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The Legend Maker

The Legend Maker

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Published by Lisa Truttman
Concerning the truth behind the legend of the "Danish Princess" grave in Avondale, Auckland.
Concerning the truth behind the legend of the "Danish Princess" grave in Avondale, Auckland.

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Published by: Lisa Truttman on Oct 27, 2008
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08/24/2013

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The Legend Maker:Rev. Alexander MacKenzie (1842-1920)
After the progress and stability of the ministry of Rev. Robert Sommerville in from1876 until 1885, his successor to the Avondale Presbyterian Church in 1885 waswelcomed heartily. Under Rev. Sommerville, the country church bought land in NewWindsor and constructed a manse for their ministers, and had seen the coming of therailway to the district. Rev. Sommerville himself had been Chairman, in 1882, whenthe Avondale Primary School was settled into their purpose-built accommodation onthe Great North Road property. But the ministry of Rev. Alexander MacKenzie whofollowed him was to prove the stormiest and most controversial in the whole historyof the little country church. And the legacy continues on, in the form of a headstone inthe churchyard’s cemetery.Alexander MacKenzie was born in Bonar Bridge, Sunderland in 1842. Evidencepoints to him being a learned and meticulous man in early life, especially when itcame to his own achievements. In Row, Scotland, he married Jessie Eva HortHuxham, daughter of Hortensius Huxham and Eleanor Emma Huxham ne
 MacCorguodale in June 1880. Some sources say he may have been a tutor of hers.There was indeed 17 years gap between their ages. Jessie herself was born (oddlyenough for the legends of her being a Scottish Danish Princess) in Glamorganshire inWales. She resided with her father at Swansea, but must have returned to Scotlandbriefly for her marriage to MacKenzie.The couple with their two-year-old son Torquil George headed for New Zealand sometime in 1885. They’d arrived around November of that year, and Rev. MacKenzie waswarmly welcomed by the Auckland Presbytery on December 1, 1885. Immediately,there was a call “by 77 members and adherents” put forward from the AvondaleChurch for Rev. MacKenzie to provide service to their parish. Rev. Sommerville had,for some time, been unable to provide any more than basic and sporadic service to thecountry parish for some time. His health had been poor, riding too painful, and since1883 he had the extra roles of being minister of two charges, Clerk of the Presbytery,being one of the Church Property Trustees, and Moderator of the General Assembly
 
from 1883. He accepted a call to St. Peter’s Church in July 1885, and so the charge atAvondale fell vacant.The seeds of trouble were planted right from the start – and the first one was that of money. Presbyterian ministers relied, for their incomes, on the stipend paid by theparish to which they gave service. But Avondale was in a bit of a cleft stick at thetime. It already owed Rev. Sommerville an amount of his stipend in arrears; themortgage was still being paid for the manse and lands up at New Windsor (andwouldn’t finally be paid until 1897); and possibly the building of the St JudesAnglican church meant a diversion of income away from their parish, seeing as theAnglicans had used the Presbyterian Church for their services. They said from theoutset that they couldn’t promise MacKenzie the minimum stipend of £200 (such ahuge sum coming from the fact that his parish stretched from Avondale to Helensvilleand Kaukapakapa, taking in the whole of West Auckland and included Riverhead. Allcovered by horseback). They offered instead at least £150, and asked the Presbyteryfor a grant of £30 or £35. Rev. MacKenzie was formerly inducted on 17 December1885 at a soiree in Avondale, “thanking all those who had taken part in the warmreception that had been accorded to him. He would do his best, “he said, “in his newsphere, and
he hoped to be supported by those among whom his lot had beencast
.”The Avondale parish seemed, from the outside, to be doing well under Rev.MacKenzie. The Sunday School featured prominently on prize lists at regionalcompetitions in October 1886. In January 1887, MacKenzie as Chairman of thechurch committee reported that “the Church services had been regular and wellattended”, that there was “a Communion roll of 72 members, about 20 of whom joined the church during the year, and 10 others not yet enrolled,“ the manse had beenpainted and papered, grounds and fences improved, while the church itself had beenrepaired and graveyard laid out and improved.However, this may have been deceptive. Rev. Alexander MacKenzie has in sourcessince been described as “harsh”, “domineering”, “a miserly man” whose style causedthe large congregation built up by Rev. Sommerville to dwindle sharply. The NZHerald, at the time of the 75th anniversary of the church in 1935, reported:
 
 “At one time the school had been held in the church, and, as the sequel to adispute, the parishioners reciprocated by holding services of their own in theschool. It is recorded that when Mr. McKenzie vigorously rang the bell of the church the summons was responded to only by the members of his ownhousehold.”The church committee, knowing that the church’s existence relied heavily ondonations, grew increasingly discontented, and had apparently demanded inDecember 1886 at a meeting possibly chaired by Rev. Sommerville that MacKenzieresign, and declared that any claims from the reverend for his stipend would not berecognised from the 17th of that month. The battle began between the reverend andthe church committee that was to continue until 1889.The stir of discontent amongst parishioners at Avondale that was kept private and outof the media’s eye finally blew up in February 1887.An event within the Presbyterian community occurred around this time which mayhave given fuel to the discontented parishioners at Avondale. In early February 1887,at the meeting of the General Assembly in Wellington, clause 216 to the book of orderand rules was voted on and passed. This proposed:“That if it appears after Presbyterial visitation that from any minister’sinefficiency, remissness in duty, or unsuitableness to the sphere, spiritualor general interests of his congregation are being sacrificed, the Presbyteryshould be entitled to dissolve the pastoral tie, and declare the chargevacant, or report the matter to the General Assembly for its decision.”Two weeks later, some unknown member of the presbytery whispered into the ears of the
 NZ Herald 
.“We are informed that the state of affairs in the Avondale PresbyterianChurch is not at present very peaceful or comfortable. A number of thecongregation are much dissatisfied with the Rev. Mr. McKenzie, the

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