Farra's long and distinguished history goes back over 150 years. This is the story of our humble Dunedin origins and how we became an engineering heavyweight.
Welcome to the ‘New World’

Farra Legacy Begins

Joseph and Janet Farra arrived in Dunedin from Melbourne with their two sons in 1862. Growth in Dunedin had rapidly increased following the discovery of Gold in the Tuapeka River near Lawrence in 1861. Joseph saw the demand for housing and household goods and quickly responded by setting up as a tinsmith, japanner, and spouting and colonial oven manufacturer in early 1863. A workshop and showroom was opened at 25 Stafford Street in 1882, followed by a rebuild and expansion in 1890. Joseph and Janet's sons, Thomas, James and youngest son Charles, took over the business and it was renamed Farra Bros. Joseph Farra died in 1907 aged 78, his sons all died in their 50’s, and former Farra foreman, James Wheeler, took over the business in 1917.


Dunedin Engineering and Steel

The Dunedin Engineering and Steel Company dates back to 1865 when Robert Spiers Sparrow, a boilermaker from Scotland, set up business in Dunedin. Sparrow built ships, railway wagons, boilers and all manner of factory and mining machinery. By 1874 his firm had grown to be one of the city’s major engineering operations with over 80 workers employed by the late 1880s, responsible for the fabrication of the Wingatui railway viaduct. A steel foundry began operation in 1898, with a high demand for speciality steel casting work by the company. The Dunedin Engineering and Steel Company were the builders behind the SS ‘Tawera’ launched in March 1899 and carried tourists for Sutherland Falls and Milford Sound. The largest boiler yet made in New Zealand was constructed by The Dunedin Engineering and Steel Company in 1906 for the Otago Harbour Board’s tug ‘Koputai’. In the late 1950’s and 60’s the company were responsible for the manufacturing of the steel prefermenters for Speights, as well as the 180’ high acid plant chimney, elevators, vessels and ductwork for Dominion Fertiliser at Ravensbourne. The company became part of Farra Engineering in 1969 and is the origin of Farra’s casting division.

1960s & 1970s

Farra Engineering enjoyed great success in the 1960’s and 1970’s, growing to employ around 240 people. The company supplied warehouse and industrial overhead cranes, with the first large cranes built for Pacific Steel in Auckland.


In September of 1982 Farra Engineering completed a 160-tonne lifting capacity crane for the Ohau C power station, the largest crane of its type to be designed and built in New Zealand


In 1983, Farra Engineering designed and built two cranes, the 6-tonne Goliath crane used for handling and placing stop log screens at the Waihonohu diversion, and the 15-tonne class 3 double trolley EOT crane used by NZ Forest Products in handling up to 350 tonnes of paper reels a day. The combined sale value of the two cranes was in excess of $250,000.


Farra Engineering built two huge electronic overhead cranes in 1984 for the Clyde dam powerhouse. The two cranes could be combined by a 20-tonne beam to give a total lifting capacity of 300 tonnes.


By 1989, Farra Engineering had established their new product, building maintenance units (BMUs), providing external access to high rise buildings. After installing their first BMU on Dunedin’s Westpac building, Farra Engineering built and designed two 5m by 5m BMUs for external maintenance of Auckland’s National Bank Centre. Worth around $500,000 each, these specially made units had onboard computers and could carry up to 300 kg each.

"Together, the company's history tracks through the Otago Gold Rush, two World Wars, weathered the depression of the 1930s, built cranes for the ’think big‘ projects of the 1970s and survived the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s.

John Whitaker
CEO of Farra, 2003-2018

The recession of the local economy in 1992 was a difficult time for Farra Engineering, taking on any work they could find, even the smallest of jobs. However, things turned around for the company this year when they were awarded an $800,000 subcontract for casting major componentry for the ten Anzac frigates’ marine gearboxes. This was the largest single steel casting undertaken by the firm, the first Anzac work won by Farra, and the first awarded to an Otago company.

International markets in reach

A lack of government funding to develop the Australian market was proving to be a real constraint for Farra. A new venture of engineering companies focused on the Australian market was formed in 1996. Made up of Farra, a Christchurch electrical engineering firm and four North Island members, the venture was known as JV96. Farra bought it’s focus back to the design of BMUs, designing and manufacturing for the Hong Kong Market.


By 1998, Farra had four trading divisions: Farra Casting at 25 Thomas Burns Street; Farra Fabrication & Design at 49 Fryatt Street; Farra Machining at 25 Thomas Burn Street; and Farra Stainless & Sheetmetal at 45 Cresswell Street.


By 2004, Farra had grown into seven divisions, with Casting, Machining, Fabrication, Design, Sheetmetal, Lift Equipment and Stainless Steel. Each of these was set up as an independent unit, focused on a key segment of the market

Exit from casting business

In 2009 Farra made the decision to exit from our casting business, selling it to an Australian business who continued operating from that site, allowing us to focus on finishing and value-added  processes

Farra turns 150 years old

The big 150!

In 2013 Farra Engineering celebrated 150 years of continuous operation. To mark the occasion they commissioned a book "Forged by Farra" chronicling the colourful history of the company

Acquisition of Shape New Zealand

Farra wanted to expand their light engineering business, and took the opportunity to buy a Christchurch based manufacturer called Shape NZ. Shape opened up new market segments in Australia as well as adding expertise in production manufacturing. Having branches in Christchurch and Dunedin gave Farra the dominant position within the Sheetmetal industry in the South Island 


2018 saw the combination of the Farra Divisions into one Farra, streamlining our systems and creating our specialised areas of operation; Light Engineering, Heavy Engineering, and Design Innovation.

Acquisition of Architectural Engineering NZ

Looking to enhance Farra's Architectural metalwork capabilities, Farra took the opportunity to combine Architectural Engineering NZ (AE) into the Farra Family.

With 17 years' experience in the Architectural Metalwork space, AE will help amplify our capacity to complete unique, stunning pieces of architectural engineering.

Farra Today

Over the past sixteen years the engineering sector in Dunedin (and New Zealand) has changed considerably. Globalisation has seen many major manufacturers move production offshore. But in its place we have seen a rise in demand for high-end, high-value, niche machinery and products which can still be made competitively in New Zealand, born from the innovation and high quality that are synonymous with New Zealand. 

156 years later we have moved on a long way from tinsmithing! But Farra are proud to still be in the hands of the original families, and proud that we remain at the forefront of the engineering industry in New Zealand

Forged by Farra

Author: Rosemarie Patterson
Editor: Farra Engineering
Publisher: AdArt Brand Promotion, Dunedin
Copyright © 2013 Farra Engineering Limited

Thank you to everyone who helped tell our story. Eoin Orr, Janet Black, Ian Farquhar, Ron Mackersy and Libby Parsons, Maurice Davis, Arthur Bingham, Bill Penrose, John Berben and Jim Smith, Tony Bishop, Jenepher Read, National Library of New Zealand, Dunedin City Library, Hocken Library, the Campbell Family, Clive Copeman, Allan Kynaston, Colin Campbell-Hunt, Stew Robertson and AJ Spence

Photographs were provided by Alexander Turnbull Library, Taieri Gorge Railway, Janet Black, Eoin Orr, Tony Bishop, Clive Copeman, Allan Kynaston, Arthur Bingham and Farra Engineering’s own archives.




Keep up-to-date and check out our latest news.