Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Mackenzie, Colin (1806-1881)
MACKENZIE, COLIN (1806–1881), lieutenant-general in the Indian army, born in London on 25 March 1806, and baptised at St. James's Church, Piccadilly, was youngest son but one of Kenneth Francis Mackenzie (d. 1831) and his wife, Anne Townsend. His father, who belonged to the Redcastle branch of Mackenzies, was attorney-general of Grenada, and lost much during the war with France, 1793-1815. Colin was educated successively at a school in Cumberland, at Dollar, and at Oswestry, and in 1825 he was appointed a cadet of infantry on the Madras establishment. He served as adjutant of the 48th Madras native infantry in the Coorg campaign in 1834, and was present in all the actions of that campaign, during a portion of which he held the appointment of deputy-assistant quartermaster-general. At the close of the campaign his services were favourably noticed by the brigadier-general commanding the force. In 1836 he accompanied Captain (afterwards Admiral Sir Henry Ducie) Chads in an expedition to the Straits of Malacca, which had been organised for the purpose of extirpating piracy in those seas. Although Mackenzie was on board Captain Chads's ship only as a passenger, his services and his gallantry were such that they elicited warm acknowledgments from Captain Chads and afterwards from Lord Auckland, then governor-general of India, who selected him in 1840 for employment with the force then serving in Afghanistan. In this unfortunate expedition, which, owing mainly to the incompetence of the general in command, ended in the complete destruction of a large British force, Mackenzie greatly distinguished himself. He was employed at first as assistant political agent under Mr. (afterwards Sir George) Clerk at Peshawar. Thence he proceeded to Kabul, where he joined a corps of sappers which had been raised in Afghanistan by George Broadfoot, a shipmate of his on his voyage to India. Mackenzie led the advanced guard of Sir Robert Sale's force as far as Gundamack on its march to Jellalabad, and then, returning to Kabul, he commanded a so-called, but absolutely indefensible, fort, called the fort of Nishan Khan, in which the commissariat of Shah Soojah's troops was kept. He was in command of this fort when the insurrection of the Afghans at Kabul broke out. Kaye, in his history of the first war in Afghanistan, thus describes Mackenzie's defence: 'On 3 Nov. it became certain that Mackenzie, with all his gallantry and all his laborious zeal, working day and night without food and without rest, conducting the defence with as much judgment as spirit, could not much longer hold his post. His men were wearied out, his ammunition was exhausted, his wounded were dying for want of medical aid. He had defended his position throughout two days of toil, suffering, and danger; and no aid had come from cantonments, none was likely to come. So, yielding at last to the importunity of others, he moved out of the fort and fought his way by night to cantonments. It was a difficult and hazardous march; and almost by a miracle Mackenzie escaped to encounter new dangers, to sustain new trials, and to live in habitual gratitude to God for his wonderful preservation.'
In the following month Mackenzie was present at the conference between the envoy, Sir William Macnaghten [q.v.], and the Afghan chief, Akbàr Khàn. He and Eldred Pottinger [q.v.] had in vain endeavoured to dissuade Macnaghten from attending the conference, assuring him that there were strong grounds for suspecting treachery. But the conference took place and the envoy was treacherously seized and shot by Akbàr Khàn. At the same time Mackenzie and George Lawrence [q.v.] were made prisoners. Later on, during the unfortunate retreat from Kabul, Mackenzie, who had been set free, displayed the greatest courage and excellent judgment, and did all in his power to stimulate the efforts of the officers in superior military command. Indeed it is not too much to say that, if Mackenzie had been the general in command, instead of being only a captain, the disasters which attended the first Afghan war might have been averted. In the course of the retreat, it having been arranged that hostages should be given up to Akbàr Khàn, Mackenzie was selected as one of them. His selection was approved by Akbàr Khàn as a man who was certain to keep his word. In consequence of his deeply religious life the Afghans called him the 'English Moollah,' and had the greatest confidence in him. While in this position he was deputed by Eldred Pottinger, with the approval of Akbàr Khàn, to convey letters to the political agent at Jellalabad and to General Sir George Pollock [q. v.], who had reached that place. On both these missions he had more than one very narrow escape, and after ithe second he was attacked by a dangerous illness which nearly cost him his life. Mackenzie was subsequently carried off by Akbàr Khàn with the rest of the hostages and prisoners, and with them was being removed over the Hindu Kúsh, whence they were to be sent to Bokhara to be sold as slaves, when, owing to the arrival of Pollock's force in the vicinity of Kábul and the flight of Akbár Khán, the Afghán in charge of the prisoners was induced by a guarantee of a large sum of money to release them. Before returning to India Mackenzie took part with Henry Havelock [see Havelock, Sir Henry ] on the assault upon the fort of Istaliff. He, like Eldred Pottinger and the others who had distinguished themselves during the insurrection and the retreat, was one of the victims of the unreasoning prejudice which led Lord Ellenborough [see Law, Edward, Earl of Ellenborough] to treat with studied neglect all who had been in any way connected with the recent disasters, except the garrison of Jellálabad. Mackenzie was refused the Kábul medal and the six months' pay which accompanied it, and it was not until 1853 that, owing to the interposition of Lord Dalhousie, it was granted to him. He was also created a C.B.
Mackenzie was subsequently employed on the north-west frontier to raise a Sikh regiment (the 4th), with which he kept the peace on the border during the last Sikh campaign. It was while thus employed that he made the acquaintance of Lord Dalhousie, who formed a high opinion of his character and of his talents. It is said to have been by his advice that Lord Dalhousie was induced to abandon an idea he had formed of making over to Afghanistán the country between the Indus and the Suleiman range. Mackenzie urged that Pesháwar was the gate of India, and therefore should not be given up. He was still a regimental captain when, in 1850, he was appointed by Lord Dalhousie brigadier-general in command of the Ellichpúr division of the Hyderabad contingent. In nominating Mackenzie for this post the governor-general remarked that 'the gallantry, ability, and endurance displayed by him at the time of the rising at Kábul are amply recorded, and in connection with the subsequent events of that period entitle him to a higher reward at the hands of the government of India than the command of a local corps in the Sutlej provinces.' Mackenzie had held his new command for some years when a mutiny occurred in one of the cavalry regiments of the contingent which nearly cost him his life. In September 1855, on the occasion of the Muharram procession at Bolarum, the great day of which happened that year to be a Sunday, Mackenzie issued orders which in the first instance prohibited any procession being held on the Sunday, but were subsequently so far modified as to permit of the processions taking place within the lines of the regiments, but not in the barracks or along the roads. This order was openly violated by the 3rd cavalry regiment of the contingent, which marched past the brigadier's house and grounds, making a hideous din when the procession reached that spot. Mackenzie sent out orderlies to stop them, and, this interference proving ineffectual, went out himself unarmed and seized two small standards which the sepoys were carrying. The result was a tumult, in the course of which Mackenzie was dangerously wounded. The government, while paying a high tribute to Mackenzie 'as a good and distinguished soldier, and as honourable, conscientious, and gallant a gentleman as the ranks of the army can show,' condemned the course taken by him on this occasion as rash and ill-judged.
Although this judgment was questioned by some very distinguished officers, there can be no doubt that it had an unfortunate influence upon Mackenzie's subsequent career. He was compelled by his wounds to return to England for a time. Afterwards he held the political appointment of agent to the governor-general with the Nawáb Názim of Bengal; but there he appears not to have received the support which ought to have been afforded to him at headquarters, and he was transferred to one of the civil departments of the army as superintendent of army clothing, a post ludicrously inappropriate to his previous services. Some years later, on his claiming a divisional command in his own presidency, it was withheld from him by the commander-in-chief on the ground of the censure which had been passed upon him in the Bolárum case. On that occasion the governor of Madras (Francis, lord Napier [q.v.Suppl.]) and one of the members of council expressed strong disapproval of the commander-in-chief's decision, and referred the question to the secretary of state, who, however, declined to interfere. Mackenzie finally left India in 1873, and died at Edinburgh on 22 Oct. 1881. A photogravure portrait of Mackenzie, aged 74, is prefixed to Mrs. Mackenzie's 'Storms and Sunshine' (Edinburgh, 1884, 2 vols.) Mackenzie married first, in May 1832, Adeline, eldest daughter of James Pattle of the Bengal civil service, who died four years afterwards. He married secondly, in 1843, Helen, eldest daughter of Admiral John Erskine Douglas, who survives him, and has published several works relating to India, besides the life of her husband.
[History of the War in Afghanistán, by J. W. Kaye, F.R.S.; Storms and Sunshine of a Soldier's Life, by Mrs. Colin Mackenzie; Twelve Indian Statesmen, by George Smith, C.I.E., LL.D.; India Office Records; Boase's Modern English Biogr.; Illustrated London News, lxxix. 464 (with portrait).]