a family story

John Roxborogh

George and Nita McKenzie

George was the youngest of the McKenzie children and although no birth registration record has been found, he is believed to have been born on 02 October 1881 while the time the family was living at Takapau. It is not known whether he was named for anyone in particular but for a long time there was a McKenzie family in Achindrean which included both the names George, and Charles as well as the usual family names. That particular George was listed as a nephew of a Roderick McKenzie in the Census of 1861 and 1871 while Charles was listed as the son of Simon McKenzie. It is quite feasible to suppose that they were relatives of Alexander and Ann and that Roderick chose to keep the name George, (and maybe Charles) alive in his branch of the family.

          George started school at Waipawa on 30th January 1888. Of the other children, only Rodney and Margaret were still attending school. That was the year of the great Waipawa Exhibition. A school holiday was declared for 5 December so that the children could take part in the opening ceremony. It had also been the custom to close the school on race days, but in 1889 it was decided to discontinue that practice “at great inconvenience to the teachers but the children must come first!” However a church or Band of Hope picnic still warranted a holiday.

          Life must have been somewhat unsettling for this young boy. Times were hard following his father’s bankruptcy and when George was eight Roderick died. He was withdrawn from Waipawa school and shortly afterwards went with his mother and Rodney and Margaret to live in Kaikora North about 20 miles away. He went to a new school and family life went on. In 1892 Helen came home to be married and two years later Ann returned to be with her mother and Denie was born.

          After leaving school George became a butcher, first of all in Waipawa and later in Featherston. It was in the butcher’s shop in 1911, that he met his future wife, Francis Janetta McKinnon. Nita was born in Wellington where her father was a police sergeant. George and Nita spent all their married life in the Wairarapa, Hawkes Bay and Wairoa districts, in Featherston, Waipawa, Takapau, Ormondville and Wairoa.

From the time when his mother had moved from Waipawa to Kaikora North in 1890 there was scarcely a time when George was away from home. Margaret McKenzie was now in her seventies and suffering from asthma and it was not long before George and Nita brought her home to live with them. For Margaret this meant eventually returning once more to Takapau where she and Roderick had had such high hopes for their futures back in the early 1880s. For Nita it meant that from the very early days of her married life she had a three-generation family to care for.

          The first of their sons was Roderick Hector, named for each of his grandfathers, and the second, George, after his father, more or less following the traditional Scottish naming pattern. The other children were given the names Donald, Margaret Juanita Frances and Jean Isobel, thus carrying on some of the old-time names from both the McKinnon and the McKenzie families.

          Hec, George, Donald, and Peggy all began school at Takapau although as a new school had been opened in 1911 it was not in the same one classroom building where the previous generation of McKenzies had spent most of their school-days. Each year until Margaret’s death in 1922 there was the visit of George’s sister Annie from the South Island. She always came by herself so there was no opportunity for the Hanna and McKenzie cousins to get to know one another. On the other hand George’s sister Margaret was a fairly frequent visitor with the result that some of the Beere and McKenzie cousins remained friends for many many years.

          Just a few weeks after his mother died George and Nita moved to Ormondville where they lived for the next six years. Hec did well at school and in 1926 was enrolled at Dannevirke High School having passed the Proficiency Examination in the previous year. His name appears as Dux on the Honours Board at the Ormondville School.

          George and Nita were a generous, openhearted couple who never hesitated to help others, be they relatives, friends or strangers. There was always a big piece of bacon from the butcher’s shop waiting for a needy family, and hospitality in the home for visiting relatives, even long-term stayers such as Rodney who turned up during the depression of the 1930s and stayed on for nearly a year.

          False teeth, supposedly a blessing in those days, could also be an embarrassment. George preferred to eat his meal without them as did his sister Margaret whose lower jaw had been broken when her natural teeth were extracted. On special occasions when visitors were expected for dinner Nita would cajole him about keeping his teeth in, but after the first bite on a piece of steak out they would come to be put on the table beside his plate for the duration of the meal. By contrast Margaret would wrap hers in a handkerchief and tuck them away in her purse.  

          Grandchildren remember George as a dignified figure, a kind and gentle person. Although not one of the Scottish-born children he seems to have passed on to his own children, a certain pride in being a McKenzie. Hec, for instance, with a wry sense of humour, used to claim that he was “a genuine descendant of the legendary sheep-stealing McKenzie” of the South Island.

          George died in 1959 and Nita three years later. They are buried in the Wairoa Cemetery.




 - married -






Roderick Hector

10 Feb 1912

10 Jan 1963


14 Dec 1913



10 May 1915


Margaret Juanita Frances

31 Jan 1917


Jean Isobel

12 Jun 1919