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The Busbys' Garden

June 7, 2023

We frequently receive enquiries from visitors about whether the garden’s current appearance accurately reflects its state during the Busbys’ residency. The answer is that it is not a replica, there was a lack of specific comment about the grounds during this time; nevertheless, their garden exuded enchanting fragrances and intrigued visitors with its captivating features. By 1840, and the signing of the Treaty, reports suggest that the grounds had blossomed into a sight of ‘sheer beauty’.

James Busby, together with his family, emigrated from Edinburgh to Australia in 1824.  During his voyage he had the opportunity to explore the vineyards in Cape Town and then penned ‘A Treatise on the Culture of the Vine and the Art of Making Wine’, a remarkable work that endures even today.

In 1831 James returned to England embarking on a four month tour of Spanish and French vineyards.  James meticulously collected vine cuttings from these renowned regions, expertly preserving them by packing them in moss and safeguarding them in cases lined with damp-proof paper.  He then shipped these precious cuttings back to New South Wales, fostering his vision of cultivating vineyards in the region.

He returned to Australia in October 1832 and on the 1 November 1832 married Agnes Dow and the following year set sail for New Zealand aboard the Imogene reaching the Bay of Islands in May.  A year later Agnes joined him and they made their home in Waitangi where they had six children. James constructed a modest two-room residence, conveniently assembled from a kit imported from Australia. Their new settlement would eventually become a significant site of New Zealand’s history – the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

circa 1900

While the historical and cultural significance of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is often discussed the site is also of botanical and archaeological importance, especially during the era of James and Agnes Busby.  James Busby, a man deeply devoted to horticulture, played a crucial role in shaping the area.  Notably, he established one of New Zealand’s early productive vineyards and became one of the foremost experts on winemaking techniques in the Pacific. The garden he cultivated became a source of envy for all who saw it while his pioneering efforts resulted in one of Northland’s earliest and most exotic orchards, comprising cuttings carefully transported from Australia.  

Although we know many people visited Waitangi in an official or more casual capacity, very few left records of their visits and even fewer left their impressions of the estate.  One person, J.B. Williams of Salem, Massachusetts who served as the American Consul wrote in 1844 that, “…….A more delightful and romantic spot it would be difficult to find in the Bay ….Mr Busby has displayed great taste about those parts of the grounds he improves, doubtless Mrs Busby must share in the credit, his worthy spouse. I well remember the first call I made at their pretty neat and hospitable Mansion embodied in a grove of trees and shrubs with flowers sending forth a rich fragrance. Mr Busby has quite a large farm under cultivation, and a fine grapery propagating fast."

Busby House, present day