Methods of Grinding Flour in Early NSW

Singleton Mills homepage > Different types of mills

In the struggling early colony of New South Wales, many methods were tried for the vital work of grinding wheat into flour. Bread was considered an essential food to feed the growing population.

Earliest types of mills

Initially, wheat grinding was done using hand mills. However, before long the hand mills, which had been brought over in the convict ships, wore out.

Other early mills were driven by animals (e.g. horse mills), or even by convict labour (tread mills).


Next, simple windmills were set up for grinding grain and the early Sydney horizon became dotted with windmills. However, wind strength varied greatly in the Sydney climate and the success of these mills was limited.


Watermills were the next to be tried and private watermills were built on many creeks and rivers in Sydney and regional NSW. Specialised knowledge was needed to choose a good site for a mill with sufficient water flow; and an understanding of gears and ratios was needed to get the mill to work. Many watermills in early Sydney failed. However, the Singleton family was particularly successful in establishing watermills and they established eight watermills between about 1810 and 1840 in regional NSW.

Two main types of watermills were used in early NSW: creek-fed watermills and tidal mills. The Singleton family successfully established mills of both types.

Read about creek-fed watermills, tidal watermills, watermill machinery, millstones and more in this report.

Steam-powered mills

Finally, by the 1830s, steam-powered flour mills began to be constructed. Steam engines were expensive but powerful, and these steam-powered mills did not need to rely on good winds or full creeks, as the earlier mills did. Multiple pairs of millstones could be driven by a steam engine and this allowed much larger mills to be constructed.

This steam technology was just beginning to be adopted in regional NSW towards the end of Benjamin Singleton's life. However, always keen to try new ventures, Benjamin constructed two steam-powered mills in Singleton.

This website explores the development of watermills in NSW, then touches on the new steam-powered technology, as illustrated by the mills constructed by the Singleton family.

Further Reading
How Tide and Water Mills WorkHow Steam Mills WorkWatermills at KurrajongTidal Mills at Wisemans Ferry