Farming is a major part of Northland, and New Zealand's modern history and Sunday marked 200 years of the plough first being used in the country, at Kerikeri.

May 3 was the 200th anniversary of an epoch-making event in the history of New Zealand agriculture.

The day was the bicentennial of Rev John Butler using an agricultural plough at the Kerikeri Mission Station – the first time the plough was ever used in New Zealand.

The Kerikeri Mission Station – including Kemp House, New Zealand's oldest surviving building, and the Stone Store – are today both cared for by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.


"For an agricultural nation like New Zealand, this anniversary really is a big deal," Kerikeri Mission Station Property Lead, Liz Bigwood said.

"Māori had been growing crops very effectively for centuries, so food cultivation certainly wasn't anything new in Aotearoa New Zealand. What made this date significant, however, was that this was the first time European technology associated with mass cultivation and food production was used in this country.

"It marks the introduction of modern agricultural technology into New Zealand."

The significance of the occasion was not lost on Rev Butler, who recorded the milestone in his diary: "May 3rd – The agricultural plough was for the first time put into the land of New Zealand at Kiddeekiddee (Kerikeri), and I felt much pleasure in holding it after a team of six bullocks brought down by the Dromedary. I trust that this day will be remembered with gratitude, and its anniversary kept by ages yet unborn. Each heart rejoiced in this auspicious day, and said, 'May God speed the plough'."

The bullocks from the naval ship HMS Dromedary would help make history in another way a little further north in Kaeo. After dropping off a load of convicts at Hobart and Sydney, the Dromedary sailed on to New Zealand, eventually anchoring in the Whangaroa to load a cargo of kauri masts for the Royal Navy.

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The team of oxen were needed to drag the kauri spars to the waiting ship. To speed up the process, the crew of the Dromedary built what became New Zealand's first road.
That enable the spars to be transported and loaded more efficiently, until the road was cut – and negotiations about the deal with rangatira, Te Ara, completed.

Six of the bullocks were made available to make history under Rev Butler's expert oversight at Kerikeri.


Progress with the team of oxen was rapid – and Butler recorded in his journal that, after several days of ploughing, "we have five acres of wheat in the ground" adding that "the plough will go remarkably well, after the ground is once broken".

By May 16, Butler noted with satisfaction that six acres of wheat had been planted.
New Zealand has an enviable collection of historic ploughs located around the country, though sadly the actual plough used by Butler at Kerikeri does not survive.

"We do have a plough from much the same era on display at the Stone Store however," Bigwood said.