Historical Significance or Value
The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement has historical significance as an important part of the story of Chinese immigration in New Zealand. It reflects the history of collective kin-based settlement where labour contributed to the development of the New Zealand economy and follows on from the earlier Chinese arrivals as part of the nineteenth century gold mining era. The immigration in the first half of the twentieth century was itself a notable phase of Chinese settlement in New Zealand. It had an impact upon New Zealand business models, such as market gardening, and resulted in the Chinese people playing a key role in our history of horticulture and the feeding of New Zealanders.
The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement is associated with a different era compared to the 1860s gold mining times and its development has the scope to teach us much about the Chinese way of life and increase awareness regarding the input of the Chinese community in the market garden industry between the 1920s and the 1960s.
The ownership history of the Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement site contributes to an understanding of land ownership in New Zealand that affected early Chinese immigrants. Until well into the twentieth century, most Chinese market gardeners leased their plots. During the Second World War (1942-1945) Chinese were not legally able to buy land but after this restriction was lifted in 1946, Ng King Yau (Young King) was able to purchase the Allen Street land. Others joining in the ownership from the 1950s - Charlie King, George Boe, James King and Fook Ying and later, Norman Ng and Ng Don Shong, shows the communal landholding associated with the settlement and descendants continue to own the site to this day.
Archaeological Significance or Value
The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement is considered to be of high archaeological significance due to its rarity, condition, information potential and its amenity values. The site represents a significant and unusual component of Ashburton’s history and is thought to be the only remaining intact settlement of this type which was linked with Chinese market gardening in New Zealand. Although the practice of market gardening was, and still is, a common occurrence frequently undertaken by the Chinese community, research indicates that nowhere else in New Zealand possesses such extensive and comprehensive physical fabric which has survived.
These buildings were constructed as the first and central part of a busy community and the way in which they are positioned and their relationship to each other is important. Of particular importance is the way the two ‘rows’ of buildings face inward to each other providing a functional physical context for the living and working activities on the site. Although some of the original buildings have been lost, many remain, and as their functions are known, they are able to contribute to the settlement’s story as well as feed into an understanding of the wider picture of Chinese settlement in New Zealand that began in the nineteenth century. Subsurface archaeological remains can be investigated and interpreted, and analysis has the potential to shed light on how the culture of the Chinese settlers changed through the process of migration and settlement, and how they adapted to their new homeland. In addition to the standing buildings, there are potential archaeological values in the since-demolished later house sites, built when families came to live in the settlement, to reveal the social change that occurred in the transition from a ‘men only’ settlement to family settlement and business which included women and children. There is also archaeological potential in other structures as well as features in the ground relating to the actual horticulture. There is archaeological potential in finding evidence of an earlier pig oven on the site.
This important example of a twentieth century Chinese market garden settlement has the potential to provide significant information on the history, use and development of such a settlement. In July 2019 the site was deemed to be of national significance for its heritage values and was declared a pre-1900 archaeological site under Section 43 of the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act (HNZPTA) 2014.
Cultural Significance or Value
The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement has high cultural significance. The complex legal title of the site is representative of the communal ownership and community participation which sat at the core of this settlement. The place is of particular significance to the descendants of the founding members and indeed others who lived and worked there throughout the years. Some of these descendants have remained in New Zealand, while others are in various locations around the world. To them, and other Chinese settlers, this site represents the sacrifice, hard work and determination of those first few men to build a business empire that would provide a good life for themselves, their families and their communities.
Places such as this settlement site represent a way of migrating and settling in new places that was common for Chinese in New Zealand (and Australia) – communal living, close to work, modest structures, kin-based migration and settlement, kin-based businesses. As seen in earlier patterns of migration associated with gold mining, the site represents a Chinese approach to collective kin- based migration and business development.
The simple buildings provide an insight into how the settlers lived and worked, within a self-contained facilitated ‘village’. It is also representative of the attitude and outlook of the occupants, who held family in high regard and who appreciated that co-operation and working as a co-ordinated group could be beneficial and profitable for the whole community. The place is directly associated with distinctive characteristics associated with Chinese culture, and is especially notable with respect to the use of the Chinese Pig Oven since pig roasting was a highly social activity and associated with times of celebration. It was a real focus for Chinese in Canterbury. As such, the Chinese Pig Oven provides significant material evidence of transported Chinese culture into New Zealand.
Social Significance or Value
The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement has social significance. It brings people together and matters to existing communities. The place is valued not just for its historical past but for the relationships that are formed and maintained, both for the descendants of the original owners and also in Ashburton and the wider community. Literally, they have provided the ‘seeds of community’ to grow. When the site was declared an archaeological site in 2019, over 100 people, including nearly 60 descendants of the original owners and their families, attended a celebratory event at the site in July 2019.
The site acts as a marker for the community and its presence tells the story of the distinctiveness of this Chinese settlement in Ashburton. Now living both locally and elsewhere in New Zealand and overseas, the living descendants of the original owners form an existing community associated with the place. Through a memorandum of understanding, the Ashburton District Council manages the site as if it were a reserve.
This place was assessed against the Section 66(3) criteria and found to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, c, e, f and j. The assessment concludes that this place should be listed as a Category 1 historic place.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
This place is of special significance as it reflects an aspect of New Zealand’s history of early-to-mid twentieth century Chinese immigration and associated market gardening better than most other places in New Zealand with substantially the same association. A large of part of the original settlement is still standing, both buildings and Chinese Pig Oven, set within an open space that previously made up much of the market garden proper. Although there were numerous Chinese market gardens with associated fruit and vegetable shops and hawkers throughout the country, it appears there was nothing quite like this place, with its range of functions – shop, accommodation, gardens and serving as a ‘settling in’ place for new Chinese arrivals to become introduced to the ways of New Zealand.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
This place is of special significance in New Zealand history because of its particular association with a period of relatively small scale Chinese immigration in New Zealand – early to mid-twentieth century – and market gardening whereby fresh fruit and vegetables were grown for sale and distribution throughout Canterbury. The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement contributes to our understanding of this period in New Zealand’s immigration history, namely a twentieth century iteration of economic and social migration of Chinese from south-west China, following on from earlier periods of Chinese coming to New Zealand. The descendants of the original Chinese owners retain ownership in the property and have a strong and meaningful association with the place.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement has fabric (above and below ground) that could be used as a source of information on New Zealand history and has scientific significance since further study may be expected to help answer questions. Although some of the original buildings have been lost, many remain. Since their functions are known, they are able to contribute to the settlement’s story. Subsurface archaeological remains are able to be investigated and interpreted in that context. Furthermore, very few archaeological investigations have been carried out of twentieth century Chinese settlements. Archaeological analysis could also shed light on how the culture of the Chinese settlers changed through the process of migration and settlement, and how they adapted to their new homeland. Therefore, as a very rare and evidently the last remaining example of a twentieth century Chinese market garden settlement, this has the potential to provide significant information on the history, use and development of such a settlement.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement makes an outstanding contribution to the existing community of the descendants of the original Chinese settlers who established the market garden on Allens Road, Ashburton. In current times, histories are being recorded and in 2019 a large family reunion was held – and well publicised – at the place to celebrate the site being formally declared a post-1900 archaeological site. Increasingly over time a special attachment has also developed in the wider community in Mid Canterbury – the public has gained increasing familiarity with the site and at street festival held in Ashburton in 2018 it was picked by members of the public as being a site most worthy of deserving a blue heritage plaque.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement has special characteristics that place it amongst the country’s most important sources for the public to learn about this type of site. Even though a number of buildings have been removed since their original construction and the land to the southeast is now a residential subdivision, it is still an impressive set of original buildings, largely set in its original relic setting. With the surrounding land that the Chinese settlers initially used as a market garden, the settlement still provides a unique opportunity to tell the story of early twentieth century Chinese settlers in rural New Zealand towns and the activities undertaken by those settlers. As such, it provides an excellent opportunity to speak to the migration and settlement of New Zealand by this ethnic group, how they brought traditional lifeways with them from China, and transposed them into the New Zealand context.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
Research indicates an extant Chinese settlement of this period of New Zealand history associated with market gardening is rare in New Zealand. Although the practice of market gardening was, and still is, a common occurrence frequently undertaken by the Chinese community, research undertaken indicates nowhere else in New Zealand such extensive and comprehensive physical fabric has survived or even existed in the first place. Although other ‘Chinatowns’ exist such as in Arrowtown and Lawrence, these were associated with the 1860s Otago gold rush era. They are therefore not only significantly earlier but also primarily constructed for different purposes, that is, to provide accommodation for Chinese gold miners. The Ashburton Chinese settlement was a settlement initially established specifically for market gardening purposes, selling produce not only in Ashburton but throughout much of the Canterbury District. Later it became the hub of a major produce trading company. One of the most important items remaining on the site is the rare large Chinese oven. This is believed to be a rare example of a functioning oven of its type in Australasia.
Summary of Significance or Values
The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement is of outstanding significance as very rare and evidently the last remaining example of a twentieth century Chinese market garden settlement in New Zealand. It is especially important as the group of buildings is mostly intact and contains what is considered to be one of only a few remaining original Chinese pig pit ovens in Australasia. It represents the transposing of Chinese lifeways into New Zealand and the place continues to have a strong and meaningful association with the existing community of the descendants of the original Chinese settlers who established the market garden back in the 1920s.
The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement is situated on land on Allens Road on the western outskirts of the town of Ashburton. The settlement is part of a recognised physical landscape long associated with Waitaha and latterly Kāi Tahu. The upper reach of the Whakanui (Wakanui Creek) runs through this area, once a tributary of the Hakatere/Ashburton River. These waterways are known ara pounamu (pounamu trading routes) and the flatlands were travelled over constantly by Kāi Tahu whānui en route to the interior and various mahinga kai. Many taoka (treasures) and other archaeological remains have been recovered from the lower reaches of the Whakanui, which was partly archaeologically excavated in the 1970s. The waterway has important associations for Kāi Tahu:
‘In 1843–44, Tarawhata (Kāti Huirapa) guided Edward Shortland (Protector of Aborigines) through South Canterbury to Akaroa during Shortland’s census of the southern Māori population of New Zealand. On reaching Whakanui, they filled water bottles left purposely on the banks for travelers, as there was no fresh water between Whakanui and the Rakaia River. Foods gathered at Whakanui included kiore (Polynesian rat), birds, aruhe (bracken fernroot), and waharoa (smelt).’
From the mid nineteenth century, Pākeha missionaries and immigrants settled in the Canterbury Plains, many arriving as part of the Canterbury Association settlement programme. Apart from some small reserves, land commissioner Henry Kemp purchased the whole of the Canterbury block in 1848. The Ashburton Māori Reserve is situated in near proximity to the subject land. Ashburton Native Reserve 2060 is 253 acres of land allocated under the Kaiapoi Native Reserves Act 1877 to redress grievances arising from the Canterbury Purchase. It was one the few such reserves that were a result of the controversial land sale, both for their small number, size and location. Ashburton Golf Course is currently situated on part of the reserve.
The land on Allens Road was surveyed by the Crown as Rural Section (RS) 10091, a 183 acre section which, with adjacent RS 10092, was transferred to Henry John Tancred in 1871. In 1878 the land was subdivided into smaller rural sections on the outskirts of Ashburton township. The following year the subject land area was within Lot 158 of DP 236 transferred to the Honourable Thomas Braddell, Attorney-General for Singapore. Braddell died in 1891 and the land was transferred to Charles Braddell, an accountant of Ashburton. In 1896 Charles Braddell was bankrupt and the land transferred to the mortgagee. It was then on-sold to Susanna Wilson, wife of Arthur Wilson, a farmer of Winslow.
In 1902 Lots 157 and 158 DP236 were transferred to Thomas Everard Upton a farmer of Ashburton. Previously that year Upton had purchased a house and 40 acres of land on Alford Forest Road, which was the residence for Upton and his wife, Kathleen Moana Upton. In December 1903 Upton advertised the subdivision and sale of a ‘Grand Suburban Property’ of around 40 acres ‘fronting the Wakanui Creek, Racecourse and Allenton [sic] Roads, just behind the Flour Mills’. The sale was apparently unsuccessful as no formal subdivision and transfer of the land occurred at this time.
Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden
The Ng family from Hoisan (Toi Shan), Guangdong (Canton) Province, China, settled in Gore in 1905. They opened the Jou Lee laundry and purchased a nearby garden. In 1917 more family members arrived from China, all taking up jobs within the market garden and earning up to 30 shillings per week. A flood in 1921 forced the Ng family to establish a new garden on higher ground but this proved to be less fertile and so they started to look for land elsewhere.
They found suitable land on Allens Road, Ashburton, and established a company under the trading name of King Brothers (King Bros.). Apparently this name came from a mixture of ‘Ning’ which was the European pronunciation of Ng and also from ‘Kane’ which was the middle part of the birth names of the four Ng brothers who became partners. This was not the first Chinese garden in Ashburton – it is recorded that in around 1911 three Hoisan men established a market garden in Allenton but is thought to have been less than successful due to competition at that time from Jung Seng’s garden in Tinwald.
From 1 August 1920 part of the land area of Lot 158 was leased to Ng King for an initial period of seven years. On 7 August 1920 the Ashburton Guardian reported that a ‘Chinese market garden’ was to be established on ‘the Racecourse Road’. The previous day the Ashburton County Council had refused an application for a water-race to serve the garden on the justification that it would decrease the supply of water for the downstream Wakanui district. The application had been made on behalf of Ng King and the Council was persuaded to reconsider this decision at their next meeting.
The County Engineer stated that a connection could be made with an existing water-race on Racecourse Road which flowed into Wakanui Creek 60 chains (1,207 metres) downstream of the market garden site. Yee Bee Lee made a statement that the garden was close to the main race and he proposed to make a connection to use the water during periods of dry weather as they intended to grow vegetables that would be ‘unfit for use’ without a water supply. Yee Bee Lee had operated a laundry in Wills Street, Ashburton since 1910. His association with the market garden is not known, but from this statement it is clear he had a role in establishing the garden on the property.
In support of the water-race application, Councillor Henry Maginness stated that: ‘…it would be a pity to discourage the industry of the Chinese. They paid their £100 poll-tax and were entitled to the same consideration as a British subject.’
The supply of water to Wakanui had been a perennial issue for the Council, but another Councillor stated his view that it was the duty of the Council to supply water to everyone, where possible. The Council voted to grant the application for water.
Upon the establishment of the Ng King Brothers market garden in 1921, the business went from strength to strength, growing quickly to become the largest Chinese market garden in the South Island. Initially they took the horse and cart, and hawked fruit and vegetables around the town and obtained a flourishing customer base. Over the years many townspeople came to the Ng King Brothers settlement to purchase their produce and became good loyal lifetime friends. They extended their service to other part of Mid-Canterbury with country runs that ranged from Hinds, Rakaia and Chertsey, up to 35 kilometres from the settlement. As the business grew, Ng King Brothers produce was also taken to be sold in Christchurch, with the return trip being filled with more exotic, special or early produce for Ashburton supply.
After 1946 Chinese were permitted to buy land and in 1948 Ng King Yau (Young King) purchased the Allens Road land from Upton’s estate. In 1957 Charlie King, George Boe, James King and Fook Ying were added to the title as co-owners with Ng King Yau. Around the same time of the 1948 purchase, James King also bought 200 acres of land by the riverside and rented it back to the Ng King Brothers, who utilised more than 150 acres of it for market gardening. Sometime later, Norman Ng and Ng Don Shong obtained an interest in this land, although for reasons unknown they were never noted as registered proprietors on title.
At that time King Brothers were said to dominate the fruit and vegetable supply within the whole of the Ashburton District. Vegetables were sold from a shop on the site and in 1947 they also opened a fruit shop on Burnett Street in Ashburton. In 1964 this was taken over by Young King in partnership with his three sons, Yep, Hong and Tong. They paid each of the original partnership shareholders for the shop building, fruit business, farming equipment and the use of the Allens Road King Brothers yard. By 1966 they had opened another shop in Harrison Street, Allenton, which operated until 1986. In 1987 Yep became sole proprietor of the Burnett Street shop, which he ran until 2006 when it closed.
The Chinese sense of family and community was of utmost importance and they understood that co-operation could lead to great success as a community. A communal family approach was followed in the management and farming of the land, the operation of the business and the arrangement of living quarters.
The market garden and settlement operated for the benefit of the proprietors, their families and the Chinese community in mid-Canterbury.
The early Chinese settlers in Ashburton were all male, with the first women and children arriving in 1939 when three of the men were able to bring their families out to New Zealand under a war refugee scheme. A further seven families had arrived by 1950, and the community was said to be at its peak during the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s.
At this time there were about 12 houses in the settlement and at least 80 people living in the community, including children. The buildings which are the subject of this report were mainly used for single men as well as communal living, eating etc., whereas families had larger homes on the site or on the opposite side of Allens Road. The settlement was supplied with reticulated gas from the Ashburton Gasworks. Even though the settlement was located at the outskirts of Ashburton, at a considerable distance of the gas works, it was considered a worthwhile undertaking because of the large amount of gas the settlement used on a daily basis, not only for heating but also for general cooking.
The Chinese Pig Oven was used for roasting pigs on Sundays and special occasions. Its exact date of construction is not known but it may have been that such an oven was built in the 1930s when it was a ‘single men’s’ settlement and later rebuilt or reworked in the 1940s.
Yep, son of Ng King Yau, came to New Zealand with his mother and siblings in 1949, to join his father and uncles at the Allens Road settlement. Yep started working at the market garden and lived at the settlement until 1964.
Towards the late 1950s, families began to disperse, and the numbers living and working in the settlement declined steeply. The nature of the business had changed dramatically by that time. Originally the market garden grew produce locally and sold it in and around Ashburton, but after the Second World War it transformed into a produce trading company. Produce was bought at markets in Christchurch, and subsequently distributed throughout mid-Canterbury. In addition to fruit and vegetables, the company also started trading the cases in which produce was transported, as well as selling fireworks in the first week of November. The market garden and on-site shop at Allens Road closed in 1964, although the garages remained in use until 1987.
After the site ceased to be the primary location for the growing and selling of produce, a number of buildings fell into disrepair and were demolished or removed. These include garages, sheds, stables, outdoor toilets, two small dwellings, and duck and hen houses.
The settlement is of importance to, and has significant cultural and social values for, the Chinese community of Ashburton and Mid Canterbury in general, and in particular the descendants of the owners Charlie King, George Boe, James King, Ng Fook Ying, and Ng King Yau (Young King), Norman Ng and Ng Don Shong.
As kinsmen from China came to New Zealand, King Brothers settlement was a place that offered employment, companionship and education of the New Zealand way of life. The men had a place where they could eat, work, sleep and get basic needs. Through the businesses, market garden, selling produce, country runs and fruit shop, they made contact with the Ashburton businessmen and the community.
From the early days, King Brothers welcomed and hosted Chinese people who were travelling within the South Island and had stopped in Ashburton. On Sundays, the workers’ day off, a Chinese dinner was cooked by Charlie King, James King and Fook Ng, and all would gather to eat together in the open air. By taking their goods to the Christchurch produce markets, the King Brothers would meet other Chinese men folk, have morning tea together and catch up on local news.
By the 1950s, the wives and children of the Ng King families had come from Hoisan County in China. A settlement of 12 families with a total of about 80 people lived at the Allens Road property and two families lived across the road. Allenton School which was just down the road accommodated all the Chinese children of varying ages into their classes. The headmaster, Mr Alan Bain, and teacher, Mr Scott, would run additional English classes for them after normal school hours. As the children became old enough, they worked in the garden and shop. Pat McCormick, another Allenton School teacher, would go to the Allens Road settlement to teach basic English to the women folk. Consequently, they also became immersed in the community through schooling, clubs, sports and voluntary service.
The contact with other Chinese settlers was also important to hear about their homeland and for socialisation. Chinese families from Ōamaru, Timaru and Christchurch would also visit and maybe partake in gambling – mah-jong, fan tan, dominoes, cards and table tennis. For celebration days such as Chinese New Year, birthdays, weddings and one-month parties for babies, a pig would be roasted in the pig oven.
In the early 1960s, the market garden business was starting to wind down so the families started to move on to their own ventures in Wellington, and other South Island towns. They went into fish and chip shops, takeaway shops, restaurants, fruit shops and market gardening. Some of the older children were now venturing on to study at university or take on careers of their own. Socialisation through the decades among all was at the Chinese Nationalist Double Tenth picnics, the New Zealand Chinese Association, Canterbury branch activities and sport tournaments, weddings and other celebrations. The families were closely linked by village connections or by marriage.
In March 2013, a custodial agreement was signed between the Ashburton District Council and the descendants of the registered proprietors of the land. The agreement was the result of attempts by Yep Ng, descendant of one of the registered proprietors of the subject land, to resolve issues in respect of the land and settlement. It was jointly decided by the descendants of the registered proprietors and the Ashburton District Council that an agreement was the best and most cost effective method to ensure ongoing management of the land to avoid it falling derelict, and to honour the contribution of the registered proprietors and their descendants and the Chinese community in general to Mid Canterbury. To enable this agreement to be reached, Yep Ng worked over a period of five years to track down all possible descendants. Yep Ng virtually achieved that, and has contacted the male descendants of Charlie King, George Boe, James King, Ng Fook Ying and Ng King Yau, as well as Norman Ng and Ng Don Shong. As a result, Yep Ng obtained the consent of representatives of the families to enter the agreement.
The agreement provides for Ashburton District Council to manage the subject land as if it was a reserve under the Reserves Act. In doing so it will use its best endeavours to restore and protect all items of heritage value, and work with Yep Ng and the Chinese community in Ashburton. This has provided a mechanism for protection of the site and buildings and the development of a plan to restore the extant buildings and structures as part of a proposed public reserve.
Conservation work began with the award of a grant from the Chinese Poll Tax Trust Heritage Trust to restore the outdoor pig roasting oven and clean up the site. At the same time, decades of rubbish that was either left when the settlement was abandoned or had accumulated in the following decades, was cleared out.
Ashburton District Council has been active in its role to manage the property on behalf of the owners and the Ashburton community. At a Historic Places Mid Canterbury street festival in early 2018, it was selected by members of the public as being a site most worthy of deserving a blue heritage plaque. In 2019 the site was declared a post-1900 archaeological site. In 2020 the Council is part-way through a programme of stabilisation, restoration and maintenance of the significant buildings that are able to be retained, with the aim of preserving the site for future generations to enjoy.
Chinese settlers in New Zealand
During the 1860s Chinese immigrants, who had a reputation for working hard and living frugally, were invited to New Zealand from the Australian goldfields by the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce. With the lure of gold on the West Coast, the Otago fields were left without workers, as miners sought the easy won gold of new diggings. Chinese labour was seen as a way to reinvigorate the flagging fortunes of the southern goldfields. The first Chinese arrived in Otago in December 1865 and by 1872 the number peaked at 4,700, many of them coming directly from China rather than via Australia.
In 1881 the New Zealand government passed the Chinese Immigration Act, imposing a poll tax and limiting Chinese immigration. New Zealand’s Chinese population (mainly male) fluctuated, growing in the late nineteenth century to over 4,000 and dropping in the early twentieth century to 2,570 in 1906.
By the turn of the twentieth century as the New Zealand’s gold country became worked out, Chinese miners spread around the country. Some had become relatively rich from their work, others were not as successful. By this time, around thirty percent of the Chinese mining migrants remained in New Zealand. Many took up familiar trades to become market gardeners, laundrymen, and greengrocers.
Chinese Market Gardens in New Zealand
The first Chinese market gardens were probably established in New Zealand in 1866, established by miners who grew vegetables for their own consumption and sold the surplus to others. They were small in scale, run by two or three (often related) men at the most, often as part of a wider occupation such as gold digging, store keeping or hawking. In many cases market gardening provided an economic foundation for the transition of the Chinese immigrants from goldmining sojourners to permanent settlers. Records show that by 1926 the Chinese made up over 50% of the country’s market gardeners, indicating what a major role the Chinese market gardeners played in supplying fresh vegetables and fruit to New Zealand communities at that time.
Things changed again markedly in the late 1930s. Japanese invasions into China in the 1930s led to the New Zealand government agreeing to a refugee scheme whereby Chinese men in New Zealand could bring out their families. Between August 1939 and 1941, a total of 250 wives and 245 children came out to New Zealand, and it is estimated that around 114 of the wives and the same number of children are thought to have gone to live and work directly in market gardens throughout the country.
Labour intensive traditional Chinese gardening techniques explains the process of chain migrations as offspring, nephews or cousins followed the first family members, and often clusters of gardens were operated by groups of men from the same district.
Until well into the twentieth century, Chinese immigrants in New Zealand (and Australia) generally did not own land but rather worked for others or leased small plots. They were not legally able to buy land during World War Two (between 1942 and 1945). More Chinese market gardeners in New Zealand and Australia began to purchase land after World War Two.
On the one hand, the Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement reflects a pattern of communal settlement once common for ethnic Chinese migrants to New Zealand. However, while there were numerous Chinese market gardens with associated fruit and vegetable shops and hawkers throughout the country, no similar settlement quite like this Ashburton one is known to have existed elsewhere in the twentieth century. It was the place where the market gardening was done, produce sold at the on-site shop, where the Chinese settlers lived and where Chinese newcomers to the district were based to learn about living in New Zealand. Although some of the original buildings have been lost, many remain. Since their functions are known, they encapsulate the story of the settlement, particularly how the market garden business and the occupants’ domestic lives were organised.
A number of nineteenth century Chinese settlements have been identified, such as Lawrence (Central Otago) and Carlaw Park (Auckland). Archaeological investigations at these places gained significant information, such as internal spatial layout and changes over time, how labour was organised, the technology and techniques used in gardening, what vegetables were grown, interaction with the surrounding community, and relationships within the Chinese community, particularly with regard to gender and status. While there are other Chinese Settlements in New Zealand, such as in Arrowtown and Lawrence, these were significantly earlier than this settlement, dating to the 1860s, and were driven by a different set of factors, largely the gold rush and its later phases, which led to Chinese gold miners being actively recruited by Dunedin businessmen. Instead, the Chinese who settled in Ashburton in the 1920s came of their own accord and those who arrived there in the 1940s were leaving behind a China in turmoil. .
As such, the settlement patterns and work space at the Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement represent the different way these ventures were established, being positioned in a Chinese world view.
Chinese Pig Oven
The Chinese Pig Oven is one of most important items remaining on the site. The practice of roasting entire pigs in large wood fired ovens is known to have occurred in Guangdong Province, China, but this may have been a regional phenomenon. While studies indicate such ovens of this form were not unique to southeast China, and were widely used in Europe and Asia for many centuries in one form or another, in Australia and New Zealand they are rare. In Australasia, Chinese Pig Ovens, or Roast Pig Pits as they are sometimes known, were constructed by Chinese gold miners and market gardeners in the late nineteenth and twentieth century. Representing an important social cultural function, a point where the Chinese community regularly came together, they provide significant material evidence of transported Chinese culture into Australia and New Zealand.
It appears that there were pig ovens at market gardens in both the North and South Islands but they are now rare. It is understood that pig ovens still exist in Ōamaru and in the Auckland area but these were not built until the 1960s. The oven at the Lawrence Chinese Camp is a modern reconstruction.
Not known (original)
Joseph Brothers (repair work 2018)
The Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement, 138-144 Allens Road, Allenton, Ashburton, consists of an area of approximately 2.3 hectares of land on which there sits a group of historical buildings and facilities which once made up Ashburton’s Chinese community.
The buildings were constructed over time during the life of the settlement, which grew organically as it housed more people, in particular families, and expanded its functions. As it grew, its purpose changed from a small hub for single men who operated the market garden business, to a vibrant small community settlement with multiple families and a wide range of functions, making it almost entirely self-sustainable. They were most likely constructed on an ‘as and when needed’ basis by local builders or handymen, using materials readily available and widely used at the time of construction. As a result they are not uniform and do not have any particular architectural qualities. They are simple, utilitarian buildings, made of timber, with corrugated iron cladding on the roofs. Some buildings’ walls are covered with corrugated iron or flattened sheets of iron from metal containers. Some buildings have wall paper, and some have newspaper for insulation. The settlement had electricity, running water and reticulated gas piped from the local gas works, and a boiler room to provide hot water to its inhabitants.
The buildings were constructed as and when it was necessary for the community to expand and were positioned and built in a way which was practical and functional. The Pig Oven was a central feature of the site, both physically and in its importance. The core buildings formed two rows facing each other, with many of the residential rooms linking into one another, reflecting their communal nature. Some building sections have been lost over time, through weather or deconstruction - the buildings which remain are original and represent the main structures of the site, with any areas of lost fabric being of lesser importance such as sheds and animal shelters. The remaining buildings have been unaltered, other than minor stabilisation undertaken in 2019, and retain most of their original features. In addition, their context within the site and relationship to each other has been unchanged allowing insight into how day to day activity around the site may have taken place.
The topography of the site is generally flat to the north and east and slightly undulating to the south-west of the site, where there is a slight hollow which appears to indicate an earlier waterway. Most of the site is now open grassland. The few mature trees at the centre and north of the land parcel indicate the general location of the later family homes (since demolished), representing the change in the use of the place from a ‘single men’s’ camp style arrangement to a family focussed community.
Brief description of each extant building; its function and condition
(Note the numbers 1 to 8 refer to ‘building groups’ rather than necessarily a single building. For example, Building 5 comprises two physical buildings)
Building 1: Garaging
Building 1 is a four-bay open pole shed located to the north-east of the group and constructed of timber walls which have been extensively patched with corrugated iron. An internal partition wall is made up of timber slats and the roof is clad in corrugated iron. This building was used as a garage, initially to house wagons, and later vans and other vehicles. The building does not have a formed floor.
‘Building 2’: Site of Retail shop
Building 2 was a small structure located to the east of the group, adjoining the garage and shed of Building 1. It had timber clad walls, which had the remnants of being painted blue to the front, and a mono-pitch corrugated iron roof. This was one of the most important structures on the site as it housed the vegetable retail shop. A ‘King Bros.’ sign previously adorned the space above the door. This sign currently resides in the Ashburton Museum for safe storage. This building suffered significant damage during a major weather event on 14 October 2018. The roof was largely blown off and the remains of the front and side wall at the end collapsed, despite earlier attempts to stabilise this building. During the works undertaken in December 2018 most of what was left of the building and its internal elements was deconstructed. However, as this was one of the most important buildings of the complex it is the intent to reconstruct the building at a later date.
A waterway ran past the southern side of the building. It fed a concrete trough, used to wash the vegetables prior to them being stored or placed in the shop, and then functioned as an outlet to wash away the dirty water. Shutters on either side of the trough enabled it to hold the water used to wash the vegetables.
Building 3: Washroom and laundry
Building 3 is a small corrugated iron structure located to the south-east of the building group, with a corrugated iron pitched roof and an external flue. It was used as the community’s washroom and laundry and was internally divided into three sections – a room containing a bath to the northern end, a copper water heater and sinks in the middle section and a laundry (inside drying area) to the southern end. Washing lines would have been erected to the north of the building for the outside drying of clothes. An outside water tank was previously located to the south-east side of the building.
Building 4: Storage, workshop, school room
Building 4 is constructed of timber clad walls and a mono-pitch corrugated iron roof. Two windows and a central door give a symmetrical appearance from the front (north). The building has a number of internal dividing walls, allowing it to be used for multiple purposes. Four smaller compartments were used specifically for food storage, with one ‘cupboard’ lined with tin for the storage of rice. The southern-most part of the building comprises of one long room, the front part of which was used to store and maintain equipment with the back part of the room being used for schooling. At the rear of the school room is a smaller room that was used for ripening bananas.
Building 5: Kitchen, living area, office
Building 5 incorporates two adjoining structures. Both structures are clad in timber with a pitched gabled roof and timber floorboards. The southern-most of the two buildings housed the kitchen and is a large open space with cupboards along the back (southern) wall. An opening led from the kitchen into the living area where there was a large open fireplace against the back wall. One corner of this building has an internal partition inside which forms a small room that was utilised as an office.
These buildings especially provide an understanding of how the Chinese community lived here. Although chattels are no longer present, the kitchen had a kitchen table in the centre of the room, a large fridge/freezer in the corner and a stereogram along the wall. A telephone hung just inside the front door. The living area is where the men would have relaxed around the fire, socialised, and played cards, Chinese chess, backgammon, and mah-jong in the evenings.
Building 6: Bedroom
Building 6 is clad completely in corrugated iron and is presumed to have been constructed slightly later than the wooden clad structures. It has an unusual form in comparison to the other buildings, with a steep mono-pitch roof and minimal openings. The western section of the building was used as a bedroom, which slept four or five men, and the eastern section provides a link between the bedroom and the living area of Building 5. This building forms part of the main row of buildings within the group.
Building 7: Bedroom
Building 7 is located on the northern-western side of the group closest to Allens Road. The walls are clad in timber with a pitched corrugated iron roof and minimal openings. The entrance to the building is from the south-east, between it and building 6, and the entranceway is covered by a small canopy. The wall on the roadside is blank with no openings. Internally the building has a timber floor and a central partition wall creating two rooms. These were both used as bedrooms and each room would sleep two to three men. Extensive areas of wall paper remain. This building is of high heritage value due to being the best preserved example of sleeping quarters existing within the site. The building is also part of the main line of accommodation buildings and is very visible from the road, so it plays a large role in the overall site context.
Building 8: Laundry
Building group 8 originally consisted of four small buildings: two sleeping accommodations, a drying room and a laundry, and there was an alleyway (part covered) which ran between that group and the main row of buildings. Resource consent obtained in 2017 provided for the deconstruction of the whole building 8 group – however when work started on site, it was realised that the laundry could be salvaged, so it was retained and only the sleeping accommodation and drying room were deconstructed.
This building, located to the rear (south-west) of the main buildings, was a washroom with copper water heaters and adjacent drying room, of which a small part was able to be retained, specifically the wall with fixtures to which the drying lines were attached.
Structure 1: Chinese Pig Oven
The Chinese Pig Oven is a cylindrical structure, lined with firebricks and has a gantry on which a pig was lowered by pulley for cooking. The mortared clay bricks have a thin concrete plaster on the exterior. As with other similar pig ovens, a fire would be lit in the base of the oven and fed from the opening at the base, then large stones would be lowered and allowed to become red hot. A whole marinated pig carcass would then be lowered into the oven and a metal cover placed over the top until the meat was thoroughly cooked. The oven at the Ng King Brothers Chinese Market Garden Settlement served the community. Descendants recall that on Sundays the men all cooked, with families coming from across Canterbury for generous lunches.
The oven was restored in 2013 by the Ashburton District Council with funding from the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust. It is considered to be a rare surviving example of an oven of its type in Australasia.
Surrounding Market Garden area
The area around the settlement which was originally used as the area to grow produce when the market garden was first established is largely undeveloped. To the northeast of the settlement trees mark the location of family house sites, the buildings since removed. The balance of the property, formerly a part of the market garden operation, contains no structures and is currently grassed. Potential below-ground remains here may include remains of horticultural practices such as evidence of working, draining and/or irrigating the land, sites of demolished buildings and rubbish dumps. In accordance with the 2013 agreement, the Ashburton District Council maintains the property, and regularly mows the grass to keep the site tidy.
On 14 October 2018, a severe weather event with gale force winds caused significant damage to the former shop. The former shop had deteriorated over time, and attempts had been made to secure the building with struts and straps. Despite those measures the strong winds blew off the entire roof, and most of the building collapsed as a result. The same storm severely damaged part of Building 1’s roof to such an extent that it had to be partially removed.
In November / December 2018, a number of buildings were deconstructed as part of a programme to stabilise and restore the remaining buildings. This work was undertaken by Joseph Builders on behalf of Ashburton District Council who had obtained resource consent for the proposed works in November 2017.
Market garden established on the site
First buildings erected
Chinese Pig Oven built (and possibly rebuilt/reworked)
Houses built for families
2013 - 2014
Chinese Pig Oven restored
Storm damage, former shop largely removed, and repair
Family houses at north part of site demolished
Timber, corrugated iron, metal, brick
Public NZAA Number
28th August 2020
Report Written By
Christine Whybrew, Arlene Baird, Frank van der Heijden and Robyn Burgess (and in collaboration with Carolyn King)
Neville Ritchie, 'Archaeology and History of the Chinese in Southern New Zealand During the Nineteenth Century: A Study of Acculturation, Adaptation, and Change', PhD, University of Otago, 1986 [Hocken Library]
Lee and Lam, 2012
Sons of the Soil: Chinese Market Gardeners in New Zealand, Pukekohe, 2012
Australasian Historical Archaeology
Grimwade, Gordon, ‘Crispy roast pork: using Chinese Australasian pig ovens’, Australasian Historical Archaeology, 26, 2008, pp. 21-28.
Baird, Arlene (Era NZ Ltd), Ashburton Chinese Settlement, Allens Road, Ashburton: Heritage & Restoration Assessment, June 2017, unpublished report for Ashburton District Council.
Baird, Arlene (Era NZ Ltd), Ashburton Chinese Settlement, Allens Road, Allenton: Record of heritage buildings, February 2018, unpublished report for Ashburton District Council.
Boileau, Joanna, Chinese Market Gardening in Australia and New Zealand: Gardens of Prosperity, 2017.
Lam, Lowe, Wong, Wong, and King, 2018
Lam, Ruth, Beverly Lowe, Helen Wong, Michael Wong and Carolyn King, The Fruits of Our Labours, Volume 1, 2018.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.
Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.
A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Southern Region Office of Heritage New Zealand.