James Busby(1801-71) was a pioneer of viticulture in New South Wales and one of the most important figures in the history of the Australian wine industry. The cuttings he imported in the 1830s became the source of vine material for other early wine-makers.
Busby was 23 when he migrated to Australia with his parents in 1824. He had studied viticulture in France and, for his first three years in the colony, he taught viticulture at the Male Orphan School near Liverpool, New South Wales, where he oversaw the planting of a vineyard. Four years after his arrival in Sydney, he was granted 2000 acres in the Hunter River district where he established a vineyard of his own.
Busby wrote a number of works on viticulture, including A Manual of Plain Directions for Planting and Cultivating Vineyards and for Making Wine in New South Wales which was published in 1831. That year he returned to England and later spent four months touring the wine regions of Spain and France. During this time he collected hundreds of vine samples which were shipped to New South Wales aboard the Camden in 1833.
He donated the samples to the Botanic Gardens in Sydney, writing “It is my wish to place this collection of vines at the disposal of His Majesty’s Government, for the purpose, should it be deemed expedient, of forming an experimental garden at Sydney, to prove their different qualities, and propagate, for general distribution, those which may appear most suitable to the climate”
This gesture earned James Busby the title of “father of the Australian wine industry”. Although the vines planted in the Botanic Gardens were neglected and did not fare well, 365 duplicates were planted at his own property, Kirkton, in the Hunter Valley.
In 1833, Busby took up a new position as British Resident in New Zealand, where he was involved in drafting the Treaty of Waitangi. After he sailed for New Zealand, his brother-in-law William Kelman continued to tend the vineyard. The property was one of the sources of vine material for George Whydham’s Dalwood estate, the earliest commercial vineyard in the Hunter.