a hundred and sixty years ago, many settlers arrived from
Scotland, England and Ireland, to the South Island of New
Zealand. They were escaping the industrial revolution, and
were hoping for the *pot o gold* at the end of the rainbow.
Some did find the *pot o gold*, others found the environment
very harsh and rugged. The Scottish settlers were used to
the harsh environment of back home, and they settled in
pretty well. This is the story of one Scot, who became one
of the greatest legends in New Zealand history. The man
was James Mackenzie. The story is still often talked about
today, with many differing versions of what actually happened.
Large areas of the South Island are named after the infamous
James Mackenzie, and there is a monument in honour of his
faithful dog Friday. Mackenzie in later years (somewhat
belatedly) has been recognized as an "explorer"
as he was the first European to discover the now known,
*Mackenzie Pass* and the *Mackenzie Basin*, and the *Lindis
The Maori had known of these plains for centuries, which
once were covered in ancient totara trees. In times past
the giant flightless bird (similar to a ostrich), the Moa
(who they hunted for food), had roamed these plains, feeding
on the tussock, and various grasses, but had become extinct
before the settlers arrived. Legend tells of how Mackenzie
and his faithful dog Friday, whom was trained (as legend
has it) not to bark, stole whole mobs of sheep from the
coastal farmers, drove them undetected through the secret
mountain pass to the high country plains, then South to
Dunedin, where he sold them for a handsome profit. A journey
of some 300 or so miles, just him and his dog. No mean feat........
James Mackenzie was a large man, with red hair, and a large
red beard. He was a reiver from Ross-shire Scotland, and
had emigrated to Australia in the mid-1840's, and then came
to New Zealand. He was described as a *raw-boned Highlander,
as rough as you make them, a regular barbarian.* The first
mention of Mackenzie was in the deep South in Mataura, where
he arrived with a sledge and two bullocks (and probably
Friday) at a sheep station owned by Mr. Mieville. ..
James Mackenzie, also known as 'Jock' and 'Mac' to his mates,
became one of New Zealand's most enduring folk heroes. According
to legend, he was a cross between Robin Hood and a superhuman
sheepdrover; as cunning as a fox and as strong as an ox.
Together with his loyal dog, Friday, he captured the hearts
and mind of small would be farmers, all over Canterbury
who were fed up of being exploited by the wealthy Canterbury
landowners and were inspired by Mackenzies go-getting attitude
and rebellious spirit.
Mackenzie became a familar sight in both Canterbury and
Otago as he passed thought the countryside with his dog
and pack bullock. Suspicious were aroused when many run
holders began noticing curious disappearances of sheep.
On this particular day in March 1855, 1000 sheep from the
*Two Levels* sheep station disappeared. A Mr. John Sidebottom
was at the time supposed to be looking after these sheep.
He was working for the Rhodes brothers, George and Robert
who owned the Two Levels station. He thought they were safe,
in a three-feet high yard made of sods. He had left two
Maori lads, Seventeen and Taiko, in charge and was surprised
when he saw an agitated Seventeen running towards him. *Boss,
the sheep have gone!* Seventeen began tracking the stolen
sheep, and sure enough found a fresh sheep track with the
steps of one man and a dog. *On the Saturday we saw tracks
of a bullock and another man for certain, and a third man's
Just before sundown on the Sunday they reached the summit
of Dalgety Pass *from which a vast expanse of tussock-covered
plain opened before them - beyond lay a low range, and in
the far distance mountains, snow covered, stretching as
far as the eye could see. At their feet was a small valley
and there, in a natural paddock formed by the junction of
two streams were the 1000 ewes guarded by one man and a
dog*. The three men scrambled down the steep gully, *collared*
Mackenzie without a fight, *and took a feed of his damper,
mutton, tea and sugar*. After Sidebottom had removed Mackenzie's
boots, but left his hands untied, the men settled down for
the night. But not for long. They were disturbed by voices
calling the dark. The dogs growled. The sheep broke camp.
The prisoner began whistling and cooeeing. *I had to force
him down again, and told him to lie still, or I should be
under the painful necessity of administering a bark poultice
to this head!* There was a real fear that men might break
through the darkness in an attempt to rescue Mackenzie.
Quickly Sidebottom broke camp and went ahead to lead the
sheep up the *awful hill*. Seventeen followed in charge
of Mackenzie, his dog and bullock. Under cover of thick
fog Mackenzie made a dash for it. Seventeen rushed after
him, recaptured him, but could not hold him down. Their
quarry had escaped. Sidebottom and his men drove the sheep
thought the night and all next day, a distance of 25 miles
over rough country. The sheep were safe. They had Mackenzie's
bullock, they had his dog, but they did not have Mackenzie.
Sidebottom mentioned in his letter to the Rhodes, that he
had noticed old sheep tracks leading up to Dalgety Pass.
Heavy sheep tracks, indicating a large mob. It was his *strong
opinion* that they were the tracks of an earlier mob Mackenzie
had driven off The Levels.
However, on the 4th of March Mackenzies' luck ran out. He
was caught in an inland pass in the basin of the upper Waitaki
River with 1000 sheep that had gone missing from the Levels
station, north of Timaru. However, it is important to note
that while Mackenzie was caught in possession of the sheep
there were tracks belonging to several other men. He denied
the theft, claiming that he had been hired by John Mossman
to drive the sheep to Otago. Mackenzie escaped from the
authorities' clutches and walked (at superhuman/sheep drover
speed) 100 miles to Lyttelton. Yet again, lady luck was
not smiling on Mackenzie and he was re-captured on 15 March.
'He was arrested by Police who found him resting in a bunk
in the loft. The loft was lit by a candle which gave enough
light for the Sergeant to observe that Mackenzie had the
*most remarkable eyes I have ever seen. They were ferret-like,
and so keen and piercing as to give a character of cunning
to the whole face. The man had red hair and uncommonly high
cheek bones, and from his size seemed an ugly customer to
tackle. I raised my pistol, and shouting, *You are the man.
I arrest you on a charge of stealing sheep from the Levels
Station*. The case attracted wide interest.
" I fell right into the Mackenzie trial. It was a peepshow
for the province: the tiny Lyttelton Courthouse was like
a sardine tin. In front was Jock Mackenzie, stolid as a
brick and dumb as an oyster. The judge called on him to
plead and the case proceeded. One by one the witnesses rounded
off the whole story of the stolen mob and Mackenzie's flight."
*bring in the dog,* called out the judge. I saw Mackenzie
start and gnaw his fingers a moment, as the crowd stared
at the slim timid little black beast, that had outwitted
grey old shepherds, with the dumb crambo tricks Mac had
taught her. She slipped her chain coming in, and in another
minute the slim, sad-eyed thing was scratching and whining
at the woodwork, trying to get to Jock. And Jock - the dog's
eyes had made a baby of him, six-footer that he was. The
tears ran down and lost themselves in his red beard as he
said over and over, *Eh, lassie! Poor lassie. They've got
you too!*. Well, I felt smaller that matchwood that minute.
There, on the one hand, was all civilization with it's thumb
turned down; on the other, this Neolithic survival of a
man and his soft-eyed dog bearing it all!
is enough; remove the dog,* said the judge. *Leave the dog
to me; she was mine, bought with my own money; she was doing
no harm to nobody, and she was a good friend to me that
has no other. Leave me the poor beastie! I'll make your
roads; I'll break your stone; I'll call myself thief; but
let her stay. She'll work for me, will never lift sheep
more, only let me keep her*.The judge's words dropped like
frost. The keeping of the dog did not rest with him, he
said, nor did Mackenzie deserve mercy after his attempt
to deceive the Court.
he was found guilty by a Lyttelton Supreme Court jury and
sentenced to five years' hard labour.
escaped from his road gang in both May and June 1855, but
neither escape lasted more than three days. He was placed
in irons and carefully watched. In September 1855 a new
resident magistrate at Christchurch investigated Mackenzie's
case and found flaws in both the police inquiry and the
trial. As a result Mackenzie was pardoned in January 1856.
He probably returned to Australia, but nothing certain is
known of his later life. He left his mark on the South Island
high country, though. The significance of the pass where
he was discovered with the sheep, and of the pastoral country
it led to, were quickly appreciated by other pastoralists.
The region was subsequently named Mackenzie Country.