The first windmills were probably invented by a Greek, Tesibius, who lived from 285 to 222 BC. Windmills were subsequently used by the Persians as far back as 500A.D. and by the Chinese in 1200A.D.

Dutch windmills first appeared in Holland in the 8th century but it wasn’t until the 12th century that they were used for pumping water out of the lowlands and back into the rivers so that the land could be farmed. By this time, they were also used for grinding grains. Windmills were often a farmer’s most prized possession. The water pumped by them was used to cook, bathe, drink, water crops and animals, wash clothes, and more. Windmills were also used for sawing wood which helped establish a flourishing shipbuilding industry in the Zaanstreek region in Old Holland. This is where the world’s first true industrial zone emerged in the 17th century. From 1650, some 75 ships were built there each year. Even Tsar Peter the Great came over from Russia to learn how to build a ship in Zaandam!  In the 19th century, there were over 9,000 windmills in the Netherland and today there are still around 1,200 in existence and still fully operational.


In 1642, Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman and his crews on two ships became the first Europeans known to have sighted New Zealand although it is believed they never set foot on the country. Before the Second World War, only 128 Dutch born people lived in New Zealand. This small group arrived in search of gold while a few were involved in shipping. After the war, around 40,000 emigrated to this country under a government assisted scheme for those left homeless after the German destruction of Dutch cities. By the mid-1960s the Dutch were the largest non-British immigrant group in New Zealand. These Dutch migrants were the first foreigners many Kiwis had met. As white Europeans, it was their language and accent that made them distinctive. The Dutch were seen as sensible and hard-working nation builders. Some of the first wave attracted criticism for working too hard, and were told to slow down in the workplace. The ‘industrious Dutchie’ soon became a national archetype, and qualities such as thrift and abruptness were seen as typical of the new arrivals. By introducing new customs and foods, ideas and practices, the Dutch helped change the New Zealand way of life. Migrants like Suzy van der Kwast in Wellington broke new ground by setting up popular cafés where New Zealanders could taste good coffee and exotic food. I spent many a pleasant hour in Suzy’s café enjoying the excellent coffee and tasty nibbles when I lived in Wellington. It was always a popular place to meet.  In the mid-1950s, Auckland restaurateur Otto Groen challenged the conservative drinking laws which banned the European custom of drinking wine with meals in restaurants. His restaurant, The Gourmet, later became the first in the country to be granted a licence to serve liquor. Vogel’s bread, Van Camp chocolate and Verkerk smallgoods are among the flavours of Europe introduced by the Dutch. Today, 150,000 people claim Dutch heritage.


 Foxton’s beautiful working windmill was built from actual Dutch plans for a 17th century windmill with the machinery imported from Holland. It was a dream for Dutch immigrant Jan Langen who spent years fundraising the million dollars needed for his dream project. He had settled in Foxton because the landscape there reminded him of Holland. The windmill operates during opening hours processing New Zealand wheat into three types of flour which can be purchased at the shop on the ground floor of the mill. The windmill has encouraged several other Dutch related attractions in the town including a popular Dutch café and Dutch museum.


Jan’s first problem was finding someone who knew how to build a 17th century Dutch windmill. As fortune would have it, a Dutch qualified builder who lived just 16km (10 miles) away appeared on the scene and agreed to get involved in the project. Once he had the plans, the builder constructed a 3 metre (10ft) tall working model in his garage. So far, so good. Building the real thing became a real community project with donations coming from all around New Zealand as well as money gifted from overseas. The windmill was constructed with local timber by local volunteers. The running gear, millstones and sails came from Holland. Today, the windmill, also known by its Dutch name, De Molen, is the main attraction in Foxton and is one of the most unique structures of its kind in New Zealand.

Foxton’s Windmill (Manawatu heritage)


Kiwi institution, the Lockwood home, is a Dutch invention. Two migrants Jo la Grouw and Jan van Loghem came up with the innovative idea shortly after arriving in New Zealand. The prototype house they built in Rotorua in 1951 was based on the old log-cabin technique of interlocking timber walls. The spaciousness and strength of the structure soon made the houses popular with New Zealanders. Lockwood Homes became the country’s biggest house-building company with sales in the tens of thousands both locally and as far away as Europe.

Ceidrik Heward


  1. Diane Stuart says

    Used to know Ceidrik. Maybe he remembers me Diane Stuart now living in Australia. Delighted he has done do well.

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