Insight into infamous character
A new book promises to be the most comprehensive history of the notorious James Mackenzie - but one of its researchers still believes he was nothing more than a "sneaky sheep stealer".
Retired Mackenzie Country run-holder Catriona Baker, in conjunction with author Linda Sundberg, spent more than two years on the book The Story of James Mackenzie.
Sundberg said its previously unpublished material included a reprint of the pardon document, court transcripts and the only specimen of Mackenzie's signature.
"Catriona's father, TD Burnett, wrote one of the first books on James Mackenzie. They're a family that lived through the history of the region, and all its changes," she said.
Sundberg said the book covered Mackenzie's life from his departure from Scotland - after being caught stealing cattle - to his sheep rustling days in the South Canterbury high country, until his eventual capture and subsequent trial.
"His story is interesting, but I don't think he was anything more than a sneaky sheep stealer," Sundberg said.
"I do have an admiration for the conditions he faced [as he fled authorities]. For the European settlers, much of it was unknown territory, and unforgiving."
Sundberg said she sourced material from organisations such as the National Library and South Canterbury Museum, as well as from Mrs Baker's family collection.
"Yet Mrs Baker has been a guiding light throughout this journey. She knows so much about the history of the man and the people he met. She's in her 90s, but she's so sharp. This is her story as much as it is James Mackenzie's."
Sundberg enjoyed researching the trial of Mackenzie.
"James Mackenzie wasn't suited for jail. I don't think he was quite right. He didn't have a lawyer to plead his case in court - and he kept escaping from jail," Sundberg said.
"The Governor of New Zealand decided to pardon James Mckenzie. He probably felt he did not have much of a choice."
Press journalist Michael Vance, who wrote the book's foreword, described it as the most comprehensive history of Mackenzie.
The Story of James Mackenzie can be purchased at the South Canterbury Museum.
- © Fairfax NZ News