a family story

John Roxborogh


Even although William McKenzie was the eldest grandson of Alexander and Ann he was named for his paternal grandfather, William Cameron. He was born at Longmorn, south of Elgin, but always associated himself with Inverness-shire. No doubt he retained memories from the time he was a boy of three living nearby on the Estate of Coul.  

          When his parents moved from Longmorn to the Estate of Darnaway William was only a toddler and before he was two years old they had moved again .The Estate of Coul was close to Strathpeffer and the seat of the chief of the Clan McKenzie. Thus his early childhood spent in an environment rich in McKenzie history. Like his sister Helen, he visited his grandparents’ croft in Achindrean before leaving Scotland.

          Although the Gaelic was his mother-tongue there is no memory of him being a fluent speaker of the language. Isolation from the extended family followed by his move into the wider world of workingmen at 13 meant that his use of the language lapsed, perhaps despite Roderick’s efforts. Johana and the older Robertson cousins were all fluent speakers so he probably used some Gaelic when he visited Awahuri, but that was not until he was in his early 20s.

          William was intelligent. His parents probably had hopes for him as a scholar but in the end hard times forced dictated a pragmatic approach to education. In any case, no secondary school was closer than Napier and these were pre-scholarship days. When he passed the Standard Six Examination in 1883 he was the first McKenzie grandchild to do so. In spite of the significance of that achievement shortly afterwards he left school to work at Tamumu.

          Tamumu was one of the early Hawkes Bay stations south-east of Waipawa and towards the coast. A little settlement of the same name was situated on the Tukituki River. At the age of 13 William was living away from home and working as a carter at one of these places - probably on Tamumu Station. It is not known how long he remained there. Possibly he returned to help his father at some stage before making the final move over the Ruahine Range to Apiti.

William later fell in love with his Aunt Mary’s daughter Johana who had migrated with the family to New Zealand. Johana’s father has never been identified, but her character proved remarkable!

         Following their marriage William and Johana settled in Apiti, founding a large family and playing a significant role in the development of the emerging community.

          The 1890s were still pioneering times in Apiti and there were many challenges to be faced. The land had to be developed and animals brought in. Should William become a sheep farmer like his uncle Donald or would dairying be better?

          As a child he had suffered a spinal disorder which remained with him all his life but he persisted with the hard physical work that has always been the lot of the pioneer farmer. Starting from scratch meant a long haul before farming became profitable. Most of the settlers stuck at it and Apiti became a thriving township with a dairy company, sale-yards and a number of cultural and sporting amenities as well as the usual small businesses.

          The route in from Kimbolton and Feilding had improved a great deal since Johana had first gone there with Donald, but in 1893 it was still arduous. Access improved in 1896 when a bridge was constructed over the Oroua River but it was three years later before a coach service operated from Apiti to Kimbolton and on to Feilding. In spite of the difficulties involved Johana continued to keep in touch with the Robertsons. Whenever supplies from Feilding were needed she drove the horse and gig without William, made her purchases, spent the night at Awahuri and then made the return trip the next day. In the early days she was likely to have a baby and a couple of toddlers with her. Until the Robertsons moved to Taranaki in 1907 she made the same journey to be with her aunt Kate in time for the birth of each new baby.

          Johana and William did not follow the Scottish naming system exactly, but family names were used. Those who had been like parents to Johana, her grandfather, Alexander and Catherine (her aunt Kate), were well remembered. Hugh Patrick and James Eric were new names introduced to the family while Charles may have been named for the fifth son we believe Roderick to have had. The youngest child, Douglas, may have been named after the ship that brought his father and grandfather from Scotland. Eighteen months after William and Johana married, their uncle Donald had married for a second time, and for the next two years he and Lena had lived within a short distance. That three of William and Johana’s children, Donald, Arthur Vernon and Mary Elenore, appear to have been named for Donald and Lena indicate a close relationship between the families.

          As sports clubs were formed William and Johana became keen supporters and were often to the fore in competitions. Both were fine shots. In 1904 Johana won the ladies’ competition at the Rifle Club. Such competitions had been popular features of the annual Rifle Club programme in Scotland for many years, but not of course, among the crofter class of the North-West Highlands. In Apiti, skill with a rifle meant a welcome supply of game for the kitchen table, every man being free to hunt. By contrast the taking of game by any means whatsoever had been forbidden to Scottish tenants for centuries.

          William was in great demand as secretary to various clubs and organisations, his high standard of penmanship and his ability with the English language quickly gaining recognition. The Apiti Sports Club and the Rugby Football Club were among the organisations he served in this way. His involvement with the latter was the beginning of a long association of the family with rugby in particular. In 1926 and, again in 1935, no fewer than three McKenzie boys were members of the Apiti team which won the annual championship. 

          Johana’s life was busy. Somehow she managed to balance the demands of all her interests with the running of a big household and the care of all her children. There was a new baby every two or three years and by 1912 she and William had nine children, seven boys and two girls. There were no labour-saving devices; in fact electricity was not to come to Apiti in her life-time. Those were the days of the wood and coal range, of a copper and tubs, of lamps and candles, and the hand sewing-machine.

          Johana had a flair for fashion as seen in the clothes she made. Even when it came to outfits for her sons, although in the over-all style of the day, there was always a mark of originality about them.

          Johana died in Palmerston North on 11 February, 1914. She had been unwell for several years but the immediate cause of death was a stroke.       

          Half her lifetime had been spent in Apiti. Although she did not make history at a national level she was regarded locally as a fine pioneer lady. Small in stature she had a commanding presence. Her individuality was never lost in the role of wife and mother. Seventy years after her death she was still spoken of in tones of reverence by descendants and relatives many of whom had never known her personally. In a way her life had the makings of a legend. In 1926 a baby girl was born to one of the Robertson families and named “Joan”. When she was three weeks old the proud young parents brought her for the first showing to the wider family who had gathered for the occasion at the old homestead at Ngarua. John Robertson who had been bestman at Johana’s wedding was adamant in his reaction to her name : “Joan? She should have been named “Johana”.

          Like other eligible women in New Zealand, she was one of the first in the world to exercise the right to vote in September, 1893. Johana and William took such things seriously and made sure that their names were listed on the electoral roll for each election. Her mother, Mary, back in Scotland, must have found it hard to even imagine such a state of affairs.

          With her death William was left with ten children, six of whom were under 14 years of age. Douglas, the new baby, was fostered out, while the others were kept together as a family with Kate, the elder daughter then barely 14, caring for them as their mother had done. William continued to farm his property and to work as secretary to the local dairy company, a position he had held since about 1908. Nor was his community involvement curtailed.

          World War I broke out and before its end two of the boys, Willie and Hugh (Pat), were serving overseas. When World War II was declared three others enlisted, Donald, Jim and Douglas. Like their Doria, McLean and Robertson cousins, they served their country well.        

          Except for Douglas who had been brought up in Waitara, the boys remained in the Apiti district either on the family farm or on farms of their own, at least until their retirement days. Johana’s land had passed out of the family many years earlier but William’s remains in McKenzie hands to this very day, a grandson, Dennis, now farming it.      

          For the past century nearly every organisation in Apiti has had a McKenzie member, usually an office-bearer. The McKenzies have been involved in the Country Women’s Institute, the Presbyterian Church, the Masonic Lodge, the Returned Services Association and the Golf Club as well as the Rugby Club and other sports groups.   

          When William died in May, 1937, The Feilding Star published the following obituary: 

Sincere regret was felt throughout the district when it became known on Thursday that Mr W. McKenzie, senr., had passed away at his home in Apiti. The late Mr. McKenzie had been in failing health for some considerable time and his passing was not unexpected. Born in Inverness (Scotland) he came to New Zealand with his parents at the early age of five years. He married Miss Johana McKenzie, his cousin, in Feilding, and about 45 years ago came to Apiti hoping that the locality might improve his health. During the many years he saw the district develop from standing bush to what it is today. The late Mr McKenzie closely associated himself with almost every organisation in the district and was a prominent member of the local Masonic Lodge. For 25 years he was secretary to the local dairy factory and only a few years ago relinquished the work owing to continued ill-health. In this capacity he was well-known and highly respected. His beautiful handwriting was such as is rarely seen today and was a great asset to him in his secretarial duties. His wife pre-deceased him some 23 years ago, and also a son, Pat, who served in the Great War, about seven years ago. Another son, William, also saw active service. There are left to mourn their loss seven sons and two daughters. They are Mrs A.G. Mapson and Miss Mary, also Messrs Alec, William, Charles, Vernon, Jim, Donald, and Douglas. 

William and Johana are buried in the Apiti Cemetery. The dream of a better life, of land and independence, if not fulfilled for Roderick, did become a reality for this eldest son.





 - married -






Alexander Roderick

08 Jun 1893

01 Feb 1947


04 May 1895

29 Oct 1984

Hugh Leslie

24 Oct 1897

06 May 1930

Catherine May

28 Feb 1900

20 Mar 1981

Donald John Robert

28 Mar 1902

03 Apr 1973

Charles Henry

17 Nov 1905

12 Feb 1985

Arthur Vernon

07 May 1907


Mary Elenore Ann

28 Oct 1909


James Eric

08 Oct 1912


Douglas Malcolm

21 Jan 1914