The most important house in the country…

treaty house

The Treaty House, Waitangi. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library

It may look like just a humble homestead, but it’s the most symbolically important and most visited building in New Zealand. So on the eve of Waitangi Day, let’s take a look at the house where New Zealand’s founding document, The Treaty of Waitangi was signed.

Situated in the beautiful Bay of Islands in New Zealand, what is now known as The Treaty House was originally the residence of James Busby who was the British government’s representative in New Zealand from 1833 to 1840.

Busby was born in Scotland, his family emigrating to New South Wales in 1824. He was a teacher of Viticulture, training in France and Spain before returning to Australia in 1828.

When he arrived in the Bay of Islands as British Resident of New Zealand in 1932, he planted a vineyard from the vine stock he brought with him after constructing his house in Waitangi.

As well as being regarded as the father of the Australian Wine Industry, James Busby was also instrumental in gaining official recognition for a New Zealand flag and helped draft the Treaty of Waitangi, signed at a great gathering at his residence on 6 February in 1840.

Waitangi Crowd

Crowd at Treaty House during Queen Elizabeth’s 1954 visit. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library.

Construction

Square and symmetrical in shape, with panelled front door, the single story Georgian style home was to be a much larger, more stately and elaborate building with famous Sydney architect John Verge commissioned by Busby for the design.

New South Wales architect, Ambrose Hallen modified the original plans and imported Australian hardwoods from Sydney to construct the now, more modest house which included a detached lean-to kitchen and servants quarters at the rear made of native timbers. Two additional wings were added to the house over the following decade.

The estate was eventually sold by the Busby family in 1882, slowly falling into disrepair until the 1932 purchase by the then Governor-General of New Zealand, Lord Bledisloe and his wife. They formed the Waitangi National Trust Board which in turn hired leading architects William Gummer and William Page to undertake a major restoration of the almost derelict building, which was then gifted to the nation.

The Treaty House. Image: Sids1

The Treaty House today.

Many changes have been made to the house over recent decades but it remains a symbol of importance in New Zealand History. Visitors can view the Treaty House, still exhibiting some of its original features with rooms set out as they would have looked 1840.

The Treaty Grounds take in the beautiful panoramic views of the Bay of Islands and is also home to other significant structures such as the exquisite carved meeting-house, Te Whare Rūnanga (opened in 1940) which sits opposite the Treaty House, the two buildings symbolising the partnership between Maori & the British Crown.

Meeting House

Interior of Te Whare Rūnanga. Image: Phil Whitehouse


Did you know…

– The Treaty House is one of the oldest surviving buildings in New Zealand.

– Is New Zealand’s earliest imported dwelling.

– Was the the first house purchased as a state monument in New Zealand.

 

If you’re thinking of visiting the Treaty Grounds, take a look at the Waitangi website for more information.

If you’re visiting Waitangi this weekend, share your pics with us on instagram.

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