The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

 
 
Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General) James Mackay CB, OBE, VD, MID

Major General James Alexander Kenneth Mackay, (1859–1935) Boer War Regiment commander, Author, Politician

James Alexander Kenneth Mackay (1859-1935), soldier, author and politician, was born on 5 June 1859 at Wallendbeen, New South Wales, son of Scottish-born parents Alexander Mackay, squatter, and his wife Annie. He was educated at home and at Camden College and Sydney Grammar School. In his mid-twenties he extended his education by attending H. E. Southey's college at Mittagong. He was a good athlete and an outstanding horseman, well-known in country districts as an amateur jockey. He also rode at Randwick and Rosehill.

In 1885, while at Mittagong, Mackay raised a volunteer cavalry troop called the West Camden Light Horse and was appointed captain in command. Shortly afterwards he returned to the family property to assist his ageing father. He spent his quieter moments writing short stories and ballads. Several were published in newspapers and popular journals before his first book, Stirrup Jingles (1887). Similar publications in Sydney, A Bush Idyll (1888) and Songs of a Sunlit Land (1908), followed. He also wrote the novels, Out-back (London, 1893) and The Yellow Wave (1895), which imagined a Chinese invasion of Australia and he invented a bush cavalry called "Hatton's ringers" for this novel.

On 13 March 1890 he married Mabel Kate White at the Presbyterian manse, North Melbourne.

Mackay was elected as a Protectionist to the Legislative Assembly for Boorowa in 1895; he held the seat for Edmund Barton's National Federal Party in 1898. Vice-president of the Executive Council in Sir William Lyne's ministry from 15 September 1899, he was nominated to the Legislative Council in October to represent the government. He held the same position under John See and Thomas Waddell in 1903-04 and remained in the council until its reconstitution in 1933. He served over four years as an MP in the Legislative Assembly before being appointed to the Legislative Council. He accepted this move out of duty in the need of his party as a firm grip was needed in the upper house.

In 1897 the unpaid volunteer component of the New South Wales Military Forces was being revived. Mackay raised the 1st Australian Horse, a regiment of 'heavy' cavalry recruited entirely from country districts, was appointed to command and in 1898 was promoted lieutenant-colonel. Even the Regiment's motto, 'For Hearths and Home', came straight out of his book ‘The Yellow Wave’. Volunteers came from town such as Goulbourn, Bungendore, Braidwood, Cootamundra, Gundagai and Gunneday. Shooting, polo, cricket and mounted sports added to romance of the Regiment, but the socialising ended more quickly than any could have guessed. A composite squadron from the regiment was sent to the South African War but Mackay was too senior in rank to accompany it.

Resigning his portfolio, he was given command of the New South Wales Imperial Bushmen Regiment, the NSW 4th Contingent which sailed from Sydney in April 1900. (This unit is also known as the 6th (NSW) Imperial Bushmen Regiment.) The Bushmen were sent to Rhodesia and placed under the command of Sir Frederick Carrington.

They moved to Mafikeng in July and into the western Transvaal. In the next three months Mackay rode over 885 kilometres, lived in the open with his men and was several times under fire. It was an unhappy period in his life: he was frustrated by Carrington's poor command and quarrelled with his brigadier. (Carrington had panicked in the face of what he believed were superior Boer Forces and withdrawn burning his supplies thus making it very difficult for anyone to get to the besieged Australians at Elands River. He was eventually sacked by Roberts) He was deeply shocked by the death in action of his wife's young brother who was serving with him. He was involved in the following actions, Relief of Elands River 5 August, Marico River 6 August, Occupation of Ottoshoop 14 August 1900, Buffel’s Hoek 18-19 August, Jacobsdal 22 August, Malmani 27 August, Wondersfontein 10-11 September, Manana and Lewerpan 12 September where a 15Pdr and Pom Pom were captured, Reoccupation of Lichtenburg, 28 September, Oliphants Nek 5 October, Magatas Pass 10th October, Riekertodam 16 October, Lead Mines 24 October and Kaffir Kraal 1 November. The intensity of the operations is visible in the time frame. Finally, outside Zeerust, he was seriously injured when his horse fell. Unfit to ride he was sent to Cape Town and in November 1900 was appointed chief staff officer for the various Australian contingents. This appointment seems to have met with acclaim by all Australians, a Victorian Nurse in far away Rhodesia remarked that since he had taken over they at last seemed to be getting the supplies that they needed. While in South Africa he unsuccessfully stood for election to the first Australian Senate. He returned to Sydney in July 1901 and for his war service was appointed CB, mentioned in dispatches and granted the honorary rank of colonel.

He received the Queens South African Medal with five clasps (Rhodesia, Transvaal, Orange Free State, Cape Colony and South Africa 1901)

In 1906-07 Mackay was chairman of a royal commission covering the administration of Papua; its report was presented in 1907 and in 1909 his personal account Across Papua was published. He was actively involved in Parliamentary committees and eventually served well over thirty four year in the Legislative Council.

He retained his interest in military matters and in 1912 was given command of the 1st Light Horse Brigade. As colonel he supervised its reorganisation into the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. He commanded the military parade at Canberra in 1913 for the setting of the foundation stone and the naming of the capital.

Too old for active military service during World War I, he was appointed to raise an Australian Army Reserve from returned soldiers and was its first director-general (as a Brigadier General) from 1916. He was appointed OBE in 1920. That year he retired from the Australian Military Forces with the honorary rank of major general. He remained associated with the South African Soldiers Association until his death.

Throughout his life Mackay had maintained a close interest in primary industry and the bush and its people. His own property, Wallendoon, was part of the land which his father had occupied since 1842. He was living there when admitted to Cootamundra District Hospital where he died on 16 November 1935; he was cremated. His wife and two daughters survived him.

Peter Burness, 'Mackay, James Alexander Kenneth (1859–1935)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University with editing and additions by David Deasey


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