Newspaper Article 1988 – Between the Rivers


This is the 24th instalment of the book which is to be published in the future.


Many complex issues had to be attended to at the initial stage of the meat freezing industry.

William Nelson revealed an astute insight into the finer points of producing suitable animals for killing. Sheep were still being bred primarily for their wool; canned or frozen meat was a secondary consideration.

Britain demanded medium size carcases; a dual-purpose sheep that had the required attributes must be genetically engineered; it was only a few men with vision who could foresee the colossal potential of the frozen meat trade.

‘Not too fat!’ was the cry from Britain even then, (a point which some farmers have been prone to ignore) uniformity of size and condition, care in handling. It was against some grazier opposition that the works reserved the right to reject, and the culls went into cans.

While these problems were being nutted out, and refrigerating machinery being installed, there was the question of a suitable port.

This was in 1883 and no Napier breakwater existed. The Inner Harbour was too shallow for large ships, and the open bay unsheltered from storms.

William Nelson proposed shipping frozen cargo by refrigerated coastal vessels to Auckland; Sidney Johnston opposed this, they must use lighters to load the ships; John Harding protested that the carcases would deteriorate by being twice exposed to air during this extra handling, “building a wharf at Cape Kidnappers!”

They did not lack for ideas, and Central Hawke’s Bay supported the last because it would draw trade away from their rival Napier.

The great day nevertheless arrived when the refrigerated sailing ship ‘Turakina’ set sail from Napier to Britain on March 12, 1884 laden with frozen carcases and extras such as tallow and canned meats. All arrived in good condition. The rail link from Tomoana to the Port of Napier had been used without a hitch.

With this prospect of future frozen cargoes sailing regularly, the Napier Harbour Board had to get its act together. Those who remember the earthquake of ‘31 will also remember the Breakwater versus Inner Harbour feud.

Fierce factions battled across the board, in the streets and newspaper columns. Some wives were forbidden to invite members of opposing families over their thresholds and noses were bloodied.

Years passed, breakwater and wharves came into being, yet still Inner Harbour supporters fought for their ideal. Steam had long supplanted sail and ships plied from Napier to all parts of the world, their holds filled with meat and wool.

Those catastrophic few seconds which laid waste to two major towns and ravaged a province brought the argument almost to an end. Most of those plans so ardently fought for up to the pitch of ‘casus belli’ was in ruins. Some pro-inner Harbour supporters hung in, but it was as good as over.

The final decision of 1934, after 70 years of ‘pull Devil, pull baker’ went to the Breakwater, not far from where William Colenso swam his cattle ashore at Corunna Bay, from where the meat and wool trade had bounded into fields far beyond the vision of any pioneer.

Photo captions –

‘When Sail beat Steam’ – the sailing ship Turakina overhauling the steamship Ruapehu in February 14, 1895. Oil painting by Charles Dixon, 1927.

Mr William Nelson

Early beef killing.

Tomoana works, 1884.

Original digital file


Non-commercial use

Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ)

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ).


Commercial Use

Please contact us for information about using this material commercially.


Extract from “Between the Rivers” by Elizabeth Hill, published in 1989


Date published

12 July 1988

Format of the original

Newspaper article


The Mail


Accession number


Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.