Captain Cook landed two Merino sheep in Marlborough in 1773, but they failed to survive. The Rev. Samuel Marsden brought Merino sheep from Australia to the Bay of Islands in 1814, but there is no record of permanent establishment of this flock. The real foundation of the pastoral industry was the importation in 1834 of 105 Merinos from Australia by John Bell Wright, who landed them on Mana Island near Wellington. In the following year he sent a few bags of their wool to Sydney for sale – the beginning of New Zealand's wool industry.
Until refrigeration in 1882 wool was one of the few valuable exports. The early flocks were all Merinos, but it was soon found that they did not thrive in wetter districts and, from about 1850 onwards, English breeds (Leicesters, Lincolns, Romneys, and Southdowns) were introduced. About this time New Zealand developed its own breed of sheep – the now famous Corriedale – since exported to all other important wool-producing countries.