Abstract: A "Successful Experiment": The Antipodean Frozen Meat Trade, 1870-1900

Rebecca Woods


In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, exports of frozen mutton and lamb from colonial Australia and New Zealand grew dramatically. Their destination was Great Britain, whose growing population demanded quality meat, and lots of it. The successful establishment of this trade is hailed as the triumph of a "technological fix," in which refrigeration technology enabled colonial supply to meet British demand. Yet the frozen meat trade depended as much on new biological technology—in the form of new sheep breeds designed to suit the new trade—as on mechanical developments. To successfully capture a portion of the British market for meat, colonists had to remake their merino flocks in such a way as to balance the demands of colonial environments with those of British consumers. In New Zealand, this resulted in the formation of new breeds like the Corriedale, an inbred cross between the merino and longwool types from Britain, whose hybridity guaranteed suitability for colonial topography and terrain. Meanwhile, its genetic roots ensured that it remained British enough in the public eye for "Home" consumption. With two hooves in Britain, and two in the colonies, new breeds like the Corriedale allowed Britons to have their mutton and eat it, too.