Shipment company

The meat industry celebrates 140 years since the first shipment of frozen produce to the UK

Celebrations are taking place today to mark 140 years since the first shipment of frozen lamb from New Zealand arrived in the UK.

The Dunedin carried the first shipment of frozen meat to Britain in 1882.
Photo: Provided

The brainchild of William Davidson, UK managing director of the New Zealand and Australian Land Company – the first expedition saw 5000 lamb carcasses from Totara Estate near Oamaru sent by rail to Port Chalmers before being loaded onto The Dunedin.

The old liner had been fitted with a Bell Coleman coal-fired freezing plant.

He set sail for London on February 15 and after weeks at sea only one hulk was condemned when the ship arrived in London on May 24, 1882.

Beef and Lamb chairman and Southland sheep farmer Andrew Morrison said the expedition was a milestone in New Zealand history and paved the way for what is now a billion dollar industry of dollars.

“The sheep and cattle sector is an integral part of New Zealand’s history and is also an integral part of New Zealand’s future, as the sustainable land use choices our early settlers made are still used by farmers today.

“The red meat sector is New Zealand’s second largest exporter behind dairy and it’s really an integral part of the regional economy and it employs a lot of people, so we’re really proud of how the industry has progressed to what it is today.

Morrison, who is a fifth-generation sheep farmer, said farmers should be proud of history and should take a moment to mark the occasion today.

“One of the great experiences I’ve had in life was working with Tim Ritchie who passed away this year – he was the chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, he had a letter from his grandfather who was studying in London when the first shipment arrived.

“He went down and got a carcass and he described the condition of it – he said you wouldn’t have believed it had traveled this far, the quality was amazing.”

Lamb carcasses in the refrigerator of a slaughterhouse

File photo: Lamb carcasses in the refrigerator of a slaughterhouse
Photo: 123RF

Sirma Karapeeva, current chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, said the sector has come a long way since that first expedition.

“Once exports really took off, we were exporting about two million sheep carcasses a year. Today whole carcasses only make up about four percent of total exports – the majority of the products we export are bone-in or bone-in value-added cuts that are either chilled or frozen.

“In 2021, New Zealand exported just over 400,000 tonnes of mutton with an export value of $3.86 billion.”

We export to more than 110 countries around the world and are well known and respected as producers of high-quality, grass-fed safe mutton, Karapeeva said.

She believed the industry would not grow much in terms of the volume of meat exported, but would continue to grow in value due to increased demand for high-quality cuts of meat.

To mark the 140th anniversary of the first expedition, dinners are being held tonight at Oamaru’s Loan and Mercantile Building and Butchers’ Hall in London.