James MacKenzie (1820 – ?)

The fact that the MacKenzie Country is named after a famous outlaw and now folk hero shows our Kiwi laid back attitude off beautifully!

James MacKenzie (1820 – ?) was a Scot that emigrated to Australia in 1849 – finding work in the gold fields there. No one knows for sure when James arrived in New Zealand but he first appeared in Nelson. He bought himself two bullocks, a boarder collie he named Friday (pictured) and a dray. Taking jobs on as he travelled, he made it down to Mataura in Southland.

In 1855, J.H.C Sidebottom was informed by his two Maori ranch hands, Seventeen and Taiko that 1000 sheep were missing from the flock under his charge. The three worked at the sheep station – ‘The Levels’ – which was owned by William and Robert Rhodes in Timaru. They tracked the sheep westward into the low plains that is now known as the MacKenzie Country. Seventeen informed his boss that they were tracking at least 2 men.

At Dalgety Pass, they came across their missing sheep, under the watch of James MacKenzie and his dog Friday. They managed to overpower James, removing his boots and taking charge of his animals and dray. The party decided to stay over night, making for home with their prisoner the next morning. During the night, James let off a loud whistle and Friday began to growl. The nearby sheep panicked and stampeded. As the ranch hands dealt with that problem, James made his escape.

James walked to Lyttelton bootless, the journey being around 100 miles. He entered town limping and was arrested as the law was on the look-out for him. He was tried in the Lyttelton Court and was sentenced to 5 years hard labour. Amongst those in court was James Edward Fitzgerald who was the Canterbury Superintendent at that time.

James, who was a well build man of 5 foot 11, stood in the dock bravely – that was until they brought Friday into the courtroom. He instantly sagged at the sight of her, tears welling up in his eyes. Friday began to whimper too, clawing at the wooden floor to get back to her old master. James bursts out in protest,
“She’s mine, bought with my money, she was doing no harm to no body! I’ll make your roads, break your rocks, call myself a thief if you let her stay. She’ll only work for me, let me keep her!!!”
Visibly more upset over the fate of Friday, he listened horrified as they called her ‘a witch’ and ‘a whore’ and the only reform for her was a bullet. They even reckoned that Friday could ‘sweep a run by herself’.

Luckily for Friday, she was only banished from Canterbury soil. She was given to a un-named run-owner in Otago. In a wonderful twist of irony, Friday eventually found her way back to ‘The Levels’, living the easy life in the company of the Rhodes family. They did try and put her to work but as James had said from the dock, she would only work for him. James had not only trained Friday in Gaelic, he also trained her not to bark. They did try Gaelic with her but still, she refused to work. The Rhodes even joked that maybe the work “was too honest” for her so she lived the rest of her life, kicked back and enjoying her well-earned fame.

Back in Lyttelton, James managed to escape twice during his 9 month stay in the gaol. He was never free for too long though. He wrote to the Governor, Colonel Thomas Browne, a letter containing his life’s story and how a unknown man paid him £20 to drive those sheep from Timaru to Otago. In fact, the unknown man had just left Dalgety Pass before he was taken prisoner, telling him to watch over the sheep while he was gone. With this account, along with letters from Sheriff H.J Tancred and James Edward Fitzgerald, he was pardoned in 1856. After all, Seventeen had said that they were tracking two men and there was no record of James being in trouble before his arrest. James boarded a boat for Australia after his release and disappeared into history. He never saw Friday again.

Today, in Dalgety Pass, there is a marker concerning James and the 1000 stolen sheep. It is not only written in English but also in Maori and Gaelic.

* image of Friday courtesy of http://folksong.org.nz *
* Photo of MacKenzie marker and memorial statue courtesy of Leonie Bates*

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