Historic Colonial
1840s House and Gardens

For nearly five decades the Ferguson Family have developed the 26-hectare property in the Far North of New Zealand’s North Island. Butler House, originally built in the 1840’s by Captain William Butler on his retirement from whaling, provides visitors with a snapshot of the interior of a New Zealand colonial house and a delightful history of life in New Zealand from the mid 19th century. Having been lovingly restored, the house is now recognised by Heritage New Zealand as a nationally significant heritage building. Butler House is open for public viewing (by appointment), but it remains an occupied property.

The beautiful gardens at Butler Point, were restored in the late 1900’s by the Ferguson Family. While most of the original plants are lost, a number of trees planted have now grown to full maturity. There are some ancient native pohutukawa, which line the coastline to Butler House and one surviving tree with a trunk circumference of 12 metres is the largest in New Zealand. The gardens also display exotic and native flora and a macadamia orchard within expansive grounds. The gardens have been recognised as a ‘Garden of Significance’ with the New Zealand Gardens Trust (NZGT).

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An early Pa (hillfort) site, is a short walk away. Six archaeological excavations have taken place here and the site is well interpreted. There is lots of good signage containing information about the site.

These stunning gardens and grounds, shaded by the ancient Pohutukawa trees, also offer a sheltered picnic facility for you to enjoy during your visit. Butler point also provides a magnificent setting for any special occasions, and is available as a wedding venue.

Tours of the museum, house and gardens are by appointment only and can be booked online.

Butler House

In 1838, following his retirement from whaling, Captain William Butler purchased land that formed the nucleus of what is today Butler Point. The house itself was originally built on the island of Paewhenua and was transported by sea across the Mangonui Harbour to Butler Point to become front part of the current homestead. By 1847 the back part of the house had been added. This homestead has come to be called Butler House.

The house itself is modest but large for its day and was constructed to accommodate his family – wife Eliza and 13 children. It has four bedrooms, a study, parlour, dining room, and kitchen. Butler’s expanding family also meant he had to expand the house by adding a rear section to the original front portion.

Captain Butler died in 1875 and was buried in the cemetery on Butler Point, which is also the resting place of a number of his sons. The year after Butler’s death his family left to settle in Auckland.

Following this, the house was occupied by various tenants until 1912 when Hubert Dacre took up residence. Although a dentist by profession, Dacre was an excellent craftsman and made items of furniture, some of which remain in Butler House today. Dacre finally purchased the house and property from Butler’s estate in 1921.

In 1940 Robert Marchant contracted to purchase the house, which he and his family had lived in since 1937, from the executors of Dacre’s estate. Over the next decades Butler House was only minimally maintained. In 1970 Lindo and Laetitia Ferguson, purchased the homestead and property from Robert Marchant, and began the restoration of the house and gardens.

Today Butler House is open to the public. It has been refurbished with early Colonial and Victorian furniture and fittings. Although, with a few notable exceptions, these are not historically associated with Butler or other early owners of the property, they do present visitors with a snapshot of the interior of a New Zealand colonial house of the mid to late 19th century.

Butler House is open for public viewing but it remains an occupied dwelling. Visits must therefore be arranged by appointment.

Tours of the museum, house and gardens are by appointment only and can be booked online.

The gardens at Butler Point

The majority of the gardens you see today at Butler Point were developed in the late 1900’s by the Ferguson Family.  After purchasing the property in 1970 Lindo and Laetitia Ferguson set about planning the gardens along with the restoration work to the old homestead.  At this time the gardens were an extensive overgrown wilderness, after many years of neglect, and it was a huge task to even create a blank canvas to begin planting.

Despite this, the restoration of the gardens uncovered small indications of former gardens, that likely would have been planted by Captain William Butler and his wife Eliza Butler when they were resident at Butler Point. Little is known, however, of what plants actually formed the gardens in the 1800’s. There are in the grounds, however, some trees planted by the Butlers that have survived and are now grown to full maturity. These include a giant magnolia grandiflora; an equally large fig with its roots and branches overhanging the sea at high tide; and a very early olive, that still stands in the garden as an massive old stump with only one regenerating branch now remaining.  The oldest trees in the grounds are native pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa), some of which were ancient at the time the Butlers arrived. They line the coastline to Butler House, providing a spectacular backdrop to the property. One surviving tree has a trunk circumference of 12 metres and is the largest pohutukawa in New Zealand.  Other ancient trees that can be found on the property include native puriri (Vitex lucens), which due to their huge size are estimated to be well over 100 years old.

Butler Point hosts a secluded waterfront garden and a traditional cottage garden, planted by Laetitia Ferguson, that surrounds the old house. These are planted with exotic and subtropical trees and shrubs such as dombeya, tibouchina, hibiscus mutabilis, dragon tree Dracaena), agaves. The orchards feature cherimoya, olives, figs, citrus, persimmons, quince, stone fruit, guava and macadamia nut trees.

Pohutukawa trees surround the Butler family cemetery where in season there are also Bella Donna lilies, white irises and daffodils. Among the native bush on the property are the rare Elingamita johnsonii, many large puriri (Vitex lucens) the shining broadleaf griselinia, large native puka (Meryta sinclairii) and other coastal plants such as the Cape Reinga lily Arthropodium) and varieties of flax (Phormium tenax).

Many more varieties of native, sub-tropical and exotic plants can be found throughout the gardens and grounds.

An early Pa (hillfort) site, is a short walk away.  Six archaeological excavations have taken place here and the site is well interpreted.  There is lots of good signage containing information about the site.

Entry to the gardens includes a conducted tour of the Whaling Museum, 1840s House and Gardens.

Tours of the museum, house and gardens are by appointment only and can be booked online.

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The museum shop

The museum shop can be found adjacent to the Whaling Museum and contains a number of historical, maritime and whaling books, as well as children’s books and other merchandise.

The architecture of Butler House

The following description of the architecture of the house is given by Janice Mogford in The Butler House, Mangonui 1847-1990 (Lindo Ferguson, 1992):

The construction of the house followed the simple basic design of the box cottage modified and expanded in the manner common to many early colonial homes in New Zealand. The front part of the house, facing the inner harbour, is the popular two-rooms-up and two-rooms-down plan. It is gable-ended with windows in the gable ends and a veranda across the front decorated with an unusual scalloped valance, but there is evidence that this deeply recessed veranda was once completely enclosed.

The double-pitched roofs were designed to shed the rain water as quickly as possible and reduce the thrust on the exterior walls. The construction consists of timber rafters, ridge-boards and spaced battens over the rafters to which the shingles, split from blocks of kauri, were fixed in overlapping layers. The veranda and kitchen roofs are of a much shallower pitch than the gabled roofs over the upstairs rooms but form a continuous line with them. The exterior walls of the house were clad in pit-sawn kauri weatherboards.

Tours of the museum, house and gardens are by appointment only and can be booked online.