Sir George Grey & Kawau Island

Politician, linguist, collector, soldier and explorer, Sir George Grey is an important figure in New Zealand history. He was the most influential of New Zealand’s governors, serving in the role from1845 -1853 and again in1861 - 1868.

Grey started off as an army officer in Ireland before leading an exploring expedition in Western Australia in the late 1830s. His established himself as a very able colonial politician during his governorship of South Australia from 1840-1845. This helped him secure the position of Governor of New Zealand. Between his two terms in New Zealand he was also Governor of the Cape Colony in South Africa from 1854-1861.

Ref: 4-1341, portrait of Sir George Grey, c.1812-1898, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Despite his successes, he is seen by some as a controversial figure. Historian James Belich called him "a strange, complicated man, whose real charisma and genius almost matched his flaws”. He was however a great benefactor to the Auckland Free Public Library, gifting some 14,000 items to the library in 1887. This remarkable gift formed the core of the Sir George Grey Special Collection. Along with subsequent additions, this has made Auckland Libraries the location of 1 of the 3 major heritage collections in NZ.

Ref: NZ Map 853, hydrographic char of the waters around Kawau Island as surveyed by Captn. J. L. Stokes, R.N.1849, 1860, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Sir George Grey purchased Kawau Island in 1862, during his second term as Governor. A keen horticulturalist and plant and animal collector, Grey corresponded with leading scientists of the day including Charles Darwin. Over a 26 year period, starting in 1862, Grey spent a small fortune developing the island . This included introducing plant species and many native and exotic animals such as wallabies, peacocks and monkeys.

Ref: AWNS-18980930-2-1, the residence on Kawau Island, 1898, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Grey enlarged and remodelled the existing house on the property, which had been built between 1845 and 1847. Sir Frederick Thatcher, Grey's architect, cleric, and private secretary was in charge of the design.

Ref:  661-15, Stereographic view of Maori artifacts from Sir George Grey's museum on Kawau Island, c.1870s, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Now known as Mansion House, the property was extensively restored between 1977 - 1980 and is open to the public. The house contains a valuable collection of antique furnishings, which were donated to the Department of Conservation who manage the island. Whilst many of the original plants did not survive, information about the original garden layout has and there are plans to start restoring parts of the garden..

Ref: AWNS-19121010-6-1, the school erected by Sir George Grey in Schoolhouse Bay, 1912, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Mansion House is registered as a Category 1 Historic Place and is also scheduled in the Auckland District Plan (Rodney) (H023, p.38). The property has additional significance because the building has been preserved along with its original setting as well as jetty (probably the oldest in NZ), which was built for Grey in 1875.

Ref: AWNS-19220112-41-2, wallaby shooting on Kawau Island, 1922, Sir George Grey Special Collections
The copper mine engine house and smelting house on the island are also of high heritage value and have Category 1 registration and are scheduled in the Auckland District Plan (Rodney) (H024 - 25, p.38).

Ref: AWNS-19201230-36-2, entrance to the old copper-smelting works, 1920, Sir George Grey Special Collections
If you want to find out more about Mansion House, you can browse through the heritage resources at Auckland Libraries and check out E. Wilson's 1935 article entitled 'Kawau - Island of Dreams - Memories of Sir George Grey via NZETC and the DOC brochure. Also in the heritage collections, are a large number of resources about Grey, including his collections.

Ref: AWNS-19250423-54-1 , Spend the winter at Kawau Island, 11925, Sir George Grey Special Collections
You can search for the unpublished items / manuscripts that Grey donated to the library  using the Manuscripts Online database. This includes listings for the Grey Māori Manuscripts & Letters - these are manuscripts either collected or produced by Sir George Grey and donated to library as part of Grey Collection.