In 1878 Hugh and Adela Stewart came to New Zealand with their 7 year old son Mervyn on board the Lady Jocelyn. This was part of the second group of Northern Irish pioneers who had established the settlement of Katikati and surrounding districts under the leadership of Hugh’s brother, George Vesey Stewart.
They were allocated 300 acres (later expanded to 500 acres) of scrub and fern north of Katikati which they named Athenree after the district they had left behind in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.
The land was poor but they were extremely resourceful and hard working and became known for their hospitality and productive garden.
As the couple aged, farming became more difficult and after 28 years they sold Athenree Homestead and returned to England in 1906. After Hugh had passed away in England in 1909, Adela returned to New Zealand with son Mervyn to publicise her book about their pioneering days. This occasion was celebrated at a function in Katikati but unfortunately Adela became unwell on the same day of the function and sadly died that night. She is buried in the Katikati Cemetary.
The Homestead property deteriorated from the late 1940s after the house ceased to be lived in. However the local community, in the 1980s, chose to rescue the building and began a long term project to restore the building and grounds, which continues to this day.
A pictorial history of the Homestead is on display inside the entry to the house for our visitors.
Over the period of time from the Stewart’s arrival in Athenree to when they left Adela transformed the grounds from a bare area to an estate which had extensive and exotic orchards, vegetable gardens which supplied food for the community and flower gardens which were considered exemplary.
The period from 1878 to 1899 saw intensive tree planting and establishment of substantial crop gardens. Many of the trees planted at that time are still in existence. From her book we read of “500 strawberry plants, 700 tomato plants grown from seed, 3,500 cabbages.......”
We also read of the scattering of volcanic dust in 1886 from the Rotorua eruption. This, she writes, benefitted the plants well.
In 1897 Hugh built Adela’s summer house which originally had a lavender garden behind it where we now have our Garden of Memories.
The gardens are looked after by a dedicated team of volunteers who meet regularly.
If you would like to help us either financially or as a gardener then please send us a message here.
The following photos of the Homestead were taken in 1999, before any restoration work was commenced.