William Soltau Davidson (b. 1846, d. 1924) was the General Manager, and Thomas Brydone (b. 1837, d. 1904) was the NZ manager of the New Zealand and Australia Land Company – a major land owner of large estates around the country. They began to exhaustively research and plan. The first successful shipments of frozen meat had been made just a few years earlier. In 1877, two steamers carried frozen mutton from Argentina to France, and in 1879 the Strathleven carried 40 tons of frozen beef and mutton from Sydney to the UK. New Zealand was a longer journey, but the plan was the same. In 1881, Davidson and Brydone had a ship, the Dunedin, refitted as a floating fridge.
The Scottish Bell-Coleman steam-powered refrigeration plant on board was state of the art – the same sort of unit used on the Strathleven, but the venture was by no means certain. Despite promises of fresh meat every night – previously unheard of on a three-month voyage – many passengers refused to travel because they were afraid the plant would set fire to the sails. The first shipment loaded thawed when the refrigeration plant failed and had to be offloaded and quickly sold.
But finally on February 15, 1882 the first shipment of what was to become, and remain, our largest export industry sailed from Port Chalmers on the Dunedin. 4,460 sheep and 449 lambs reached Smithfield market in London safely and every animal was in good condition (still dead, but the meat was perfectly edible).