a hundred and fifty five 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 Pass*
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
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. ..
1855 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 tracks doubtful*
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
pioneer reporter wrote:
" 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.
April 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.