Thursday, June 26, 2014

The lingering effects of James Busby, founder of the Australian wine industry, on Australian life


James Busby (and here) was a remarkable man.

In New Zealand, he is remembered for the Treaty of Waitangi. You can see why that might be important. It’s a fundamental constitutional document that is central to today’s New Zealand. In Australia, he is remembered as the founder of the Australian wine industry.

James Busby was born in Edinburgh (Scotland) on 7 February 1801. He was twenty two when the family set sail on the Triton for Australia  where father John Busby, a surveyor and civil engineer, was to take up a position responsible for “the management of the Coal Mines, in supplying the Town of Sydney with water, and in objects of a similar nature'. In this role, he was responsible for the creation of Sydney’s first permanent water supply.  

The Busby's arrived in Sydney in February 1824. James had previously studied viticulture in France and had written A Treatise on the Culture of the Vine and the Art of Making Wine, which was published in Sydney in 1825.This was followed in 1830 by A Manual of Plain Directions for Planting and Cultivating Vineyards and for Making Wine in New South Wales.  

Initially James was employed at the Male Orphan School near Liverpool where  he was to take charge of the school farm and teach viticulture. He lost this position when the orphan school came under the control of the trustees of the Church and School Corporation in 1827. He was not happy with the way he had had been treated or subsequent offers, leading him to sail for England in 1831 to protest his work treatment.

On 19 February 1831, James Busby sailed for England in part to protest his work treatment. Viticulture was still a core interest. In September 1831 he began a four-month tour of Spanish and French vineyards, which resulted in two further publications: Journal of a Tour Through Some of the Vineyards of Spain and France (Sydney, 1833); and Journal of a Recent Visit to the Principal Vineyards of Spain and France (London, 1834).

James arrived back in Sydney on 16 October 1832, along with a large collection of vine clippings. In March 1832, he had been appointed British Resident in New Zealand. On 1 November he married Agnes Dow of Segenhoe in the Hunter, embarking for New Zealand in HMS. Imogene on 21 April 1833. He now effectively departs from the Australian story, becoming part of New Zealand history. However, his impact on Australian life continued.

At this point, we have a confusion of dates in the main secondary sources. Either John or James Busby was given a grant of 2000 acres in the Hunter that was named Kirkton. Management of the property was taken by William Kelman. Kelman had come out on the same ship as the Busby’s and had married John Busby’s daughter Katherine. The vines that James Busby had brought back were planted in the Sydney Botanical Garden and at Kirkton. From Kirkton, the vines spread across Southern Australia. Fittingly, William Kelman inherited the property after John Busby’s death.

Like many modern Australians with their love of the life styles of France and Tuscany, James Busby, too, fell in love with aspects of that life style and especially the wine. He wrote, I’m sorry, but I have not been able to find the reference again, that if Australia had been settled by the French you would find the farmer at the end of the day sitting outside sipping his own wine, perhaps under the shade of the vines.

An idyllic picture, but perhaps not as far removed from modern Australia as James Busby might have expected. The inheritance of those Kirkton vines lives on.   


Winton Bates said...

He does not look happy, but he would presumably be pleased to know that Australians have taken to drinking wine.
It is interesting that he seems to have been a prolific writer.

Jim Belshaw said...

Just my reaction, Winton.

He looks a real sour puss. It's a later painting, but it fits with the earlier painting I saw.

Same reaction re writing. He must have been a very focused man.

Jim Belshaw said...

That was a real boo-boo on my part, kvd. Inexcusable. I have corrected the error.

Jen Willlet's site is very good. I actually use it quite a bit. I had seen the page you linked too. Apart from the book, it includes a key date. Busby gave George Wyndham the vine clippings in July 1830.

With my bower bird mind, I had been trying to work out the exact chronology in the early plantings.