improvements which add greatly to the beauty of the place, and that it had ‘one of the handsomest gates on the road’ with the crops looking ‘splendid.’ A new woolshed was built on the lower farm in 1889.

In 1877 the NZALC merged with the Canterbury and Otago Association, adding a further five properties to their portfolio. With the merger came a Scottish merchant banker’s son William Soltau Davidson, who worked on The Levels estate in Canterbury, working his way up from shepherd to assistant to the inspector of properties with the Association in fewer than five years. In 1875 on the retirement of the inspector, Davidson took over the role, and in 1878 he was appointed the Company’s Glasgow-based General Manager.

Davidson’s report to the Directors as General Manager gives a description of the Estate in 1878. He writes that Totara was ‘the gem of the Company’s possessions’, with unsurpassed location, soil quality and productivity, ‘unbeatable in the southern hemisphere’ with additional assets such as the limestone quarries. The Estate had the ‘best and most substantial homestead appointments of any of the Company’s properties, and the dwelling-house is an excellent stone edifice suitable for a country gentleman’s seat.’

In 1879 Totara House and some land adjoining the homestead were put up for sale, advertised as a ‘gentleman’s country residence’ ‘substantially built of Oamaru stone, and slated, contains 12 rooms, besides kitchen, servants’ accommodation, wash-house, &c, &C. magnificent orchard, garden, and grounds.’ The homestead failed to find a buyer, and in late 1879 the new manager John Macpherson (1850-1936), replacing the recently retired Robert Macaulay, took up residence. Macpherson was born and educated in Perthshire, Scotland, working under a civil engineer in South Wales slate quarries before being engaged by NZALC.

Totara Estate and the beginning of New Zealand’s Frozen Meat Industry:

The Slaughtering Complex:

In the 1870s, wool was New Zealand’s major export. Stock numbers were kept high so wool production could be maintained. The large numbers of sheep led to a problem with disposing of carcasses of old sheep - the animals were worth so little they were run off cliffs, or sent to boiling down works. This, at a time when England was crying out for food. With a downturn in wool prices in the 1870s, and the massive market potential for meat in England, there was impetus for developing the technology which would allow for the freighting of meat carcasses. In the late 1870s, experimental shipments from Argentina and Australia proved that frozen meat could be exported. The New Zealand Australia Land Company turned their attention to their own estates in New Zealand. Its General Manager, Davidson, worked to develop the appropriate refrigeration technology, and requested permission to erect a killing shed at Totara Estate.

The decision was made that the stock for the first shipment of frozen meat would be prepared at Totara Estate, which itself carried 10,000 crossbred Lincolns and Leicesters. Macpherson applied for a Slaughtering License for the yards at Totara as early as November 1881. A complex of buildings provided the facilities. The complex consisted of a timber killing shed, a ‘meat house’ of wood and stone where carcasses were cooled before being taken to Port Chalmers, and two covered pig yards and associated breeding pens.

It is likely that the slaughter house was partly constructed from recycled materials, as Davidson mentions that the cost of the building was minimal and used old materials. Water was supplied by two taps from a nearby tank. Martine Cuff, the author of the history of Totara Estate who interviewed a member of the Macpherson family, writes that it was said that the smoothness of the slaughterhouse floor was due to the concrete being mixed with blood. A floor grate allowed the blood to drain into the gutter leading to the pigs’ trough. A stone wall separated the pig runs and the killing shed. Refuse was pushed through swinging wooden doors in the wall to the yard outside. Two hundred pigs disposed of the refuse associated with the slaughter operations. The fat and heads were bagged and sent to the Kakanui boiling down works. The skins, tallow, tongues and kidneys were purchased by the New Zealand Meat Preserving Company, and removed from the slaughter house each morning.

The sheep to be killed were held in yards for 24 hours, slaughtered and then transferred to the meat house. The meat house was connected to the slaughterhouse by covered concrete steps. The building had three roof ventilators. Air circulation was also encouraged by slatted boards on one wall and on the floor. A hole in the wall allowed trimmings to be fed to the waiting pigs. The shed was fitted up to hang 250 sheep, each carcass allowed a space fifteen inches square. The carcasses were cleaned. The mutton was loaded into meat vans on the nearby Totara railway siding, each five vans holding sixty carcasses each.

Within the first couple of months of operations the slaughtering facilities at the slaughter house and the meat house were enlarged. The buildings were then capable of accommodating a workforce sufficient to put through 400 sheep per day.

The butchers were trained by Alex Thomson, who explained the finer details of dressing a carcass for export. Each butcher was expected to kill at least fifty sheep per day. George Drummond indicated that in the slaughter house one man did the killing, four men did the gutting and another took out the tongues. Others pulled away the skins for the butchers. The skins were laid out in a paddock to be sent to fellmongers at Kakanui.

After 24 hours the carcasses had cooled and were then carted to the railway siding three quarters of a mile away, via a short cut in the neighbouring paddock. The modified K class locomotive vans were fitted up in the Addington railway workshops. The carcasses were freighted in the early morning to avoid the heat of the day.

Further Development of Totara Estate:

In a report to the NZALC directors in 1883, William Drysdale noted that the ‘North Otago area was suffering from both drought and the economic downturn of the 1880s, with cropping tenants suffering and getting behind in their rental’. Drysdale considered the Estate to be in good condition: [a]ll the homestead buildings, which are of stone are in first rate repair, and look remarkably substantial and well. Drysdale thought that the country around Totara was better suited to cropping than wool growing. The ‘fancy’ nature of the estate in a period of economic depression meant that selling land was not an option. Drysdale commented that the price of the homestead with a reasonable holding would bring a large sum, but poor returns meant that capitalists were not interested in investing.

An 1897 valuation gives an indication of the buildings on Totara Estate at this time: Totara House (of 2 storeys, stone, with an iron roof, 13 rooms); near the house were a Coal House (stone with iron roof), Firewood shed (wood with iron roof); Fruit and vegetable house in garden, gardener’s tool house; a building consisting of men’s bothies, cookshop and dining room with lean-to at back (stone with iron roof); An office and store with two rooms for bookkeeper, and a gardeners’ room (wood with iron roof 30’ by 20’); a wooden granary (40’ by 16’); a Meat House of stone with an iron and shingle roof; A building consisting of a stable with 9 stalls, loosebox, cartshed and harness room, with a loft above the stable (stone with iron roof) Cart shed 36’ by 20’, stable of twelve stalls and loose box as a lean-to in front of the above, wood and iron roof 68’ by 18’. Milk House near house, stone with iron roof 34’ by 32’; Blacksmith’s and Carpenter’s shops (stone with iron roof); Engineers shop attached to above, iron and iron roof; Buggy and toolhouse attached to above stone with iron roof 20’ by 18’; Killing House (wood and iron roof 28’ by 22’); overseers house of 4 rooms (wood and iron roof) and a stone granary and loft, stone with iron roof.

On his retirement in 1907 John Macpherson bought the homestead block of 658 acres from the company to farm on his own account. The rest of the estate was sold for subdivision. Macpherson’s retirement celebration was described as the ‘largest and most important function ever held in th[e] district.’ Three hundred attended the celebrations at Totara House. Macpherson owned the property until 1921. He was involved in local affairs, long time member and one time president of the Agricultural and Pastoral Association, and a member of the county council and of the Oamaru Harbour Board.

Totara Estate and those people associated with it were important in the district. Historian W.H. Scotter considered Robert Macauley (with his thirteen year term as manager), and John Macpherson (manager until the Estate was subdivided and proprietor after that date), to be significant figures. In addition ‘characters’ connected with the Estate embedded it in the cultural history of Otago: Sherry McIntyre, famous for his drawings of country life and characters; larger than life horse dealer and poet Bob Mitchell whose book of verse Rhymes and Rambles (1889) was the first such publication in North Otago, and visitors such as Professor Winter (Barney Whiterats) and Ned Slattery - ‘The Shiner’ - ‘gentleman of the road.’

In 1957 a wayside stop was established at Totara to commemorate the seventy fifth jubilee of the frozen meat shipment.

In 1978 the estate was surveyed to put the house on a separate title. Negotiations between the owner, NZHPT, and the Meat Board ensued to work out the best approach for these buildings which in their role in the history and development of the New Zealand meat industry, as the director of NZHPT explained, ‘needs no emphasis on our part’ and were in addition ‘particularly good examples of early farm buildings,’ and of national importance and worth preserving. The Board agreed to negotiate with the owner for purchase of the outbuildings. The intention was to create a public park commemorating the centennial which would be ‘a tribute to all those who helped organise and establish the feasibility of frozen meat exportation from New Zealand, and all those who organised and worked to make the industry a success.’

1982: Centenary Celebrations:

The centenary of the first frozen meat shipment focused on Totara Estate’s central role as the place where the sheep were killed and processed. NZHPT worked with the New Zealand Meat Producers Board on a programme which included proposals to restore the Totara slaughterhouse and adjacent buildings, which were then owned by George Berry (who owned Totara House). The project was also supported by the Freezing Companies Association. The old stables were being used as a woolshed and haybarn, the Cook-house as a hay barn, and the barn itself was still used at the time of the planning; the slaughterhouse was unused.

The Ministry of Works completed a condition report on the outbuildings. The construction of all the buildings was similar: Oamaru stone, regular coursed walls, with timber and corrugated iron pitched roofs.

The Cook-House and Men’s Quarters was described as being in ‘generally poor condition’ and in an overall state of disrepair. The roof was ‘partly derelict’, and doors and windows ‘no longer in existence.’ Movement was evident in the stonework to the degree that the east wall was shored up by steel rails, and the south-east corner in danger of collapse, while the oven at the south-west corner had collapsed completely apart from the internal breast. A wide opening had been formed in the south gable wall of the Cook-house to allow its use as a hay barn. The work recommended on the building was to make it safe structurally and protect it from further dilapidation - rebuilding, repairing and repointing of stone walls and repairs to the roof and gutters.

The Slaughterhouse was in a similarly dilapidated state. The stone courses on the lower portion of the northern wall were badly eroded, and there was structural faulting on the north-east corner. The south and west walls were timber stud with weather boarding which required ‘major work of renewal and restoration even to raise it to a minimal standard of preservation.’ A timber floor thought not to be related to the original function was in place with a concrete floor beneath. Lines of walls and broken concrete paving at right angles to the corner were thought by the Ministry to suggest that the killing area probably originally lay in that area, with the existing building more likely to be a dressing, hanging and storage area. It was recommended that the building be rebuilt repaired, and repointed, and the repair and renewal of timber and weather boarded external walls.

The Barn was in the best condition of all the buildings, requiring only repair for continued use. A wide opening with concrete lintel and sliding/folding timber doors in the north wall looks to have been added later. The ‘loft’ area in the south end had been removed. The timbering on the pitched roof had been renewed with steel roof principals. The reveals of the door and window openings on the east and west elevations indicated that the doors now fitted were a later addition. It was recommended that the existing stone walls be repaired and re-pointed including re-fixing copings to the existing balustrade walls, and that the corrugated iron roof be replaced and the gutters renewed.

The stables were in use as a woolshed, with the ‘open projecting portion’ used as a hay barn. The building was considered to be in fair condition, but the stone piers carrying the roof of the ‘hay barn’ need to be rebuilt because of structural movement. The Ministry recommended external maintenance and repairs to ‘provide preservation and continued use of the building in its present form, including repointed and repair, including rebuilding stone piers, and repairs to existing doors, and windows including the re-glazing of broken panes. The Ministry of Works recommended a ‘minimum amount’ of repair and restoration to ‘maintain the integrity of the buildings as they presently are, and does not extend to any items of restoration, re-building and reproduction of elements in other forms.’

Restoration Work:

By mid-1981 work was under way. The strengthening and reroofing of the barn was complete, and attention had turned to the slaughterhouse and carcass shed complex; the cookhouse and men’s quarters. Local stonemasons completed the stone work, using ‘weathered stone blocks’ from ‘ruins on the estate.’ The original shingle roof on the cookhouse was repaired. Work was also begun on the stables which were intended to house a collection of horse drawn vehicles. The ‘low-walled’ Oamaru stone remains of an ‘old cow byre’ were in the process of being converted into a picnic area.

In early 1981, five eighteen-pane windows on the barn were replaced. The new frames were made from trusses and floor joists from a ‘cannibalised shed’ at Clark’s Flourmill (Register no. 346). Five windows and two doors, along with a staircase to the loft were installed. Following the completion of work on the barn, work on the cookhouse was to be started.

The Cookhouse’s structural deterioration required some rebuilding. Half the east wall and three quarters of the west wall were removed and new foundations poured. Builder’s reports indicated that the east wall might require further strengthening.

Centennial celebrations at Totara in February 1982 were attended by over 7,000 people. The Otago Daily Times recorded that the Government put off the normal Monday Cabinet meeting so ‘more than a third of the ministers’ could attend. The Governor General Sir David Beattie opened the event. Invited guests retired to the homestead for lunch, while thousands of others enjoyed the displays and looked through the restored buildings.

In 2012 the Totara Estate is a NZHPT property that explores the birth and development of New Zealand’s meat industry and the history of the Estate itself.

Physical Description

Construction Professionals:

Not known


Totara Estate is located ten kilometres south of Oamaru on State Highway 1. It is immediately south west of Sebastapol Hill, a local landmark on the top of which stands a monument to Thomas Brydone. The outbuildings sit amongst the surrounding farmland in the rolling countryside.

The existing buildings, which were erected around 1868, are the remnants of a large agricultural complex built of the local Oamaru limestone. They include the barn, stables, piggery, slaughterhouse, and quarters for the estate workmen, the manager and the owner, whose large stone house stands nearby on rising ground close to State Highway 1. The property was acquired by the Trust in 1980 and at the time of acquisition the buildings were in generally poor repair – sections of stone walls had fallen and roofs had sagged. The Trust undertook reconstruction of these buildings with assistance from various interests, including the meat industry and the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board.

The work placed considerable emphasis on structural safety and compliance with buildings codes and, as a result, a great deal of the original construction was dismantled and reconstructed using new materials.

Considerable quantities of new Oamaru stone were imported to the site and worked into the reconstructed walls - these stones are generally recognisable for the patterns of chisel marks over exposed surfaces. Contrary to modern conservation practice, cement mortar was used as a jointing mortar. Many original features - such as chimneys - were omitted and one room in the men’s quarters was adapted for use as an interpretation centre for the site. Little further work appears to have been carried out since the original reconstruction.

The site comprises an area of land which was set aside out of the surrounding farmland, and fenced to enclose the buildings and remnants of those other buildings which were part of the Totara farm complex but which are no longer standing. The site is marked by a painted sign adjacent behind a masonry wall in which are set the entrance gates. The wall was constructed as commemorative gesture at the time of the centenary of the first refrigerated meat shipment from the site. The site is approached up a long access drive, and the first building encountered by the visitor is the former Men’s Quarters. This has been developed by the Trust as an administration and interpretation centre for the property. The area in front of the building is fenced, and a pedestrian gate in this provides access to the other buildings on the site.

Adjoining the fenced area is a large farm gate between Oamaru stone posts which gives vehicle access to the farmyard. Apart from the Men’s Quarters, there are still standing the Stables, the Barn and the Carcass Shed. In addition to these, there are the remnants of the piggery, and the slaughterhouse. A small relocatable equipment shed was erected behind the Men’s Quarters in 1996/7. A modern toilet has been constructed on the south side of the property for the use of staff and visitors.

The Totara Estate Outbuildings:

Men’s Quarters and Cookshop:

This building has been substantially rebuilt over the original foundations, with several new or reconstructed masonry walls, and new joinery items. No original chimney has been reconstructed, although a new metal flue indicates the presence of a heater in the Curator’s office. The building was divided up into rooms typical of a cookshop and men’s quarters (bunkrooms, kitchen, dining and sitting rooms), but now houses offices, displays and interpretation.

There is extensive use of steel in the roof construction, and salvaged original framing members have been re-sawn to fit the new construction. Floors in the office and interpretation area are now concrete. The remnants of an original baking oven lie under a roof shelter in the south east corner, and parts of the oven and firebox doors have been preserved in the interpretation area, but with some portions of the surrounding masonry wall incomplete. An original timber bell frame on the north side has been preserved. Although the building has been reconstructed, there is some structural cracking evident.

All windows appear to be new construction. Typical window is a double 4-light casement, with 2 or 4 brass bolts, or sprung hopper catch, and all are secured with casement fastener. 3 larger 12-light casements are found in the interpretation room, and there are 2 dormer windows with 4-light sashes. Stone sill detail is questionable (may be original). All doors appear to be new construction. Typical door is ledged and braced with tgv facing.


This building has been partially reconstructed and strengthened by the addition of steel tie rods along and across the building. This has not corrected historic deformation of the south wall which has a pronounced outwards bow. The east end of the building has moved and appears to be rotating at each corner, with stepped cracking evident in the north and south walls. Strengthening of stone piers in the cart shed has resulted in fracture of some head stones. Only some of the stable stores and only part of the loft floor are in place. Matched lining in the harness room appears to have been cut back on the east wall and has detached from the stone backing. A small corrugated iron lean-to on the south side houses a 'smithy'.

The Oamaru stone masonry is roughly stretcher bond, with a bolstered face to original stones and hacked face to new stones. Cement mortar used in reconstruction.

All windows and doors appear to be new construction. Doors are ledged and braced and faced in tongue and groove. Doors 3 & 4 are stable doors. Windows are 6/6 fixed sashes, with hinged internal shutters over lower sash in stables.

Barn/Granary (Former Meat House):

The Barn is a large single volume stone structure with a partial loft in the east end. A well-worn stone stair gives external access to the upper level at the east end. The building has been substantially reconstructed, with concrete floor, steel angles along the tops of the side walls, steel portal roof frames, and steel ties across and along the building. In spite of this work, the building exhibits considerable rotational movement at the east end. External joinery appears to be new.

The Barn has Oamaru stone masonry in roughly stretcher bond, with a bolstered face to original stones and hacked face to new stones. Cement mortar was used in reconstruction.

Slaughterhouse Complex and Carcass Hanging Shed:

The structures associated with the killing operations are the slaughterhouse (or killing shed), skin shed, catching pen and the remains of the pig pens. These, along with the Carcass Shed formed the working unit of the Totara farmstead when it was killing sheep for export in the late nineteenth century.

This building has been substantially rebuilt over the original foundations. Only 2 walls are of stone masonry, and the east and south walls are framed, with stained weatherboard cladding. The external surface of the masonry walls is somewhat dirty, but reflects its history and gives clues to the location of adjacent structures since removed. The reconstructed roof incorporates steel ties and is clad in corrugated iron sheet. A central louvred ventilator and 2 flanking false ventilators have been constructed on the ridge. There are 3 window openings and 3 doors. The floor is of spaced slats, to allow waste blood to drain and a board walk has been overlaid between 2 of the doors.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1868 -
Original estate buildings constructed

Original Construction
1881 -
Slaughter House, Carcass Shed and Skin Shed constructed

1894 -
Oatcrusher hopper and hoist

1896 -
Cart shed in the stables became a side stable with five stalls

1897 -
Two pantries added to Totara House. Tongue and groove floor added to Meat House

1892 -
Alterations to Killing House, including sheep yards

1900 -
Meat House becomes a grass seed store. Noted as being constructed of stone and wood, iron roof, Tongue and Groove floor

1903 -
Totara House listed as having 15 rooms and 2 pantries. Grain grader and elevator installed in the stone granary

1905 -
Iron roof on Milk House replaced with shingle

Reconstruction by NZHPT

Construction Details

Limestone, corrugated iron, timber

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

24th April 2012

Report Written By

Heather Bauchop

Information Sources

Cuff, 1982

Martine E. Cuff, Totara Estate: Centenary of the Frozen Meat Industry, Wellington, 1982

McDonald, 1998

McDonald, K.C., History of North Otago for Centennial Period 1840 to 1940. Oamaru, Oamaru Mail Co, 1940; repr. 1998

Scotter, 1948

W.H. Scotter, Run Estate and Farm: A History of the Kakanui and Waiareka Valleys, North Otago, Otago Centennial Historical Publications, Dunedin, 1948

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the Southern Region office of 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.