This cover has a single blue-grey ‘HALF PENNY’ QV and two red ‘Shield’ stamps of New South Wales cancelled with a duplex NORTH SYDNEY/ MR 11/ 12.15 AM / 10/ N.S.W with the barred numeral ‘186', and it is addressed to Mrs Kenneth Mackay, CO the Hon Kenneth Mackay, The Castle, Cape Town, South Africa. As seen on the reverse the year date of 1910 is definitely incorrect (Figure 1).
The reverse has a duplex transit SYDNEY/ MR 11/ 5.30 AM/ 01/ 42 with the N.S.W oval obliterator, a well as a G.P.O CAPETOWN/ 15 APR 01 2 10 PM/ CAPE COLONY arrival postmark, confirming the 1901 date for the cover (Figure 2).
JAMES ALEXANDER KENNETH MACKAY (1859-1935), soldier, author and politician, was born on 5 June 1859 at Wallendbeen Station, near Cootamundra. New South Wales, son of Scottish-born parents, Alexander Mackay, squatter, and his wife Annie, nee Mackenzie. 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.
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 (Sir) Edmund Barton's National Federal Party in 1898. He was Vice President of the Executive Council in (Sir) William Lynes Ministry from 15 September 1899, and was nominated to the Legislative Council in October to represent the government. He held the same position under (Sir) John See and Thomas Waddell in 1903-04 and remained in the council until its reconstruction in 1933.
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 cavalry recruited entirely from country districts, was appointed to command and in 1898, was promoted lieutenant-colonel. A composite squadron from the regiment was sent to the South African War but Mackay was too senior in rank to accompany it. Instead, resigning his portfolio, he was given command of the New South Wales Imperial Bushmens Contingent which sailed from Sydney in April 1900. The Bushmen were sent to Rhodesia and placed under the command of Sir Frederick Carrington. They moved to Mafeking in July and into the western Transvaal.
In the next three months Mackay rode over 550 miles (885 km), lived in the open with his men and was several times under fire. It was an unhappy period in his life, for he was frustrated by Carrington's poor command, he quarrelled with his Brigadier and he was deeply shocked by the death in action of his wife's young brother who was serving with him. Finally, outside Zeerust, he was injured when his horse fell. He was sent to Cape Town and in November 1900 was appointed chief Staff officer for the various Australian contingents, as well as assistant adjutant general of overseas colonial forces, in Cape Town from 1900 to 1901, at the time of the letter.
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 C.B., mentioned in dispatches and granted the honorary rank of Colonel. 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 retained his interest in military matters and in 1912 was given command o f 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 from 1916. He was appointed OBE in 1920. That year he retired from the Australian Military Forces with the honorary rank of major general. 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. His wife and two daughters survived him. A picture of him in full army dress is seen in Figure 3.
At the time of his reception of the letter for his wife (15 April 1901), he was stationed in Cape Town and I am making enquiries at the Museum of The Castle, as to whether Mrs. Mackay was also in Cape Town, or whether the address was simply a Poste Restante for her mail from Australia. He was back in Sydney within 3 months, in July 1901.
There is no doubt that I have identified the correct man, for when he was appointed to the Legislative Council of N.S.W. in 1899, he was accorded the title of ‘The Honorable’ and the Australian War Museum identified that he was sometimes named as Kenneth Mackay, without his first two given names. A picture of the entrance to the famous Cape Town building of The Castle is seen in Figure 4.
The text for this paper was largely taken from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.