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James McNab was born on 22 May 1830 at Fender Bridge in the parish Blair Atholl,Perthshire, and baptised on 26 May 1830. He was the son of Robert Stewart McNab and Isabel McGlashan, who were married in Moulin, Perthshire on 25 August 1818. James was the 5th of nine children.


Blair Atholl Church of Scotland

In the 1841 census he is listed as an eleven year old at Fender Bridge. In 1851 he is listed as a 21 year old Gardener Journeyman at Currie, Midlothian and in 1861 he is staying at hotel in Strath Fillan, Stirlingshire, and listed as a Horticulturist Gardener. The hotel is run by John Stewart McNab & Christian Mason Cleland, his brother and sister in law.

 It is not known when he arrived in New Zealand. He appears in the electoral roll for Wellington in 1865, but is likely that he arrived earlier than this.

McNab McGregor. On March 11 1869 James married Christina McGregor, fourth and youngest daughter of Mr G. McGregor, of Crieff, Perthshire, Scotland. The marriage was officiated by the Rev. J.S. Muir of St. Andrew's Church in Wellington.

Christina was baptised on 2 May 1840, daughter of Gregor McGregor and his wife Christian Sinclair. Christina is also listed as Christian, which is old Scottish form of Christina.

On the list of emigrants who arrived on the ship “Asterope”, which arrived in Wellington on 4 September 1865 was one Christmas! McGregor. It is very likely that this is Christine.

There were two children of the marriage, Robert Alexander McNab b 23 December 1869 and Christina Maud McNab b 17 April 1872

In the newspaper report of the Wellington City Council meeting on 14 May 1874 the council members considered tenders for planting Kent and Cambridge Terraces. One of those tenders was one of £49 30s from J. McNab for planting trees only. It is not known whether this tender was accepted. (Wellington Independent 15 May 1874)


CITY COUNCIL.  The ordinary fortnightly meeting of the City Council was held last evening at the Provincial Chambers. The members present were The Mayor (in the chair)) Councillors Moss, Barrett, Ramie, Greenfield, Krull, McKirdy, and Dransfield. Tenders for planting. The tenders for planting Kent and Cambridge Terraces were opened and referred to a committee to report upon them. The following were the tenders sent in Mr Budden (for the whole work), £210 14s F. Mountier (for the whole work), £298 F. Cooper (for the whole work), £481 5s 6d C. K. Jeffs, £75 for the plants, and £6 per 100 for trenching and planting J. McNab  £49 30s     (for planting trees only).

From 1865 to 1871 James appears in the Wellington Electoral Roll as living in Tinakori Road, and from 1872 to 1880 in Brook Street. However, when Robert was born in 1869 the family is shown as living in Brook Street.

In 1879 the following advertisement appeared in the “Evening Post” of 3 May.    


NOTICE. James M'Nab begs to inform his Friends & Patrons, and the Public generally that, having purchased the Estate of the late Mr. Ludlam, known as “Newry," and situated at the Lower Hutt, the same will, on and after Friday, the 11th inst. be opened as a Public Garden and Recreation Ground. Admission, One Shilling. Special arrangements with large parties.        

This is the start of what became McNab’s Gardens in Lower Hutt.

Over the next twenty years or so there are many reports of gatherings held at McNab’s Gardens, which were obviously a popular destination for a many organisations. Here are two samples of this.

Date: 1880s  Ref: 1/1-025586-G  Photograph taken by William Williams.

Nikau palm trees at McNab's Gardens, Lower Hutt, Wellington Region. Williams, Edgar Richard, 1891-1983 :Negatives, lantern slides, stereographs, colour transparencies, monochrome prints, photographic ephemera. Ref: 1/1-025586-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

“The Orangemen of Wellington will hold their Annual Picnic at M'Nab’s Gardens, Hutt, on Tuesday, 9th November (The Prince of Wales' Birthday). A large Procession will form at their Hall, York-street, at 9 a.m., and march to the Railway Station, headed by the Orange Band, returning from the Hutt Railway Station at 5 p.m. The procession will re-form at the Railway Station, and march to the United Methodist Free Church School- room, Courtenay -place, where a splendid Tea and Entertainment will be provided. Return tickets by railway, including admission to the Gardens, 2s each tickets to tea and entertainment, 1s 6d each to be had from any member of the order. Sports on the ground, Cricket, Quoits, Swings, and other games provided    (1 November 1886 Evening Post)”

“A grand garden party, in aid of the building fund of the new Presbyterian Church, Lower Hutt, will be given on New Year's Day at M'Nab's Gardens. Sports and games have been arranged for, and the Garrison Band will give a choice selection of music during the day.      (Evening Post 30 December 1886)”

In the Evening Post on 12 January 1886 there is a report of a meeting of the Lower Hutt School Committee. Members of the committee present were - Mr. David Speedy (in the chair) Messrs M'Nab, Cudby, Jones, and Damant. It appears that James was involved in the community in the Hutt.

James McNab died on 1 August 1890. The following is the report in the newspaper.

Mr, James M'Nab, a colonist of some 30 years' standing, died at his residence; Newry - better known as M'Nab's Gardens - Lower Hutt, shortly after nine o'clock this morning. The deceased, who was 60 years of age at the time of his death: was a native of Scotland, and landed at Port Nicholson some 30 years ago and started in business as a nurseryman on the site where now stands the Thorndon State School. About eleven years ago Mr. M'Nab sold this Thorndon Nursery to the Government and purchased the gardens at the Lower Hutt, now known as ”M'Nab's,” but which formerly belonged to the late Mr. Ludlam. Mr. M'Nab was stricken with paralysis about two years ago, since which time he has been almost a confirmed invalid. It was not, however, until about ten days ago that the illness which ended fatally today necessitated his taking to his bed. The deceased was an unassuming man, but he possessed many sterling qualities which attracted the friendship of most persons with whom he came in contact. He leaves a widow, a son, and a daughter to deplore their loss.  (Evening Post 1 August)

His burial was reported as follows.

“Funeral Notice. The Friends of the late Mr. James M'Nab are respectfully informed that his Funeral will take place tomorrow (Sunday), 3rd August, 1890, to leave his residence, Newry, Lower Hutt, for the Presbyterian Church-yard, Blackbridge, Hutt, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Joseph Hall, Undertaker. Lower Hutt, 2nd August. (Evening Post, 2 August 1890)”

An attempt was made in 1896 to sell the property. The following very detailed description of the gardens give a huge amount of information.

“Auction sale of the celebrated M'NAB'S GARDEN'S, Lower Hutt. Important to the Government, Public Bodies, Speculators, Capitalists, and the general public. The most valuable, scientific, and ornamental garden and grounds in the Colony. In the Exchange Auction Room, No. 84, Lambton Quay, Wellington, on Monday, 9th March, 1896, At 2.30 p.m. T Kennedy MacDonald & Co. (Limited) are favoured with instructions from Mrs. M'NAB, in consequence of her health necessitating her retirement from business, to sell by public auction, as above - The magnificent property at the Lower Hutt so long and well-known as M'NAB'S GARDENS. This grand property contains some thirty-four and a half acres of the richest and Most Fertile Land in the celebrated Hutt Valley, having frontages to the Waiwetu road and White's Line, and a small tributary of the River Hutt known as the Opahu, or M'Nab's Creek. It is divided as follows Nine acres as Scientific and Ornamental Garden Two Acres as Orchard One Acre as Kitchen Garden One Acre in Original Native Bush And nearly Twenty-two Acres of Grass Paddocks, generally utilised for Picnic, Cricket, and Football Parties Fronting the Magnificent Lawn stands the Family Residence, upon which over £1,000 has been recently expended It is built in the Elizabethan style, and with its Cathedral glass, leaded windows, and quaint gables, has a delightful old-fashioned look. It contains 20 rooms, including drawing-room, two large and lofty dining-rooms, capable of dining 80 guests, breakfast-room, bedrooms, &c. Attached to the residence is a large conservatory, beautifully furnished with rare plants. There is also vinery, filled with special varieties of vine; complete and compact Stables, containing 17 loose boxes, harness rooms, coach-house, dairy, cottage, wash-houses, photographic-room, and all the necessary conveniences for so large an establishment. A splendid artesian well, 68ft deep, gives an unlimited supply of the purest water. The stables are greatly used in connection with the meetings of the Wellington Racing Club, whose grounds are within a short distance of the property. The history of the property is an exceedingly interesting one. The land was selected by the late Mr. Ludlam, M.H.R., some 50 years ago, as the most choice spot on which to establish a unique home. For some 30 years he devoted a large capital and the best experience to creating a Great Scientific and Ornamental Garden. Every country was laid under contribution for trees, shrubs, and plants. No botanist in Great Britain, Europe, America, Africa, and India, but was acquainted with Mr. Ludlam and his desires. Every collector was pressed into the service with the happiest results. The rarest and most beautiful of Nature's treasures were transferred from distant climes to the lovely property in the Hutt Valley, until the reputation of the Gardens as one of the most extensive and valuable botanical collections of living plants became world-wide. Each succeeding year has shown how completely this work of collection was done, because no year has yet passed without the Garden displaying some new floral attraction - a rare tree or plant flowering for the first time in 30 or 40 years. It is stated that the late Mr. Ludlam spent some £25,000 upon the property. After Mr. Ludlam's death, the property was purchased by the late Mr. James M'Nab for use as a public garden. Mr. M'Nab's experience as a high class practical horticulturist enabled him to greatly improve and beautify the property. Since his death his widow has continued the management, which has, however, now overtaxed her strength and compels her to retire, hence the sale. No public garden in the colony is so well known as M'Nab's. Thousands of persons visit it every year, and none without the profoundest admiration. Nowhere else if seen the same giant rhododendrons and camellias, in hundreds of varieties, with their magnificence of bloom, while the orange and lemon trees, in fruit and flower, stand side by side with the rare Brachychitor  (the Flame tree), the Jacaranda Mimosaefolia, the Strelitzia Regina, the Erythrina Crystagalli, the Macadamia Tenuifolia, the sweet-scented tropical Magnolias, and the thousand and one rarities in flowering shrubs which make the Gardens the most delightful of places to visit. Suggestions have been made to Mrs M'Nab to subdivide the property, and some 15 acres of the grass paddocks could be sold without detriment to the beauty and usefulness of the Gardens, but to cut up a property like this, and risk the destruction of a single one of the rarities it contains, would be a national loss, which should not be permitted. This magnificent Property would make a fitting home for a great University, while in the gardens would be found one of the most valuable adjuncts in connection with the scientific Botany of such an institution, or of a great State Forest Department. No greater boon could be conferred upon the community than the purchase of such a valuable estate as this by a public-hearted citizen, and it’s presentation to the people. To the ordinary Investor the Property appeals strongly from another standpoint. The gross receipts from the sale of flowers and plants, and the charges paid by visitors represent an income of fully —31000 per annum, while the value of the Property, taken in hand and run on Continental or American lines, would be enormously increased. It must always be remembered that M'Nab's is the favourite outing, not only for all tourists visiting the Empire City but that on holidays, Sundays and week days it is always a source of enormous attraction to a large proportion of the 40,000 people of Wellington. Easy terms can be arranged for the purchase money, and a large proportion of can lie on mortgage, if desired, at a low rate of interest. For further details, cards view, and conditions of sale, apply to Messrs. Brandon & Hislop, Solicitors, Featherston Street. (Evening Post 22 February 1896)”

Catherine (Christina) McNab died on 25 May 1896, three months after the above advertisement appeared. She too was buried at the Blackbridge cemetery, known by this time as Knox Church cemetery. Unfortunately their names do not appear on the memorial stone there.

However, James’s name does appear on a memorial stone back in Blair Atholl.

The text of this stone reads:

Erected by the family in memory of their father ROBERT MCNAB who died 25th Jan 1875 aged 83 years also their brother THOMAS who died in infancy and their sister JANE who died at Chester 30th July 1881 aged 42 years.

Their brothers ROBERT died Glasgow 24th March 1883 aged 61 years ALEXANDER died at Brisbane 14th Nov 1884 aged 57 years JOHN died at Arrochar 26th April 1885 65 years and their Mother ISABEL MCGLASHAN who died Aldgirnaig 29th September 1885 in her 90th year and their brother JAMES died at Lower Hutt New Zealand 1st August 180 aged 60 years. Peter died at Tommacneil 7th October 1896 aged 73 years.

Bottom of stone – Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.


DEATH OF MRS. M’NAB.   We regret to announce the sudden death at the age of 53, of Mrs. M'Nab, relict of the late Mr. James M'Nab, who established the well-known gardens at the Lower Hutt. The deceased had suffered from heart disease for some years. When she retired on Sunday night she was in excellent spirits, but she was found lying dead on the bedroom floor at an early hour yesterday. Mrs. M’Nab was born in Perthshire, Scotland, and arrived in Wellington 28 years ago, being shortly afterwards married to Mr. M’Nab, who died in 1890. Deceased was a lady of many estimable qualities, and was widely esteemed. A son and a daughter, both grown up, survive her. An inquest is to be held.   (Evening Post 26 May 1896)


The Friends of the late Catherine M'Nab are respectfully invited to attend her Funeral, which will leave her late residence, M'Nab's Gardens, Lower Hutt, on Wednesday, 27th May, 1896, at 2.30 p.m., for the Knox Church Cemetery.  Joseph Hall, Undertaker, Lower Hutt.      (Evening Post 26 May 1896)

Four and a half years later the following appeared in the Evening Post. It is not clear who the owner of the property was at this time, but it continued to operate under the name of McNab’s Gardens

M’Nab’s Gardens, Lower Hutt. The Most Beautiful and artistic public gardens in New Zealand. The Residence in connection with the Gardens has now been refurnished throughout, and Lady and Gentlemen Boarders can be accommodated during the Christmas and New Year Holiday season. It is one of the most charming spots in the universe to spend from a week to a month's holiday in. Special tariff for family parties. Picnic Parties will find the Gardens the best place for arranging their outing. Hot water always available. Every convenience for sports. Ordinary visitors should make a point of spending, at least one of their holidays in enjoying the sub-tropical beauties and cool, shades of this charming retreat. Table D'Hotel daily at 1 o'clock p.m. and Afternoon Teas. Aerated waters kept in stock for purchase by visitors. Special arrangements can always be made by visitors and parties. Telephone No. 702. Flowers of every kind, in bunches, boxes, wreaths, crosses, etc., delivered free in the city every morning to order. Return Train Fare, 1s 6d Admission to Gardens, 6d. Cabs and 'Busses in attendance on special days and Sundays. (20 December 1900 Evening Post)

The gardens still exist as the Bellevue Gardens, although much of the property has been sold off.

McNab- Blair Atholl Church of Scotland.jpg
McNab - Nikau palm tree at McNab's gardens.jpg
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