Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Mackenzie, C.B.
- Strathgrave, Ross-shire, Scotland
- 15 October 1820
- Not known
Career Before Halifax:
- Ensign, 7 February 1840 (purchase)
- Lieutenant, 8 April 1842 (non-purchase)
- Captain, 15 March 1853 (non-purchase)
- Brevet Major, 20 July 1858
- Major, 28 October 1864 (non-purchase)
- Lieutenant Colonel, 13 February 1867 (non-purchase)
Medals & Awards:
- Medal and clasp (Persia)
- Medal and two clasps (Indian Mutiny)
Postings while in NS Command:
- Halifax, 9 May 1869 to 25 November 1871
Career after Halifax:
- Colonel, 13 July 1872
- Major General, 27 March 1878
- Retired on pension, 27 March 1878
- 5 March 1890, at Avoch, Ross-shire
Mackenzie attended Edinburgh University before purchasing an ensigncy in the
78th Highlanders in 1840, the regiment with which he was to remain for the duration of a fairly lengthy military career. He served as a captain with the 78th throughout the Persian campaign of 1857, and was present with it during Outram's march to Boorasjoon, at the battle of Kooshab, and later at Mohumrah, for which he received a medal and a clasp.
During the succeeding Indian Mutiny campaign he saw much action and displayed pertinacity and courage. He was with Havelock's column from the beginning, and fought in all the battles which led to the capture of Cawnpore on 17 July 1857. He later participated in all of Havelock's subsequent unsuccessful attempts to break through from Cawnpore to Lucknow, and during the last of these was wounded in the leg at the battle of Bithur on 17 August. These injuries prevented his being present with the regiment during its heroic march into Lucknow on 25 September. He recovered in time, however, to be present during the defence of the Alam Bagh position outside of Lucknow from November 1857 to March 1858. Here he was again badly wounded and had his horse killed underneath him; but again he recovered in time to be present during the enemy's last desperate assault on the Alam Bagh on 16 March. On this occasion he commanded a force of 150 men with four guns at the left of the British lines and was mentioned in despatches for stubbornly fighting back repeated sepoy attacks. Later he was with the 78th during the advance into Rohilkhand and was present at the battle of Bareilly on 5 May. For his services in the Mutiny Mackenzie received a medal with two clasps, a brevet majority (a brevet being an honourary rank awarded for the army as a whole, with the recipient continuing to occupy the rank below while serving with the regiment), and a year's service.
Mackenzie took command of the 78th as lieutenant colonel at Gibraltar in July 1867, on board the steamship Belgian, just before that vessel left port to carry the regiment to Montreal, Canada. In the Queen's birthday honours list of 1869, Mackenzie's services were deemed worthy enough for him to be made a Companion of the Bath (C.B.), military division, third class.
Apart from his ensigncy, Mackenzie had obtained all his promotions without purchase, making him the most exclusively non-purchase of all the officers who served with the 78th in Halifax. On coming to Halifax in 1869, he was 48 years of age. He was of a tall, slim physique, with (rare for the time) a clean-shaven face, and a full head of dark hair. He was a bachelor and was probably one of those individuals whose life was devoted entirely to the army. Thus, in a guide to the titled and official classes published in 1877, most of the officers who were included listed as their address either a property in the country, or a house in the city. Mackenzie's, on the other hand, is listed solely as the United Services Club. His most distinctive characteristic was probably his voice which, according to the noted highland piper Robert Meldrum, who served with the 78th in Halifax as a private (and probably an apprentice piper), was so high pitched that some thought he was a woman in disguise, and resulted in his being known by the nickname "Squeaker".
Despite the heroism that he had evidenced during the first part of his career with the 78th, the picture which emerges of Mackenzie as commanding officer of the regiment, at least in Halifax, is not altogether flattering. There were, for example, aspects of the martinet in his treatment of the N.C.O. s and men. He was one of those who regretted the recent abolition of flogging in the army in time of peace. Thus, in April 1870, when informed that the commander-in-chief of the army had commented unfavourably upon the "numerous cases of insubordination" in the 78th, he replied that
I consider the cases of insubordination arose from the Men knowing that Corporal Punishment was abolished in time of peace, and several of the cases of insubordination which occurred in the past year were the deliberate acts of men of bad character (who no longer feared the absolute certainty of getting Corporal Punishment) hoped that a court martial would sentence him to be discharged from the service.
Of course, opposition to the abolition of corporal punishment does not in itself indicate unduly harsh disciplinary standards - probably at the time many quite moderately inclined officers regretted that the occasional resort to the lash was no longer possible. Mackenzie, however, seems to have attempted to compensate by a too rigorous application of the types of punishment which remained. That correspondence of the Halifax Brigade Major (the 'executive assistant' of the commander-in-chief) indicates that he frequently attempted to obtain more serious punishment for offences committed by members of his regiment than his superiors thought warranted. In June 1870, for example, he attempted to have a District Court Martial try Private James McGuire of the 78th "for drunkenness and being found in Barrack Street" (which was out of bounds). Colonel Augustus Ansell, who was acting for Hastings Doyle as commander-in-chief, turned down the request, and instructed that instead McGuire should be dealt with regimentally since he "bears a good character for upwards of five years." (A District Court Martial could award sentences of up to two years in military prison; a Regimental Court Martial could award only a maximum of 42 days in garrison cells.) Again in March 1871 Mackenzie proposed that a District Court Martial try Private Patrick Egan of the 78th "for using highly improper and disrespectful language towards Serjeant Wilson 78th", despite the fact that in his 13 years in the service Egan had never been tried and had three good conduct stripes. The commander-in-chief, Hastings Doyle, commented that he heard "a very high character of the man and was deposed to deal leniently with him", though if Mackenzie still wished "him to be tried he would support him on this point of discipline.”
Whether or not the trial was gone ahead with is not recorded. On yet another occasion Doyle had to remind Mackenzie at least twice that he had "no right to confine a man upon suspicion of intending to desert.” When in April 1871 Doyle took exception to Mackenzie's sentencing two privates of the regiment to confinement to barracks (which would have resulted in the loss of a good conduct badge) for a case of "simple drunkenness", he referred the matter directly to the commander-in-chief of the army, the Duke of Cambridge. The latter replied that Mackenzie would have been justified in awarding the punishment he did,
if there had been anything connected with the men’s crimes to require [such] serious notice but, on reference to the Defaulters' Sheets this does not appear, and His Royal Highness considers the confinement to Barracks in both instances excessive and desires that the punishment may be cancelled.
The Duke then went on to deliver a more general indictment of Mackenzie's too easy resort to excessive punishments. He told Doyle to inform Mackenzie that
the amount of severity exercised by him in these cases has met with His Royal Highness' disapproval, and that such want of judgment in dealing with offences, is more calculated to injure discipline than to support it.
Since Cambridge and Doyle could hardly be considered 'soft' on matters of military indiscipline, this may indeed be an indication of just how far Mackenzie tended in the other direction.
Nor do Mackenzie's relations with his fellow officers seem to have been especially good. As will be seen, the officers corps of the 78th was driven with dissensions during its years in Halifax, for which, Mackenzie, as their commander, must bear some responsibility. His superiors seem to have found him somewhat disputatious. For example, in December 1869 Mackenzie had same discussions with the commander-in-chief in Halifax, Hastings Doyle, over the case of Ensign Dodd of the 78th who had taken leave under false pretences. Mackenzie argued legalistically, "As the M. General considers Ensign Dodd's Conduct in obtaining leave under false pretences should not be reported to the Field Marshall Commanding in Chief, I cannot take any steps to get the officer punished.” The underlining seems to have been Doyle's who had his Brigade Major write a stinging rebuke to Mackenzie for the tone of his comments.
Sir Hastings Doyle ... desires me to say [he wrote] that unless he receives from you a satisfactory assurance that no disrespect was intended towards himself by the before quoted para., he will forward the correspondence to the Field Marshall Comdg. in Chief and will leave His Rl. Highness to judge the merits of the case.
Needless to say, an apology was soon forthcoming.
On another occasion, early in June 1870 Mackenzie explained to Doyle that Lieutenant Colonel Burnaby of the Royal Engineers in Halifax had improperly made use of members of the 78th to repair the roof of Wellington Barracks. Burnaby offered an explanation which Doyle found satisfactory, but Mackenzie, refusing to let the matter drop, made another complaint to Doyle (unfortunately lost). The latter replied that he considered the "tone and remarks" of Mackenzie's letter "unusual in official military correspondence", and wrote further that "He considers the explanation by Colonel Burnaby would have been satisfactory to you [Mackenzie] but as you impugn the statement; made to him by Serjt. Delaney R.E. and L. Corpl. Duncan 78th Highlanders [two participants in the roof repairing incidents] a Court of Inquiry will be ordered…” (which is also lost).
Mackenzie seems to have been prepared to fight even the pettiest issues with dogged persistence. In late July 1870, Major Augustus Warren, the officer commanding the detachment of the 78th at Saint John, New Brunswick, submitted to regimental headquarters in Halifax a stationery bill amounting to $13.95. Mackenzie thought it was too high and refused to pay. The matter was referred to Doyle who ruled that Mackenzie should pay. Mackenzie still refused, however, and Warren again referred the matter to Doyle. On 3 August the acting commander-in-chief, Augustus Ansell, upheld Doyle's original decision. Mackenzie, however, made yet another appeal. Exasperation is evident in Ansell's reply of 11 August. "I am at a loss to understand" he wrote "after the minute I placed upon these papers on 3 August 1870 in which I informed Lt. Col. Mackenzie that the question had been decided by Lt. Genl. Doyle, how he can press the subject further, but as he had done so I have no alternative but to request that they may be laid before one Lieut. General Commdg.” The affair dragged on for some time thereafter, and seems to have ended with Mackenzie paying the bill. Mackenzie's protracted wrangling over this affair would seem to reveal a preoccupation with petty bureaucratic details. This apparently annoyed his military superiors and may have affected adversely his relations with his own officers as well.
The above then suggests that, although Mackenzie may have been an efficient administrator, he did exhibit less favourable traits, such as too great a strictness and inflexibility in awarding military punishments, and too marked a propensity to take rigid stands on points of petty detail. These may well have made him a poor manager of men.
Through the natural process of seniority, Mackenzie became a full colonel in July 1872, and a major general in March 1878, in which year he retired from the 78th. He died at the Manse, Avoch, Ross-shire, on 5 March 1890.