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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Otago & Southland Provincial Districts]

Sir John Mckenzie

Sir John Mckenzie was born in Ross-shire, Scotland, in 1838, and during his earlier years he worked on his father's farm. In 1860 he arrived in New Zealand, and, as he had been accustomed to sheep in the Old Country, he went shepherding on a station in the Palmerston district, with which he continued to be closely connected, as a settler and a public man, till the time of his death on the 6th of August, 1901. It was at his own homestead in the Palmerston district that he died, it was in that district in June, 1901, that he was invested by the Duke of Cornwall and York with the insignia of knighthood, as his Royal Highness was travelling from Christchurch to Dunedin, and it is in the Palmerston district, on the summit of Pukeviti Hill, that a large and lofty cairn has been erected to his memory. He will, however, long be remembered throughout all New Zealand as a statesman who in his time did far-reaching work in settling the lands of the colony on liberal and enlightened principles. A sketch of his life is given at page 48 of the Wellington volume of this Cyclopedia. His character as a public man; and his work as an administrator, are indicated with some sympathy and insight in an article written by a New Zealand journalist, and published at Gore in the “Southern Standard” in April, 1899: “Whatever John McKenzie feels he feels strongly. He has not by nature much of the philosopher about him. He is, what Dr. Johnson loved, a good hater, but he is also a warmhearted friend; in fact, a lover of his friends. Of course, he sometimes exhibits the defects of his qualities, and this he does by occasionally jumping to conclusions where the actual premises do not warrant any jumping at all. On those occasions there is often also another kind of jumping—jumping on an enemy, or some one believed to be an enemy, with the impetuosity of a tiger. Woe to the person thus treated—not always with justice, and yet, out of no primary deliberate desire to do injustice. Still, when he is really aroused, whether with or without sufficient justification, there is always something that is dramatically stirring, dramatically infectious in the Celtic ardour of the Minister of Lands. At such times his eye, like the eye of an angry bull, burns with dark red fire, and his wrath sweeps to its object with the rush and roar of a mountain torrent in time of flood. The spectator with a sense of the dramatic, feels that he is being treated to an exhibition of the elemental forces of nature, and that he is obtaining a glimpse of Ajax or Achilles in the high places of their anger. What the object of the Minister's attention may think, or how he may feel, is another story. However, to rest here in estimating the character of the Minister for Lands would be to leave the reader with a very incomplete conception of that character. The reader will err, too, if he assumes from what has already been said that Mr. McKenzie is a quarrelsome man. Quarrel he certainly will, on provocation, and sometimes on a misapprehension as to provocation, but quarrelsome he is not in the ordinary sense of that word. In fact, I should say that he is, on the whole, wary of entering into disputes, but, once in them, page 447 he, with his native mental and physical force and Celtic fervour, invariably acts in a way which makes his opponents beware of him. It is this which marks off his character as a political fighter, and makes it distinct from that of most other public men, even of men who possess much of his fighting quality. Indeed, New Zealand has reason to take pride in, and to be grateful for, this strength—this passionate earnestness in Mr. McKenzie's character; for it has made him a conspicuous success as a practical and patriotic statesman in the sphere within which he has done such admirable and memorable work. As Minister for Lands and Agriculture, Mr. McKenzie, in virtue of actual achievement, stands firmly in the front rank of New Zealand statesmen. In connection with the settlement of the land, he has, with but few incidental errors and mistakes, exhibited clear insight, wise intelligence, and a generous unselfish desire to promote the permanent well-being of the country and his fellow colonists. Within this sphere his success has been so great that he might, without egotism, say of himself, in the words ascribed to Sir Philip Sidney: ‘This is the work that I was born to do.’ Nor has it been child's play; on the contrary, it has been a veritable labour of Hercules; carried through in spite of, perhaps, even occasional personal misgivings, certainly in spite of opposition, conscientious and captious, misunderstandings and misrepresentations. Probably, too—such is human nature—many of those for whose benefit his great land policy was conceived and matured and has been carried out, have exhibited unreasonableness, ingratitude, discontent, and been, in other ways, thorns in the Minister's side. But this is a common experience, and the doer of notable things must, as a rule, find his reward in the doing and in the things done. One thing is certain: John McKenzie's work as a land-law maker and administrator is good for many generations. Thousands of families owe their well-being, and the country owes much of its prosperity, to his wisdom and his strength in that connection, and when he enters into his last rest he will need no mounument, for every other homestead in the land will be his memorial.”