Thomas Mason               Alfred Ludlam          Sources
Mason article by Shepherd               Click to access

Two early pioneers from the Hutt Valley developed extensive gardens, and played  important roles in the establishment of the Wellington Botanic Garden.  Between them they donated many plants and trees during the Gardens formative years, with both serving significant terms on the Botanic Garden Board in the years before management responsibility was transferred to the Wellington City Council in 1891.  

Thomas Mason               Alfred Ludlam          Sources
Mason article by Shepherd               Click to access

Thomas 'Quaker' Mason quickly established one of the outstanding gardens in New Zealand after his arrival in 1841. Heavily involved in horticulture, he became closely involved in the Wellington Botanic Garden from its inception, donating many trees and plants during its formative years, completing 15 years on the Botanic Garden Board, and was the final Chairman of the Board prior to the transfer of the Garden to the Wellington City Council in 1891

Thomas Mason was born in York, Yorkshire, England, on 28 July 1818. In December 1840 Thomas and his wife Jane sailed from Gravesend on the New Zealand Company ship Olympus as cabin passengers. They arrived in Wellington 20 April 1841. Until 1839 there were only about 2,000 immigrants in New Zealand; by 1852 there were about 28,000. The move to the new colony was therefore a considerable expression of faith that there would be great opportunities to be found here. However, not all found things to their liking. By 1848 only eighty-five of the original 436 New Zealand Company Wellington colonists remained. Thomas Mason bought a section at Taita, where, except for one short interval, the Masons lived for the rest of their lives, bringing up seven sons and three daughters (a fourth daughter and two sons died in infancy).

Immigrants gather at Gravesend ready to board their ship

When Thomas Mason came to New Zealand at the age of 22, he brought with him skills in farming, horticulture and commerce, that fore-shadowed the prominent place he came to occupy in later years, creator of what was widely regarded at the time as the finest botanical garden in New Zealand. As well as blankets and other goods for trade, he had brought with him three Land Orders in the expectation of profit", which he found on arrival to entitle him to a choice of land at Wanganui, an opportunity he found unattractive. After examining the Porirua and Hutt districts he managed to exchange these for a bush-covered 100-acre country section in the Hutt Valley at Taita where he became the third selector. He immediately cleared sufficient land to plant the potatoes and crop seeds he had brought with him, and a variety of seeds of trees and shrubs which he had asked his uncle Thomas Mason in York to send out to him from England.

Wattle and daub thatched cottage built for the Masons 1841

"Thomas Mason's Valley of the Hutt".
A drawing by Robert Lindsey Clark
after an original sketch by Frederick Mackie in 1853.

In his first year at Taita, Thomas Mason had planted seeds of Scotch Red potatoes, the crop producing a large number of varieties. He carried out trials with all of these, to select those most suited to the soil and growing conditions at Taita. He also collected, in 1841, as many different sorts of native potato as he could, to plant and "determine which is best". His investigative approach was applied after his return from Tasmania in 1851, to a long-continued collection and acclimatisation of plants and trees.

The Teaching Garden, now Soundshell Lawn,  Main Garden,  around 1900
in an area that would have included many plants
donated by Thomas Mason and Alfred Ludlam
in the 1870's and 1880's.

Growing fruit and vegetables was part of the profitable use of his land. In May 1867 he gathered ten tons of good-keeping apples - "the hawkers of fruit take them to Wellington." The 12 and a half acres of gardens at the north-east corner of the section were sheltered by plantings of eucalyptus and ever-increasing numbers of flowering shrubs and trees flourished. These he bought from nurserymen in York, Melbourne, Sydney, and from Hobart. In 1871 he had a collection that included 100 kinds of roses and 60 camellias, together with azaleas and rhododendrons, his principal help in this being an old Maori woman who did the digging and weeding.

Thomas Mason's house and garden Taita 1899
Many plants and trees where donated to
the Botanic Garden
in its formative years from 
Mason's Taita garden
"The Gums" 
Thomas Mason's home and garden  Taita

Painting by John Atherton Horsfall 1875?

Thomas Mason's home and garden at Taita around 1900

His association with the Wellington Botanic Garden can be traced back to its formation in 1869. He was appointed in 1877 to the Board of Governors of the New Zealand Institute which was responsible for the management of the Garden (now the Royal Society of New Zealand), became chairman in 1897, and held that position for the rest of his life.  He also completed 15 years on the Botanic Garden Board, and was the final Chairman  prior to the transfer of the Garden to the Wellington City Council in 1891.

When he listed his plants in 1896 there were 1,400 species, as well as many varieties of trees, shrubs and smaller plants and bulbs. The public were able to visit and Mason was generous with gifts of flowers and plants.

From 1877 to 1891 he was a member of the board of the Botanic Garden, contributing much to the running of the garden and making substantial gifts of plants as noted below. 

Pinus radiata

New Zealand's prosperity has depended for many years on the export of timber. The New Zealand industry was from the start firmly based on the kauri tree, although other natives where also important. Captain James Cook, on his first visit (1768-1771) to this country, wrote a glowing report about "the great length of the trees, growing straight as an arrow and tapered very little in proportion to their length." With the loss of the American colonies, Britain had lost its main source of timber, especially that suitable for masts and spars, and Cook's reports provided a solution, especially when he reported that NZ was covered by timber "of a size and every quality that indicates long duration; it grows close to the waters edge and may be easily obtained." Cook felled and pit sawed into planks the first tree on his second voyage (1772 - 1775). The earliest European extraction, however, occurred when Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne's men hauled a large tree trunk out of the bush in the Bay of Islands in 1772. The first export shipment of timber was dispatched from the country in October 1794, but domestic demand took the earlier production.

To facilitate timber extraction, bullocks where brought in to the country in 1820, and over the next 40 years with improved extraction methods the indigenous stands of timber disappeared altogether from many areas, and became seriously depleted in others. Scholefield noted that in 1871 over three million board feet (1 board foot = approximately 30cm wde, 2.5cm thick and 30cm long) of timber were exported, but by 1891 this had increased to fourty two million board feet. At that time there were reported to be some 250 sawmills processing native trees throughout the colony.

In 1870 James Hector made the following statement in reply to a question from the Government “..... the rapid destruction of the native forests I consider to be most wasteful, and is having the effect of rapidly reducing the natural resources of the country." His concern on this issue had been one of the reasons for the earlier establishment of this Garden and the need to find suitable trees to replace the increasingly depleted native stock, especially with the increasing population giving rise to expanding demand for timber and firewood, which could no longer be met from the indigenous stock. With wood being the most significant energy source at this time, the lack of firweood was a major concern around the significant residential areas.

Parts of the tussock covered land, especially the Canterbury Plains, lacking trees, where found by the earliest settlers to require trees for firewood and to provide shelter from prevailing winds for both livestock and homesteads. The first significant tree planting are believed to have been by anonymous settlers and transients, especially gold miners returning from the Californian gold fields, who brought with them seeds of trees they found growing in California, especially Pinus radiata and Cypresses macrocarpa although this is not documented.  Miners returning to the West Coast are also thought to have imported Pinus radiata to provide timber for pit props.

J.B.A. Acland on Mt. Peel Station in the Canterbury foothills is credited with the first documented importation of Pinus radiata. First discovered by European explorers/plant collectors in 1830, it was established in Britain by the end of that decade. The Acland family at their Devon estate had grown some of the earliest
radiata trial plantings imported into the UK for the RHS, and therefore had early knowledge of this tree. Acland's 1859 importation of one three year old radiata from N.S.W. nurseryman Thos Shepherd, a tree still alive in 1990, stands as the first record for radiata in N.Z. An image of the first tree can be found at Equally important is Acland's 1859 introduction of seed obtained from the Veitch UK nursery, probably collected by Lobb in Monterey, California. Returning from his home in Devon that year Acland would well have been enthusiastic about the success of Lobb's seed there. Known specimens from this importation were planted in Geraldine (2) and at the Christchurch Botanic Garden. It raises an interesting question as to whether his enthusiasm for this tree may be central to early Canterbury radiata introduction, as it is understood he distributed seed/plants to friends, neighbours and elsewhere.

The first milling of
radiata was reported by a Canterbury man in New Zealand in 1893 at the Leslie Hills Station, near Culverden, North Canterbury. Duncan Rutherford milled some 20-year-old pines and used their timber for farm buildings,indicating likely confirmation of the early planting of radiata in that area.

By 1865 Shepherd states both Alfred Ludlam and Thomas Mason had established Pinus radiata in Wellington and it is likely that they could have made plantings of this tree in the Garden from about this time, although no documentary proof of this has been discovered. There are a number of recorded introductions throughout the country in the early 1860's. Ludlam in particular appears to have had a significant collection of pine species, although Mason also had a number. Ludlam is recorded as receiving radiata material in 1863, Mason in 1865, and Hector in 1868/69. It is understood that following the appointment of James Hector as Scientific Advisor to the Central Government in 1865 work was being done in the Garden by these individuals and John Buchanan before its formal establishment in 1868. Hector is likely to have seen the tree growing in various parts of the country, and realising how successful radiata appeared to be establishing in the country, subsequently lead to the importation of large quantities of Pinus radiata seed and plants to the Garden at the end of the decade and 1870's. Plants and seed where subsequently distributed throughout the country, to individuals, public gardens and acclimatisation societies, eventually providing the 'parents' of New Zealand's radiata forest industry, confirmed by recent DNA analysis of specimens still in the Garden.

David Hay (1815–1883 Nurseryman) in Auckland is credited with the first commercial introduction to New Zealand of Pinus radiata. . In his 1860 catalogue only European conifers are mentioned, but from 1862 this began to change. It is likely that, initially, Hay's radiata pine and other American conifer plants were imported from Shepherd and Company of Sydney, thought to have been the first Australian nursery to stock Pinus radiata. There is no evidence of a direct American link at this stage, but a price drop in the seeds advertised in Hay's 1872 catalogue suggests that he was importing direct from America by this time, as were nurseries in other centres – William Martin and George Matthews in Dunedin, William Wilson and others in Christchurch, William Hale in Nelson, Robert Pharazyn in Wanganui and the Mason brothers in Auckland.

Pinus radiata provided many advantages – it grows straight, grows rapidly, is easy to handle, grows well in plantations, is adaptable to most NZ conditions, and provides wood that is remarkably versitile. Its seeds can be collected throughout the year, it transplants easily and requires little care thereafter, responding well to pruning and thinning and can readily be treated with preservatives. Its ability to produce a high quality long fibred pulp adds to its value. Genetically variable it responds well to selective breeding improvement.

Which in a nutshell is the success story of Pinus radiata. This garden played a central role, meeting its founding objective as a 'colonial garden' to facilitate the establishment of the forestry industry.  Pioneers like Hector, Ludlam and Mason amongst others deserve full recognition for the crucial role they played in the introduction of this tree in particular,  a tree on which the countries prosperity still depends on to such a significant degree

Mason plant donations to the
Wellington Botanic Garden:

1871/72 381 species

1872/73  1 Pinus halepensis, 3 Pinus austrtaca (a form of Pinus nigra), 3 Pinus longifolia (synonym of Pinus palustris) and 60 Laoristinus  (Viburnum), 6 Widdringtonia  (cypress family), 2 Cupressus junebns, 100 Oaks, rose cuttings and assorted cuttings 1

1874/75 24 shrubs

1875/76 12 Phlox, 6 azaleas, 24 shrubs

1877/78  Collection of plants and cuttings

with further unidentified donations 1878/79, 1879/80, 1880/81,1881/82,1883/84,1885/86,1889/90 and 1890/91

When entering the new period of management in 1891 when management responsibility was given to the Wellington City Council, the Garden was to be funded by the City.   It was, however, deprived for the time being of the expertise of men with scientific or horticultural knowledge. As noted in the Garden history, it was many years before the Corporation could supply this need. Time has shown that the right decision was made, but nothing has ever been done to counter the bitterness engendered by the change, nor to acknowledge the dedication and service of people like James Hector, Walter Mantell, Alfred Ludlam, Thomas Mason, William Travers, Thomas Kirk, Archdeacon Stock, and other members of the Botanic Garden Board, as well as John Buchanan of the Colonial Museum.

With the experience Mason gained in the creation of his own garden at Taita it is interesting to speculate how that experience may have impacted on the establishment and character of our garden, especially during its early formative years.

Mason oak
From Wellington Botanic Garden Memorials Register

At the southern end of the Glenmore Street lawn a  tree propagated by a descendant of Thomas Mason from an acorn taken from an oak tree originally planted by him at the family home in Taita which was presented to the Garden. Quercus canariensis X robur was planted on the 15th May 1994 to commemorate the family reunion of the descendants of Thomas 'Quaker' Mason.

Thomas Mason               Alfred Ludlam          Sources
Mason article by Shepherd               Click to access

A compatriot and friend of Thomas Mason was Alfred Ludlam (1810 – 8 November 1877) who was a leading New Zealand politician, horticulturist and farmer who owned land in Wellington and  the Hutt Valley and lived close to Mason in WaiwhetuAs did Thomas Mason he developed an extensive garden in Lower Hutt.    A member of three of New Zealand's four earliest parliaments, he was also a philanthropist and a founding proponent  of the Wellington's Botanic Garden.

Ludlam's Lower Hutt home. 
Left, original home on property  purchased from Frances Molesworoth mid 1840's
Replaced in 1848 with homestead above right
F. A. Molesworth Newry Port Nicholson 
Artist unknown
Molesworth residence, with flower garden.
To the right is a cucumber frame.
The house (known as Newry) is shown with
tree-trunks supporting the verandah.
There is another building on the left, beyond
a fence. The view is framed in the foreground with supplejack hanging from tall trees, and a
tree stump in the centre
The house of Alfred Ludlam, Hutt River, in 1850.

Their house was destroyed in Wellington's February 1855 earthquake.

Ludlam and his wife escaped being crushed by a falling chimney.

Ludlam was a notable landed proprietor. His holdings included real estate in Ghuznee Street, Wellington, and he owned a substantial riverside farm at Waiwhetū, Lower Hutt, where he ran flocks of sheep and developed a reputation as an expert in horticulture. He had purchased the Waiwhetū farm from fellow pioneer Francis Molesworth in the mid 1840s, calling it Newry after his home town in Ireland. Ludlam built a large house at Newry in 1848, replacing the farm's first homestead. The farm also boasted an orchard, a spacious barn often used for public functions (such as an official dinner held there for the governor, Sir George Grey, in 1851) and a stone windmill that had been erected by Molesworth in 1845.

The garden was established by Alfred Ludlam in the 1840's when his house was built there, next to Francis Molesworth's property. The latter, after Molesworth suffered a serious accident, was joined to Ludlam's own property under the title of "Newry". About 8 acres of this were developed with plantings of Ludlam's collection of exotic trees etc. Dubbed "Father of the Wellington Botanic Garden". Ludlam was a nominated-foundation Governor of the N.Z. Institute. He died in 1876 and his property became McNab's Gardens, named after its new owner. Subsequently, it changed hands again and was renamed Bellevue Gardens. Open to the public, it was a popular tea garden for a number of years. The garden was offered to the nation and to the Hutt Council but the purchase lapsed for want of funds. The property was finally subdivided, but many fine trees and plants still survive'

  Alfred Ludlam's windmill on the Hutt River in 1845
on the property developed with Francis Molesworth

Brees, Samuel Charles] 1810-1865 :Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand. By S. C. Brees, late Principal Engineer and Surveyor to the New Zealand Company

Ludlam's home and garden 1895  Conifers planted 1860-1880

In Exotic Intruders by  Joan Druett it is noted ..........

"some early settlers, appreciating a need  and more enterprising than most, set themselves up in the occupation of importing and cultivating seed and plants for sale.

One of those dealing in plants was Alfred Ludlam. He, with his friend and neighbour Francis Molesworth, set up an exchange system of sending plants back to England and receiving others by return ship. The gardens they established on Francis Molesworth's Lower Hutt farm eventually became the Bellevue Gardens, nearly 20 hectares of native and exotic shrubs, including magnificent trees and massed beds of English flowers.

At the same time, wealthy Quaker Thomas Mason was establishing orchards and gardens at Taita. He went to Tasmania in 1847, and brought back in 1851 a variety of apple trees he had admired. Later he had other fruit trees sent over to him from Tasmania, and by 1851 was growing apples, apricots, almonds, cherries, peaches, pears, plums, chestnuts, walnuts and currants. He imported grape vines from Sydney. He continued to import plant species from all over the world until, at the time of his death, his garden contained 1,500 varieties of plants, including 250 named rhododendrons and 60 named camellias. All this made up a massed display covering five hectares."

Both Ludlam and Mason played important roles in the establishment of the Wellington Botanic Garden, both making substantial donations of seeds and plants over a number of years. Initially Alfred Ludlam supervised the garden development, influencing the choice of plants and personally procuring many of them during the first 5 yeas. Buchanan subsequently took over this duty as part of his daily visit to the garden, supervising the work being completed.

The early colonists where interested in horticulture, and the Wellington Horticultural Society was founded in November 1841, which regularly staged exhibitions. Its establishment was very quickly following the colonists arrival in Wellington in 1840.. With all the problems connected with land claims and other difficulties that the new colony experienced, it is remarkable that such shows were staged at all. The horticultural show was very much a part of the English way of life in the 19th century

Ludlam supported the Wellington Colonial Museum and was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Wellington Botanic Garden in 1868, having introduced into the New Zealand Parliament legislation to "establish and regulate" the garden, serving on the Board from the first year. He also introduced in 1869 an act of parliament which entrusted management of the Botanic Garden to the New Zealand Institute (forerunner of the Royal Society of New Zealand). His contribution to the garden's establishment is commemorated in Ludlam Way running by Glenmore Street in the Main Garden.  Thomas Mason  received no such recognition.

Alfred Ludlam's writing and signature

James Hector, as scientific adviser to the new central government established in 1865, was asked to look at the site indicated on a 1844 map of the city as to whether it was suitable for a botanic garden, the land which was held under the Public Domains Act. He agreed that the site was suitable, and on 31 October 1868 the Governor under that Act delegated administrative authority to him over that land, which was then considered to be a Crown Domain. This can be taken as the establishment date for the Wellington Botanic Garden. This finalised the 1839 instruction given by the British Government to the New Zealand Company charged with the establishment of Wellington that a "botanic garden be established in the new colony and held in perpetuity for the benefit of all"

On 22 November,1869 for the first time a Crown Grant was executed giving control of the Garden to "the Governors of the Botanic Garden consisting of the Governors for the time being of the New Zealand Institute" (the forerunner of the Royal Society of New Zealand). The Reserve was shown as 13 acres, 3 roods, 36 perches, which generally covers the existing Main Garden. The Act specifically states that the "institution" is to be called "The Botanic Garden of Wellington".

The 1869 Bill entitled "an Act to Establish and Regulate an Institution called The Botanic Garden of Wellington" was presented to Parliament, sponsored and championed by Alfred Ludlam, who was then the Member of Parliament for the Hutt Valley. During the discussion on the Bill it was emphasised that important results for the "benefit of the colony might follow the establishment of a garden that would form the basis of operations for a system of forest propagation throughout New Zealand." The first Director of the Garden, Sir James Hector believed this was the direction the Garden was expected to take making it a Colonial Botanic Garden serving forestry and other needs of the entire colony. This act gave authority for the formal management of the garden.

Alfred Ludlam served 6 years as a  nominated member of the Botanic Garden Board.  Like Thomas Mason he donated plants to the Garden from  his own extensive collections.

Plants Donated by Alfred Ludlam

1870/71    506 species

1872/73   Aralea, Escallonia, Stone Pine, Shrubs

1873/74  unspecified

1874/75   250 pine trees 1 packet of pine seeds

1875/76  Pine tree cuttings, 60 Pinus tuberculata,  150 Pinus muricata

1877/78    (from  his estate)  10 Amarylis,  2 Iris,  22 Azalias,  38 Rhotodendron,  1 B prpmia, 1 Salvia, 1   Lily of the Valley, 5 Lily varieties

Alfred Ludlam's grave in the
Bolton Street Memorial Park
before its destruction during the construction
of the motorway.
Photographed in the 1960's
He was not survived by any children.

Ludlam was aged 67 when he died. The final phase of his life had been devoted to charitable works, and his passing was sincerely mourned by a wide circle of friends, acquaintances and beneficiaries. He was not survived by any children and his grave in the Bolton Street Memorial Park was destroyed during the 1960s by the construction of the Wellington Urban Motorway. 

Ludlam's Lower Hutt property was known as Bellevue Gardens which  has a long history dating back from the early settlers in the valley. The original land on the site currently known as Bellevue Gardens belonged to William Molesworth, later sold to Alfred Ludlam who built the first house and developed the gardens and a farm. The site then passed to James McNab who built the main homestead for accommodation of paying guests. He went on to develop the land further and turned the property into public/zoological gardens including many native and unusual plants and animals that included exotic birds, squirrels and even monkeys (now unheard of in New Zealand except in the Zoo) The property became a licensed premises in 1901 and continues  to this day. Although the property was subdivided in around 1906 into several smaller areas (including 3 acres that became Te Omanga Hospice) The Bellevue Gardens still provides accommodation, a  Garden Bar/ Restaurant and Sports Bar. 

Thomas Mason               Alfred Ludlam          Sources
Mason article by Shepherd               Click to access

The publication Horticulture in New Zealand published an article on Quaker Mason
written by Winsome Shepherd in 1991. 
The article (minus the illustrations which had been poorly reproduced in the photocopy
of the article available), follows.

.Thomas Mason (1818-1903)

The Finest Garden in the Southern Hemisphere

"The Gums", Taita, Wellington

Winsome Shepherd, A.H.R.I.H

From: Horticulture in New Zealand Volume 2 Number 2 Winter 1991

Last century Thomas Mason created a wonderful garden at Taita in the Hutt Valley. Unfortunately it was not preserved. The land was ultimately subdivided for housing, and with it the Hutt Valley lost the opportunity to obtain a ready made botanic garden Fortunately some of its horticultural wealth is still evident but before discussing this, its development is traced from its beginning Only primary sources have been used as the basis for this article

A young Yorkshire Quaker couple, Thomas and Jane Mason arrived at Port Nicholson per the 'Olympus', 21 April 1841. Thomas was only 23 when the couple settled on land at Taita, in the Hutt Valley about three miles above the entrance of the Hutt River at Petone. Running alongside the river most of the land was covered with thick, heavy totara. Many of the trees were huge, at least over two hundred years or more in age, some 100 to 150 ft high and 3 to 8 ft in diameter. Here Thomas and Jane bult their house, raised a family and in time created what many considered the finest garden in the Southern Hemisphere. Their first house was a small wattle and daub whare. The second house, started in 1853 after Mason's return from Tasmania, was of a more permanent nature. There was some delay, however, as their carpenter, in the middle of building it, decamped for the gold diggings. Like all houses in the valley this second house was built upon posts 1 to 1 1/2 feet above the ground on account of floods which came when the river rose over its banks. A sketch drawn by Frederick Mackie in 1853 shows bush still standing and the house the usual lean-to to which Mason probably continued to add.   Quaker Journals of Frederick Mackie on his tour of the Australasian Colonies 1852-18551 and travels of Robt. and Sarah Lindsey2 provide valuable illustrated information. Mackie spent some time with the Masons. As well as the sketch of the house another shows the Maori whares on the property.  Mason was one of three settlers in a district somewhat distant from Wellington and from which all requirements had to be fetched. William Jones in "Quaker Campaigns in Peace and War" said: "The goods were brought in a row boat up the bay from town to the mouth of the river, and thence were carried on men's backs through miles of rough bush track. Starting from home at 2am and finding their way through the forest by lighted torches of totara pine, the return journey from Wellington was not usually accomplished until 9 or 10pm long after darkness had set in. Mrs Mason's piercing "cooey", and her husband's equally vigorous response could be distinctly heard re-echoing through the sombre silent forest for fully an hour and a half before he gained the river bank opposite the whare where the canoe stood ready to ferry the goods and himself across the river".3

Mason was deeply religious so it was here that the family established the first regular Meetings for Quaker worship in the district.More often there was just the family, but on occasions Friends from Wellington joined them. In 1853 Frederick Mackie said: "The little Meeting, buried as we are in the wilderness, was a season of refreshment and comfort."4

There was by now, according to Mackie, "an excellent road along the margin of the bay with 2 horse vans running daily. It was a romantic drive" and he describes flax, karaka, toetoe, and native fuchsia as plants prevalent in the area. Again quoting from Mackie: "This morning I joined Thos. Mason in the wheat field, reaping. His Maori labourers soon discovered that I had never handled a sickle before. The wheat, owing to the wet summer is a good deal blighted."5

For all newcomers arriving in the colony, survival was paramount. At Taita, the thick, impenetrable bush had to be cleared so cattle could graze and crops sown. It was well into the 1850s before Thomas Mason had the leisure to develop his love of plants. Survival occupied Mason's mind when writing to his father just six weeks after their arrival, but he (or at the instigation of his wife) did not ignore the flower garden. Potatoes and vegetables again dominate the second letter but mention of oak and ash trees hints at this Englishman's wish to brighten up the sombre native landscape.

8 June 1841s   "Please send me some seeds of asparagus, Siberian crab, onion, red cabbage, and other seeds of good vegetables with a few hardy flower seeds as ... dianthus, and a few rose tree seeds and some hawthorn."

10 August 1841 he wrote again: "Have put in a few seeds and some potatoes. I have got as many sorts of native potatoes as I could and intend trying which is best. I have sown some seeds but roots are better if anyone is coming. Please send me a few and any other good varieties as you may happen to have. 2-3 potatoes of a sort is sufficient. I should like also if you have the opportunity of sending them — some acorns, ash seed and Siberian crab. Also a few of the best varieties of onion and if possible to be got some broom corn — a sort of maize".

The English potatoes were harvested in 1842 , yielding well, whilst strawberry and raspberry plants raised from seed were ready to plant out. The soil was a rich alluvial deposit of sandy loam 8 to 11 ft deep and resting on gravel, affording good drainage to the ample rainfall. Violent gales swept the valley from the north-west and south-east. Mason continued to bring land into cultivation until the outbreak of disturbances with the Maori. As a Quaker he was unable to take up arms and somewhere around 1846 he took his family to Hobart where he founded the "Friends School". Families of other settlers in the area also moved away or into Wellington so for a few years little progress was made in the Hutt Valley. According to naturalist William Swainson many properties appeared abandoned. In a letter to his son Geoffrey, Swainson wrote 28 July 1847: "I had a long letter from Mr Mason the other day who is still in Hobart Town without any intention at present of returning to the Hutt. In him we lost the most valuable settler of the district, plain indeed in his manners but kind and considering in his disposition with great experience and great prudence, above all with a thoroughly Christian temper in every social intercourse and domestic relation."7

 Some time in 1850 Mason did return and time proved that Swainson's assessment was right — Thomas Mason was indeed a valuable settler. From Hobart Town Mason brought back eucalyptus seeds and a variety of apple trees. The latter formed the nucleus of his orchard. In the following year, 1851, a further 150 fruit trees of various kinds and varieties were added — apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries, apricots, Siberian crab, walnut, Spanish chestnut, almond (of some only one of each) together with a supply of small fruits, rhubarb, etc. Gooseberry plants were obtained from Ludlam at Woburn, and grape vines imported from Sydney. It is uncertain as to whether the fruit trees came from Hobart or Sydney. The same letter describing the above also refers to a 'macadamaised road passing through the land, a stone's throw away from the house." The eucalyptus .seed germinated and were planted around the property from which it subsequently took its name. In 1893, J. H. Veitch, the English nurseryman after visiting Mason's garden, commented that both the Tasmanian Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulatus) and the Western Australian Jarrah (E. marginata) assumed the proportions of forest trees. Also by this time an inner sheltering boundary of coniferous trees had been established. It is not surprising that by 1867 Mason was harvesting 10 tons of good keeping apples. From one Stonepippen, he took 8cwt of fruit. It is said that Mason supplied the whole of Wellington with rhubarb, tomatoes, and apples, drays leaving at regular intervals several days a week. Manure came from his horses, sheep and pigs imported from Sydney. In the beginning young plants were often damaged by rats or wild pigs whilst severe frosts (Aug.1875) and bad storms took their toll as they do in any garden. The area under cultivation covered about 12 acres — orchard, lawns, kitchen garden, flowers and shrubs. Letters of 1860 make the first reference to the importation of plants and seeds from the English firm Backhouse and Son. In 1871 Mason enquires from his father as to whether catalogues are available from this firm or that of Edwards. In the same letter he says: "I have upwards of 100 fine kinds of roses and 60 camellias besides azaleas and rhododendrons, all of which flourish here. Some camellias are upwards of 7 feet and have been in bloom for 5 months. The garden is my recreation."8

In 1870, Thomas Lang, Nurseryman, Elizabeth St. Melbourne is noted as supplying Mason with plants. Veitch of Exeter and London was later known to have supplied plants and seeds.

Known familiarly as Quaker Mason, and now 52 years old, Thomas concentrated on building up his collection of plants. For the next 30 years he indulged in "his recreation". Every year he imported more plants — there were hundreds of named roses, bulbs, hydrangeas, treasures from America such as the tulip tree Liriodendron tulipifera (45 ft in 1896), the cork oak, Quercus suber (35 ft in 1896), 30 varieties of the Chinese tree peony, Poenia moulon,bamboo, plantains, lilies, ericas, perennials and annuals. There were at least 60 varieties of Camellia japonica and 46 varieties of rhododendrons. His letters of 1885 mention four more, viz. "Rhododendron Grand, Arab, John Waterer, and Princess Mary of Cambridge." The 'Gums' became known as the largest garden in the southern hemisphere. Eight gardeners were employed on a regular basis and in busy times there were over 15. There were reputed to be 8 miles of box hedging, fascinating summer houses sit in and relax and the paths wide enough for Mrs Mason who suffered ill health to accompany her husband in a little dogcart.

In November 1896, before the Wellington Philosophical Society, Mason read a paper "An account of the plants growing at 'The Gums', Taita", 1500 species in all. Climate and some spring growth rates are recorded. The list is alphabetical so that climbers, annuals, trees, etc. are not differentiated 9 A supplementary list was published in 1903, the year Mason died.10. The list is an incredible collection, confirming Thomas Mason as a remarkable horticulturist. Included in the list are 25 species of Magnolia, 29 species of Pinus, 17 species of Quercus, 16 species of Cupressus, 25 species of Iris and 41 species of Erica.

Many famous people came to 'The Gums' including Professor Wilson from Harvard University and as already mentioned J. H. Veitch of the Royal Exotic Nursery. The latjr in an article entitled "Traveller's Notes" refers to the large collection of Abies, Cupressus, and other genera. Many individual species are mentioned by name. Veitch concludes: "The wide range and varied conditions under which the above named plants are found in nature, clearly point to there being many less favoured spots for the formation of a general garden than Wellington, New Zealand. Likewise it is not a question of the mere existence of so many species, for almost without exception all are in excellent condition, since Mr Mason does away with those that do not please the eye by any defect in vigour and health, claiming to be purely and simply a gardener, seeking no gratification from the mere possession of species." Veitch makes some interesting comments on other gardens including an unfavourable one for the Botanic Garden. "Mr Macnab owns the late Mr Ludlam's famous garden, now somewhat neglected. In addition to this Sir James Hector has six gullies on his private estate, clothed with hundreds of tree ferns and native vegetation generally, in which pheasants and quail make their home; and mention should be made of the public garden, although it is of little interest."11.

"The Gums" were probably at the height of their glory when Mason died in 1903. The property passed to his eldest daughter and through her to her "son, Thomas Wilford (later Sir Thomas). Wilford tried desperately to keep the property going but the upkeep was tremendous. Government was asked to preserve the property as a National Trust — after all it was the finest garden, public or private in the southern hemisphere. Lack of funds made this impossible. Wilford then tried to get the Hutt Borough Council to take them over as public grounds. Mason had been a Hutt Councillor and served as its Chairman but here also financial constraints prevented this. Increasing costs finally forced Wilford to sell to Messrs Keene and Reid. These two men appreciated the value of the property. Most of the farm was sold but they retained the house and garden, opening them to the public, charging admission and supplying refreshment. It was the age of the Tea Gardens'. Although many Wellingtonians did visit Mason's Tea Garden they were too far out from Hutt and Wellington towns to attract sufficient numbers of people to pay the upkeep on the property which still required 6 full time gardeners to maintain lawns, cut hedges, and attend to flower beds, glasshouses and orchard. Managers were appointed and at one time under a Mr Chivers, a small plant catalogue was issued.12

The property changed hands several times until purchased by a land agent, Mr James Stellin. Stellin too, tried to carry on, but was defeated and surveyed the property for building sites taking care to preserve as many features as possible. The Nation was offered the land at £17,000. To an outside buyer it was £20,000. Parliament discussed the matter, Professor Wilson wrote from Harvard, the Mayor of Lower Hutt convened meetings and many schemes were discussed but to no avail and 22nd May 1922 saw the end of this unique garden when the Avalon Estate was auctioned. The auctioneer's brochure is beautifully illustrated, conveying some idea of the garden's layout.13 Surrounding boundary trees were felled and burnt. Panoramas taken from the western hills show the smoke that filled the valley for weeks. Many beautiful New Zealand gardens, including Alfred Ludlam's also at the Hutt, have received a similar fate but this is certainly one of the most tragic. It is perhaps fortunate that some treasures still remain and there is certainly a feeling of the past surrounding the homes. Pressures have caused further subdivision and many important trees may yet be lost as this continues. Fortunately, as has been demonstrated on occasion, most of the house  owners, sensitive to the rich past that they  enjoy, maintain a certain vigilance when dangerous occasions arise. In October 1990 members of the Wellington District Council were shown the following trees by David Aitcheson, the arboriculturist for the Lower Hutt City Council. David is responsible for looking after the trees, some of which are registered with the R.N.Z.I.H

Registered trees.

2 Avalon Cres. Quercus suber Cork oak. 25' in 1896. 35' in 1990. 55.77' in 1989.
7 Avalon Cres.
Sophora japonica pendula Weeping pagoda tree. Only old specimen N.Z. 13.12' high. 1989.
Fraxinus excelsior pendula Weeping ash. 32.8' in 19893.
7A Avalon Cres.
Magnolia cantpbelli. 45.93' in 1989.
9 Avalon Cres.
Castanopsis cuspidata. Gold leaf chestnut. 49.2' in 1989.

Not Registered:

? Avalon Cres. Liriodendron tulipifera. 45' i.. 1896. 60' high, 10' circ 1990.
6 Avalon Cres.
Sequoiadendron giganteum Big Tree. Welhngtonia 65' in 1990. Podocarpus totara Totara.
9 Avalon Cres.
Castanopsis cuspidata. Gold leaf chestnut. Liriodendron tulipifera
12A Avalon Cres. Quercus suber. Cork oak. 18A Avalon Cres. Ginkgo biloba. 30' in 1990
22 Avalon Cres.
Quercus robur, Quercus canariensis. Spanish oak.

The entire area should carry a covenant of "Historic Horticultural Significance" as has been done, although in different words, by the Wellington City Council for some of the Donald Estate in Karori. By this means the traces of box hedging, camellias, hollies, ginkgo, Cantuas, bananas and many other legacies of the past might be preserved. One remaining gazebo moved recently by the owner could perhaps be resited to a more appropriate place and restored. Above all a survey of all the remaining plants in the area is called for, surely a worthwhile profew of the old paths are still visible.

What was Mason's contribution to early Wellington? He was a gentle, reserved, deeply religious man, but he could be firm if occasion demanded. He was extremely generous, giving struggling families fruit and vegetables until they could grow their own, donating plants to the Wellington Botanic Garden, giving seeds and cuttings generously. He would send wagon loads of flowers into the city or to the Hutt town for any special event. He served the Hutt Council, he was M.P. for the Hutt for 20 years. When Alfred Ludlam died in 1875 Mason replaced him as a nominated member of the Board of Governors of the New Zealand Institute. He was Chairman of the Board when he died in 1903. As a Governor of the New Zealand Institute Board, he was therefore a member of the Botanic Garden Board and was its Chairman in 1891 when the Botanic Garden passed to the Wellington City Council. It is not surprising that planting efforts carried out by Mason and Ludlam in their gardens — Quercus suber, Liriodendron tulipifera, Abies pindrou, Abies pinsapo, to mention a few — are reflected in some of the historic trees found in the Wellington Botanic Garden. Curiously, and possibly due to the lack of primary source material on Ludlam, it has not been possible to find in what esteem these two men, two of the country's leading horticulturists, held each other.


1 Mackie, F. 1973. Traveller under concern, Hobart Univ. Original sketches held in the Rex Nankerville collection, Canberra.2 2Lindsey, R. 1886.
2 T ravels of Robt. & Sarah Lindsey. Lond.
3Jones, William. Quaker campaigns in peace and war. Wellington Public Library
4 Mackie, F. 1973. Traveller under concern Hobart Univ

6 Letters Thos. Mason to his father. Alexander Turnbull Library.
7Letters Wm. Swamson to Geotfrey Swainson. G. Swainson, Palmerston North.
'8Letters Thos. Mason to his father. Alexander Turnbull Library.
9Mason, T. 1897. An account of the plants growing at the 'Gums', Taita. Transactions and proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 24-393-412.
10. 1903. A list of plants growing at the "Gums", Taita. Ibid 35-374-377.
"Veitch, J. A. "A Travellers Notes 1891-1893" lent A Mason, Feilding.
12Mason s Gardens Catalogue 'Ornamental & Flowering Trees, Shrubs & Roses". Lower Hutt Public Library
13Avalon Park Est. J. Stellin.

This article has been scanned from a photoccopy of the original.  Unfortunately the illustrations of the original publication have not photocopied of a quality to enable reproduction here.  

Thomas Mason               Alfred Ludlam          Sources
Mason article by Shepherd               Click to access

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James Brodie and Audrey Brodie
SEEKING A NEW LAND : QUAKERS IN NEW ZEALAND A volume of biographical sketches  Quaker Historical Manuscripts No. 3. Published for New Zealand Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends by The Beechtree Press Wellington 1993

Shepherd, Winsome; Early Importations of Pinus Radiata to New Zealand and Distribution in Canterbury to 1885:Implications for the Genetic Makeup of Pinus Radiata Stocks.

Winsome Shepherd and Walter Cook; The Botanic Garden, Wellington A New Zealand History 1840 - 1987  Publisher Milwood Press, Wellington NZ 291B Tinakori Rd Thorndon Wellington Published 1988 ISBN 0-908582-79-X - Extracted from 'Fatal Success', A History of the NZ Company by Patricia Burns, Heinemann Reed 1989]

David Hay Nursreyman R. Winsome Shepherd. 'Hay, David - Hay, David', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012

See also

An Account of the Plants growing at “The Gums,” Taita.  1896 and 1902

By T. Mason

[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 11th November, 1896.]

The grounds and garden at “The Gums,” Taita, in the valley of the Hutt, near Wellington, cover an area of about 12½ acres, which was originally part of a dense grove of Dacrydium totara, with trees of from 100ft. to 150ft. in height, and from 3ft. to 8ft. in diameter. The outer border is planted with several kinds of Eucalyptus (some of which are almost equal in height and diameter to many of the trees that preceded them), Coniferœ, and deciduous trees, with an undergrowth, principally of native shrubs, in order to afford protection against the violent gales from the north-west and south-east which frequently sweep up and down the valley. The soil is a rich alluvial deposit of sandy loam, resting on gravel, at a depth varying from 6ft. to 11ft.

The temperature is rarely hot in summer or cold in winter, the highest registered being on 7th February, 1894, when the thermometer rose to 85°, Fahr. in the shade, and the lowest in July of the same year, when it fell to 16° on grass. The thermometer every year rises on three or four days to 80°, and falls about the same number of times to 20°.

The average yearly rainfall during the last nine years is 56in., falling most in winter, but also freely at short intervals during the other months, so that drought is practically unknown. A few of the trees, shrubs, and plants have only been tested one winter; but a large proportion of them were severely tried by a succession of keen frosts on the 5th, 6th, and 7th August, 1875, which destroyed a number of shrubs, among them two kinds of cinchona and several kinds of rhododendron which had withstood the colds of previous winters. Many of the native shrubs suffered severely. No record of the degrees of frost was kept, but, as those which were killed were not replaced, and most of the others have resisted the cold of several winters, the following may be considered as hardy in this locality.

The figures attached to some of the trees and shrubs show their height at the present time; but, as they were planted in different years, as obtained from varying sources, comparisons as to growth cannot be made. Only in one class—the three varieties of Cedrus—the relative growth is shown. They were planted at one time—29th April, 1871—and were placed near together, under equal conditions in every respect. They were healthy plants about 15in. high, and have continued healthy and vigorous, and as they grow singly the foliage is dense, and they are clothed down to the ground—fine specimens of their kind.