James Busby


Edinburgh-born James Busby (1802-1871) was British Resident, a consular representative, in New Zealand from 1833.

By the early 1830s there were perhaps only a couple of hundred permanent European residents in New Zealand. The reputation of the principal settlement of Kororareka as the 'hell-hole of the Pacific' led Busby to conclude that New Zealand was an example of 'extreme frontier chaos'. Busby’s main duties, as outlined in instructions from Governor Richard Bourke of New South Wales, were to protect the more orderly British settlers and traders and prevent 'outrages' by the less orderly Europeans against Maori.

Based at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands, Busby was given little material support with which to achieve these aims; he had no troops or police and no legal power to make arrests. Maori derided him as a ‘Man-o-War without guns’. Busby was well aware of the shortcomings of his position. He was eventually assisted by the unpaid Lieutenant Thomas McDonnell, a retired naval officer who had established himself as a trader in the Hokianga.

In 1834 Busby gained official recognition for a New Zealand flag, under which locally built ships could sail to Australia without fear of being impounded. In 1835 he used Charles de Thierry’s attempt to declare a sovereign state in the Hokianga to persuade chiefs to sign a Declaration of Independence asserting their own sovereignty over New Zealand. While there was considerable doubt that the 'confederation' actually existed, the British Government recognised the Declaration.

In early 1840 Busby helped William Hobson draft the Treaty of Waitangi. The document was explained, debated and signed at the great gathering at Busby's Waitangi home – now the 'Treaty House'. His influence was seen in Article 2 (Read The Treaty), which guaranteed Maori chiefs 'tino rangatiratanga' (Maori version) or 'full, exclusive and undisturbed possession' (English version) of their lands and other resources.

Busby also has a claim to fame as our first winemaker. He trained in Europe as a viticulturalist, and brought a collection of grapevines that helped to found the Australian wine industry. In the late 1830s he established a vineyard at Waitangi.

Declining a position in William Hobson's new colonial government, Busby tried to expand his farming interests in the 1840s, but became entangled in litigation over his land titles. He also edited a newspaper and served as a member of the Auckland Provincial Council. He died in 1871 while visiting England for an eye operation.

Adapted from the DNZB biography by Claudia Orange

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kate spackman

Posted: 28 Nov 2011

Can you please help me. My family is doing the family tree on the Mcdonnell side do you have any information on the following person eg DOB, place he was born and died Lieutenant Thomas McDonnell, a retired naval officer who had established himself as a trader in the Hokianga