Hans Busch 'A Great Miser'


German settlement

In 1841 the New Zealand Company dispatched an expedition to establish its second New Zealand settlement, to be named Nelson. The Company was very successful in attracting settlers and, ambitious to extend their enterprise, its eyes turned to the distant islands of Chatham. The New Zealand Company was prepared to purchase land in the Chatham Islands and was so bold as to send a recruiting office to Hamburg, Germany in preparation for the German settlers who would call the lands their homes.

The Colonial Office caught wind of the Company's plans; they claimed the Chatham Islands as a part of the British Empire and stated that if German settlers were to land on the island they would  be alienated from the rest of New Zealand. Proposed settlers back in Germany were already preparing for their lives on the Chatham Islands and to back out of their plans would be costly for those already selling up property. It was decided that the already established settlement of Nelson was a good substitute for the German settlers.


Mr Fedor Kelling. Nelson Provincial Museum, Tyree Studio Collection: 69876

Carl and Fedor Kelling and Johann Ferdinand Benoit (who soon returned to Germany) had been selected as agents by Count Kuno zu Rantzau-Breitenburg, the sponsor of the second party of German emigrants to Nelson. The Kellings were to manage the Count's seven allotments in Waimea East and care for the settlers. They named the settlement Ranzau, now known as Hope. German settlers could virtually find no one willing to employ them due to racial beliefs at the time, the language barrier and because William Fox, the Nelson resident agent for the New Zealand Company, had cancelled all public works contracts.

A Great Miser Hans Buschs Story. collage

Hans and Dorothea Busch. Image supplied by author

Hans and Dorothea Busch

Amongst the German settlers was Hans and his wife Dorothea Busch of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. Hans and his family of five children were some of the few who found residence on the Kelling property after they immigrated on board the Skiold in 1844, and avoided being sent on to Australia like many ‘surplus’ German settlers. Hans helped build cob homes on the section for settlers - his profession was listed as stone mason on the ship record. There is one such example still remaining today at Hoddys Orchard in Aniseed Valley Road but this, I believe, is more likely to have been built by his daughter Christina and her husband William Berkett, probably with Hans's help.

Cobb House. Hoddys Orchard. Heritage New Zealand

Cobb House (either built by Hans Busch or his son) Hoddys Orchard. Heritage New Zealand

After a time, Hans began to fall out with the Kellings and refused to work for them. The land allocated to Busch was inadequate and he applied to Donald Sinclair, the local police magistrate, to have his contract with the Kellings cancelled. When his employment was terminated, he stayed on the land, in his cob house as he had nowhere else to go.  

The Kellings, in frustration at the situation wrote to the then Governor Mr. Robert Fitzroy:1

“Dear Sirs, Having heard that our man Busch had been asking for land, we allow us to request you not to refuse him, if it is possible and that he can get it. The last week’s paper says that we seem to be content here, and that is true we are, but if we could get rid of this man Busch our satisfaction and happiness would be boundless. Mr Cautley knows how bad and foolish he is. The section on the river, number 179 is claimed up to 10 acres and these will be taken in the course of some years joyful for the eldest sons of the families there. We beg you therefore instantly if possible to give to Busch in another section, as we hear you had a section to divide in small parts near the great place on this side of the hills for the town, we believe that he would like that very well. He wants first 10 acres and 10 acres more. We believe he will go on, as he is very industrious, but only for his own sake and the assistance of his family will aid him. We beg your pardon, as we give you trouble again, but getting rid of old Busch would spare us so much anger and trouble, that you will excuse us on that account, We remain, Dear Sir, Yours faithfully, Kelling brothers.”

The Kellings' plea went unanswered however. Hans continued to squat on land he did not own and in doing so was looked down on considerably by not just the Kellings but the rest of the settlement. Rev. Johann Heine, the local Lutheran pastor, had written twice about his feelings towards Hans and his family. He wrote that:

“Hans Busch [And Family], are plainly speaking, great misers. They have seven children, who are compelled by the parents to labour night and day on Sundays, as well as in the week, although they already have about eighteen head of cattle and one hundred goats. These children learn nothing of God and his words, the parents excuse themselves with their own ignorance and for the school they can spare no time.”

In the 1848 census which Rev. Heine conducted, he wrote that:

‘Close to the Kellings dwells another German, called Hans Busch. Not being able to buy or rent land to his liking, he squats on several unused sections, as the suburban land is still without an owner. His place is near the hills which he calls ‘Schonhof’ (Beautiful Farm). He arrived with £50.0.0 and has farmed to such good purpose that he is now worth £300.0.0. He has under cultivation about 40 acres, which he cultivates with his wife and eight children, and which produces wheat, barley, rye, potatoes, etc. He has 4 sheep, 23 head of cattle, consisting of cows, bullocks and calves, 183 goats and 9 pigs. Of poultry he has 33 geese, 14 turkeys and 20 chickens.”

Hans and his wife continued to grow the family and by the time of the 1848 census the Busch’s had seven living children and another on the way - all would be used as workers on the property. Hans’s reluctance to stop squatting on the Kellings' land may have been because he was unable to buy other land or simply because he was stubborn, but whatever the reason was, he did eventually purchase the land on which he'd been squatting in 1851.

In the same year Hans lost his one year old son Hans Wilhelm Henry. The family had lost two more children back in their homeland of Germany in 1834 and in 1840. For three more years Hans and his now nine children resided on the land until a suitable property came up in Aniseed Valley, consisting of around 170 acres.

On the family headstone it states the family settled in Aniseed Valley in 1857. Hans purchased this land, but kept the farm at Ranzau which he left for his sons John and Fred Busch to manage. His Aniseed Valley home was coming together nicely for Hans. His children still worked for him and went without proper schooling. This cheap labour meant that money was lost to other potential workers. The one problem for Hans was the lack of a suitable road to his home in the Valley. He asked for money from the road board to build a road which they agreed to, and went about surveying a route for the road.

The story goes that when the survey pegs for the road were laid down they went across a part of Hans’s property, which he was unhappy about. One night Hans moved those pegs, changing the route slightly. Apparently this is why today there is an unusually steep incline to the road leading from Aniseed Valley to Waimea. Hans also pushed for larger payments to him to build the road, while actually doing very little work on its construction.

James Sneyd in his book ‘Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggarman, Thief’ explains some of the problems people faced with Hans, especially those who were settling in the valley.

“When the Road Board then refused to pay him all the contract price, he refused to pay his rates, was taken to court and fined £6. One part of the road lay on his property close to the river, with multiple river crossings, and was prone to flooding. When the Road Board refused to rebuild the road along higher ground, Hans Busch, that cantankerous old bugger, promptly built a barn right across the road. It was on his property, he argued, and he could build a barn just wherever the hell he damn well pleased.”

This was also taken to court, where Hans was ordered to allow foot traffic around his barn and another road was built on higher ground. Hans seems to have truly loved his home in the Valley and stated once that he was happier there then he ever was in his homeland of Germany.

Hans and Sophias grave at Busch Reserve.

Hans and Sophias grave at Busch Reserve. Image supplied by author

Hans died at his home on the 20th of January, 1873 at the age of 73. Newspaper reports at the time put his age as 83. As to his wishes, he was buried on his property in his garden. His wife continued to live in the valley where her children farmed. She survived Hans by seven years and died at the age of 73, apparently falling ‘down dead’ in her home having been drinking considerably prior. She was buried next to her husband by the Roding River. The original headstone that once stood no longer stands on top of their grave. The sign indicating the Busch Reserve, named after the family, has a more modern brass headstone placed by it.

The pair's grave sits only a few metres behind the reserve sign amongst scrub and tussock. Today the Busch Reserve is a popular spot for swimming and barbecues with few realising the history behind the area. Though Hans and Dorothea are regarded as misers and very hard people, their children were highly valued by all who descend from them, and many had interesting, unfortunately, short lives.

The Busch children and their descendants

The Busch children, who grew up without schooling, ended up raising large families. Their eldest child Christina married Mr. William Berkett and, at the time of her husband's death, had 42 grandchildren, and 20 great grandchildren. Their son Fred Busch who seems to have not seen eye to eye with his parents, moved to Canterbury where his family flourished. His brother John also moved to Canterbury and had a family. He was infamous for his drunkenness. Like some of his other brothers he tried to be a farmer, but alcoholism got the better of him and he couldn’t gain any profit.

Joseph, another son of Hans, remained in the Tasman. In 1884 an inmate named Thomas Gibson escaped the local Lunatic Asylum and went bush, committing petty crimes of stealing along the way. One item that was stolen was a gun and powder from one Mr. J. Palmer. Busch was searching for the man in the Wairoa Gorge when the man jumped out and opened fire on Joseph. Reports of the time say Joseph was shot through his windpipe, lungs, left arm and face. He survived this and staggered away some 350 metres back towards the home of Mr. Peter Kerr who sent for aid. Joseph was in such a state that he could not be taken to hospital, as it was questioned if he would survive the ride. He was shacked up at Peter Kerr’s for the time. He wrote to the paper describing his condition in which he stated in short that his recovery looked bleak. Joseph did recover though and was given the use of 100 acres in the Valley as means of compensation, near the top of the hills, where he lived for the rest of his life, keeping a few sheep and pigs.

A Great Miser Hans Buschs Story.

The Moutere Band 1892/3. Image supplied by author. Standing l to r Fred Bensemann, Joseph Busch, Adolph Bensemann, Joseph Heine, George Bensemann, W. Wilkins, Dick Bensemann. Seated ~ Ted Bensemann, Charles Best, W. Claasen, and Arnold Bensemann

Joseph had been in prison a few times in his life for sheep stealing and for maiming a horse belonging to William Mercott. He was an active member of the Moutere Band but like his brother John was affected by alcoholism. He died in 1921 and was buried with his first wife in Richmond. Joseph’s son Sam lost his wife and two children in the 1929 Murchison Earthquake when the hill behind his home collapsed. He is stated in newspapers of the time to have been tending to one of his pastures when he heard a thunderous roar and turned around to watch thousands of tons of dirt, mud and stones in gulf his home, unable to do anything to save his family. He had two daughters away at the time living with their grandmother. Sam never remarried and lived until the age of 81 in Murchison where he was buried, near to the family he lost that fateful day.

Harry or Henry Busch was another child of Hans and Dorothea who was a fisherman and boat builder on the West Coast and later in the North Island. Quite a different profession than the farming brothers of his. He wasn’t the only sibling to roam North. His sister Johanna or Mina went to Eltham and Hawera where she dairy farmed with her husband John Webby.

Two other daughters of Hans and Dorothea were Sophia and Magdalena, who possibly had the most descendants out of all the Busch kids. Sophia married William Kinzett, one of the earliest packmen to go through to the Wakamarina. They had nine children who were raised in both the Tasman and Marlborough, as Kinzett entered partnership with his brother in law Thomas Nelson Neal at Spring Creek. Thomas Neal married Magdalena and resided in Spring Creek and later at Marshlands. They had thirteen children with all but one surviving past infancy meaning many Marlburians descend through Tom and Magdalena (Selina) Neal, including myself via their son Edward.

One story of Thomas was that one night while he was drinking at a pub some police came in to take names. Thomas suffered with loss of hearing, so when a copper placed his hand on his shoulder and asked for his name Thomas simply asked for “Another long one, thanks”. Magdalena was apparently a disciplined and deeply religious woman however,  a beacon of light in the family and kept everyone together. She made sure all her children and subsequently her grandchildren helped around the home. She survived her husband by just a year and at the age of 75 was buried with her husband in the Rapaura Anglican Churchyard near to her son Albert and daughter Martha as well as other descendants.

Hans and Dorothea had two other children named Hannah and Theo. They both raised small families but unfortunately in 1885, during the Cholera Epidemic, both died within four days of each other. Hannah left six kids and Theo a wife and five kids. Hannah's husband Thomas had passed just 25 days earlier. Their graves lie in Richmond Cemetery.

The early German settlers, such as the Bensemanns, Hammerichs, Kellings or in this case, the Buschs, are owed much by their descendants. These settlers left their homes in Germany where their families had lived for centuries, they left their siblings, aged parents and friends in pursuit of better lives which many found on Aotearoa's shores. They took a risk and for many it paid off, though for some it did not, which would have been immensely hard on them. Hans and Dorothea may have been tough, misers and difficult parents to their kids but without their immigration to Aotearoa many descendants wouldn’t walk this earth today. It's for that reason I acknowledge them today as important pieces of not only my ancestry but as key people in Nelson history and our national history.


Sources used in this story

  1. Busch, H.R. (c.1984) The Busch Line : From Serfdom To Freedom. [Piopio?, N.Z.] : H. Busch

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  • Thankyou for this very interesting and informative story of some of my ancestors, much appreciated

    Posted by Kerrie Taylor-Gordon, 07/10/2021 8:09pm (3 years ago)

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Further sources - Hans Busch 'A Great Miser'



  • Wallace, K. (2023) My rebel ancestor Hans Heinrich Conrad Busch.  Nelson Historical Society Journal, 9(3), pp.39-42


  • Ranzau agreement on behalf of Count Ranzau between the Kelling Brothers and German emigrant labourer Hans Henry (Hans Heinrich) Busch of Reppenhagen (1844, April 16). Nelson Provincial Museum: NP6627.10

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