Twizel New Zealand
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Twizel New Zealand
The Legend of James Mckenzie
James McKenzie was imprisoned on a charge of stealing sheep from the Levels Station in 1855. He has become such a legendary figure that it is impossible to disentangle fact from fiction. Writers have embellished the few known facts about the man that his exploits have assumed an importance out of all proportion to their significance. 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.
james McKenzie
Twizel New Zealand
Twizel New Zealand
James Mckenzie (or in his native Scottish Gaelic: Seumas MacCoinneach), possibly born in Ross-shire, Scotland, in 1820 was an outlaw who has become one of New Zealand's most enduring folk heroes. The correct spelling of Mckenzie is unclear and he is variously referred to as James, John or Jock. His surname has been spelt as both 'MacKenzie' and 'McKenzie' – the latter being more commonly used. He may also have had at least one alias, John Douglass.

Mckenzie emigrated to Australia in about 1849, arriving in Melbourne where he purchased a team of bullocks for carrying goods to the gold-diggings. He managed to save £1,000 and moved to New Zealand, arriving at Nelson. He worked as a drover in Canterbury before moving on to Otago where he applied for a land grant in the Mataura district.

In March 1855, Mckenzie was caught stealing 1,000 sheep from Levels Station, north of Timaru. After escaping his accusers, he walked 160 kilometres (100 mi) to Lyttelton, where he was caught by the police. He was subsequently sentenced to five years hard labour after being found guilty by a Lyttelton Supreme Court jury in April 1855.
Twizel New Zealand
Twizel New Zealand
Twizel New Zealand
JAMES McKENZIE - (c.1820–?) Sheep drover.

Around 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 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 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. ..

In 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 wide interest.

A 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!

*That 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.

In April he was found guilty by a Lyttelton Supreme Court jury and sentenced to five years' hard labour.

Mackenzie 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.

A song you can sing about James Mckenzie!
1. John MacKenzie stood in the Mataura store, And looked at the yokes and chains.
'Twas not too dear - good bullocking gear For transporting across the plains

2. When the storeman took up the golden coins. And bit at them with his teeth,
A sale was made and the money was paid And John walked out to the street.

3. As the storeman pulled on the string of his pouch. And entered all in his log,
He looked to see the Scottish man leave, At his heels, a collie dog.

4. The pleasant season had already begun. And the winter passed away.
The summer sun ,shone brightly down. As John was heard to say:

5. "Go on, boy, Wait for me, Down at the hitching rail."
Then John walked off to harness his team. And the collie wagged his tail.

6. Now all who've suffered the rising of dust. And known the smell of sheep,
Must know of the line of the station-runs. Northward to the Loburn Keep,

7. Though many a bullocky's carried supplies. To the stations, it does seem strange
That only MacKenzie discovered the land. Far west of the Kirkliston range;

8, Where green grass blew for forty miles. In strong high-country weather,
And reminded John of the days long gone. At home in the Highland heather,

9. The shearing gangs were moving up north. When the word was passed around,
How flocks could vanish during one night. From their usual grazing ground.

10. Up on Levels run, on the second of May, Tired riders brought the news:
A thousand sheep just couldn't be found. And all hell had broken loose.

11. The curses flew as the billy-bell rang. And horses were saddled and then
The overseer, Sidebottom by name, Selected two of his men.

12. While musterers swept the boundary hills, Sidebottom kept watching the grass,
Criss-crossing and back, and tracking until. They reached a mountain pass.

13. To their great surprise, when topping a rise. They viewed a virgin land,
And down from the steep they could see all the sheep. And knew they had found their man.

14. As thunder rolled it was growing quite dark. But they took John down at the stream.
Sidebottom could swear he'd heard a dog bark, But maybe that was a dream.

15. The wind blew up and down came the rain. And, in the gathering storm,
None of the riders knew who to blame. When John MacKenzie was gone.

16. John MacKenzie was caught in Lyttleton Port. And convicted of sheep stealing.
It was said at the time 'twas a difficult crime. For one man to do the dealing.

17, But the men of the stations knowingly grin. When they talk of John and his folly,
And they've given a name to the MacKenzie Plain, In honour of the man, and his collie.

Twizel New Zealand is approximately 500 meters above sea level. Twizel is surrounded by mountain ranges and has a very distinct climate. Twizel NZ is accessible from Christchurch through Burke's Pass, from Queenstown through the Lindis Pass and from the East Coast through the Waitaki Valley.