Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Mackenzie (?–?)

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David Mackenzie (flourished 1834-1852), author, lecturer and landowner, graduated M.A. at Edinburgh University and claimed to have run a boarding academy at Hythe, near London, for six years before he was recruited by Rev. John Dunmore Lang in 1834 as a teacher in his Australian College, founded in 1831. In 1835 Mackenzie became senior master there and had charge of the boarders. The college grew from 12 pupils in January 1835 to 92 at the end of 1837. By 1838 the staff comprised Mackenzie, who taught mathematics and natural philosophy, and four others. 

When Lang visited England in 1839-41 Mackenzie and the others officiated at Scots Church although they 'were only licentiates and not ordained ministers of the Church of Scotland, and consequently incompetent to solemnize baptisms and marriages'. Mackenzie also lectured at the Mechanics' School of Arts on the properties of matter, served on its committee and presided at its debating class and at discussions on spectres and ghosts. He professed astonishment at the colonists' thirst for reading, if only for books of 'a light and frivolous character', and at the comparative absence of social prejudices in Sydney. But in 1842 he and other leaders of the School of Arts were accused of being more eager 'to bring together the higher classes of society, and to gratify their polished taste, than to impart useful instruction to that body for whose exclusive benefit the Institution was founded'. The charge probably had substance, for Mackenzie was clearly trying to fill his purse by investing in livestock, taking up runs on the Namoi and Murray Rivers, and using Aboriginals to do his sheep-washing and shearing. He had also bought allotments cheaply in the new towns planned at Yass, Gundagai and Albury. When Lang returned and closed the college he complained that Mackenzie had become a 'clerical drover' and was 'absent three months together, visiting his stations, while the institution was left to take its chance'.

In 1844 Mackenzie visited Britain and on the voyage wrote The Emigrant's Guide; or Ten Years' Practical Experience in Australia (London, 1845). He soon returned to Australia to attend to his pastoral interests. The disposal of his rural town allotments involved much travelling between Sydney and Melbourne, but he had judiciously chosen his blocks on proposed street corners and they were all sold by 1850. Next year he bought sheep for 2s. each from an insolvent estate and made handsome profits after the discovery of gold. He also had his book republished in London in 1851, 1852 and 1853. By June 1852 he was in London where he published The Gold Digger: A Visit to the Gold Fields of Australia in February, 1852, dedicating it 'to the labouring classes of Great Britain and Ireland' and giving many useful hints from his 'own experience during the last ten years as a sheepholder', as well as a 'cheap and familiar guide' to those who 'may wish to try their luck at our Australian Goldfields'. He does not appear to have returned to Australia and his later career has not been traced.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Nadel, Australia's Colonial Culture (Melb, 1957)
  • A. C. Child, ‘Studies in the Life and Work of John Dunmore Lang’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 22, part 2, 1936, pp 69-89
  • newspaper indexes and manuscript catalogue under David Mackenzie (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Land papers, 133 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

'Mackenzie, David (?–?)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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