The Freezer Building - West elevation

Selected for Google Maps and Google Earth

This is the elevation seen from the town (at least what can be seen of the building) with the main South Island trunk railway in the foreground.


Erected in 1886-7 by the newly incorporated New Zealand Refrigerating Company, the freezer was the first and probably the only stand-alone meat freezing facility in the country which was associated with the main trade in frozen sheep carcases for the UK trade.

Designed by Forrester and Lemon it was an entirely practical building but it was fitted out with all that was necessary for moving sheep carcases off railway wagons and other transporters and getting them deep-frozen and stored as the company awaited the next vessel into the port of Oamaru.

It's attraction for engineering historians lies in the refrigeration machinery which was initially insttalled.

The Otago Witness, in April 1894, presented a long article of 4500 plus words about the Dunedin company A&T Burt Ltd. Victorian newspapers were very supportive of innovative local manufacturing companies and businesses, and articles of this length were not uncommon at that time.

This company was a significant entity in plumbing and electrical engineering for a century at lease and it still existed until about 2006 when it disappeared in a series of mergers.

A & T Burt refurbished the Haslam dry air refrigeration plant selected for this facility and built its prime mover, a reciprocating water engine of what must have been staggering size and water consumption.

In part this article reads . . . . The end of the building is occupied by the blacksmiths, for whose use there are four forges, a plate furnace and bending table, a large steam hammer, cutting and punching machines, and verticals. This branch of the firm's business, like the other branches, has developed from a very humble beginning until it is now one of the largest of its kind in the colony.

For several years the principal work executed by the firm in this department consisted of pumps and water engines. At one time these water engines were in great demand and all the newspapers were printed by means of them, and nearly all the trades requiring small power used them, on account of the economy, in preference to gas or steam but within the last few years the demand has decreased, owing to the fact that all the available water is required by the corporation for domestic purposes, and, although there are still a good many of them in use, gas and steam engines are, consequent upon the scarcity of water, throughout the colony gradually taking their place.

The first water engine made by the firm, which was constructed in 1866, was of a very primitive kind, but it supplied the original power used in their works, driving the brass finishers' lathes. After a good many experiments they succeeded in bringing out the present motor which, on account of its free exhaust, gives, the firm claims, a larger percentage of power than any other cylinder water engine in the world, and has secured for them first-class awards at all the colonial and intercolonial exhibitions since 1880.

The demand for these engines was at first for power varying from to 3-horse, but eventually the demand went up to 25-horse power and one has even been built for the freezing works at Oamaru indicating 147-horse power. This engine, which has now been working constantly for several years, during which time it has given the greatest satisfaction, the wear and tear being at a minimum compared with that of- steam engines, is the largest oscillating water engine that has ever been made.

Among the contracts of importance performed by the firm in the engineering department was the reconstruction of the refrigerating machinery, saved from the wreck of the ship Lyttelton in Timaru Harbour, the whole of this plant having been erected by them in the Oamaru freezing works, where it is now driven by the water engine just referred to.

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Photo details

  • Uploaded on October 19, 2011
  • Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works
    by Bruce Comfort
    • Camera: OLYMPUS IMAGING CORP. FE230/X790
    • Taken on 2010/08/17 12:56:35
    • Exposure: 0.002s (1/500)
    • Focal Length: 9.30mm
    • F/Stop: f/3.900
    • ISO Speed: ISO50
    • Exposure Bias: 0.00 EV
    • No flash

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