Māori tribes regularly exchanged goods, but the first markets in which the public could buy produce directly from growers appeared in Pākehā settlements in the 19th century. Markets were based in tents, which were often folded away once the day’s business was done. Remaining merchandise was usually handed over to the government store to be guarded overnight.
Early settlement plans had assumed that larger farms would become commercial operations, and that farmers would sell their produce to the public in markets. But most farmers, particularly those in the South Island, sold their produce wholesale on the national and international markets.
In early towns and cities small shops were set up to sell groceries, fruit and vegetables, meat, and fish. City dwellers mainly got their food from these shops.
In the early days of Pākehā settlement food was mainly imported, or purchased from Māori, who sold a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, often from their canoes tied up at wharves and jetties, particularly in Auckland.
William Swainson recorded that in the 1850s, Auckland was annually visited by 100 ships from overseas, 600 coastal vessels and nearly 2,000 canoes, including ‘once or twice a year the native chief Taraia and his tribe, from the eastern boundary of the Gulf … in their fleet of forty sail of well-manned war canoes’. They set up a market by the beach with ‘the appearance of a fair: pigs and potatoes, wheat, maize, melons, grapes, pumpkins, onions, flax, turkeys, geese, ducks, fowls, and firewood, are exposed for sale in great abundance, and meet with a ready market.’1
For the rest of the 19th century produce sales in Auckland continued to be informally organised at the bottom of Queen Street near the wharf.