Page 1: Biography
Mackay, Elizabeth Ann Louisa
Farmer, feminist, community leader, inventor
This biography, written by Dawn M. Smith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Elizabeth Ann Budge (the Louisa was added later) was born on 23 January 1843 at Godmanchester, Huntingdonshire, England, the daughter of Matthew Budge, a labourer, and his wife, Ann Church. Nothing is known about her childhood. In October 1863 she left Gravesend aboard the Anne Dymes bound for Nelson, New Zealand. The voyage was long and unpleasant: the ship lost its foremast and jib-boom during a storm in the Bay of Biscay; delays resulted in a shortage of fresh food and the passengers had to subsist on salt rations. Elizabeth was pregnant, and on 17 January 1864 gave birth to a daughter, whom she named Emma Anne Dymes Budge. The child's father, William George Maill, had not accompanied Elizabeth on the voyage.
The Anne Dymes reached Nelson on 2 March 1864. Four years later, on 4 June 1868, Elizabeth Budge married Robert Mackay; they are not known to have had any children. Robert and his brother, Thomas, had bought land in the Whangamoa valley, and Elizabeth joined her husband on the isolated farm at Kokorua, 20 miles from their nearest European neighbour. The property had no proper road access. A jetty built at the Whangamoa estuary enabled sheep and cattle to be landed from small boats. Young and resilient, Elizabeth Mackay took pride in making 'a nice home fit for anything'. The isolation was broken by young people from the surrounding district, who enjoyed the ride to Kokorua to visit.
Elizabeth Mackay was a full partner in the farming activities, owning 125 acres in her own right. Her independent character and strong opinions are exemplified by a letter published in the Colonist in February 1889. Provoked by the chauvinistic remarks of a Waimea county councillor, Robert Pattie, she argued that a woman should receive the same education as a man, be 'undistinguishable from him except in sex, equal to him in rights and votes, and his competitor in all that makes life a fierce and selfish struggle for place and power and money.' She observed of her adversary that 'he cannot have seen much more than his potatoe garden in Riwaka.' 'Mr Pattie has the idea of a man that came out of Noah's ark, and not of the present age, where women take their stand…[and] woman's tongue and woman's pen strike at woman's elevation and sharing with man the labor of the education of the world.' The letter went on to express contemporary feminist belief in woman's moral superiority and influence on society through her role in the home and family.
The Mackays were forced to leave their farm about 1884 when Elizabeth, after 'a severe illness', was ordered by her doctor to move closer to town. Robert took the licence of the Suburban North Hotel, also known as the Black Horse, at Wakapuaka. Elizabeth was reputed to be quite capable of using the gun she carried in her apron pocket. Popularly known as 'Ma Mackay', she became a force in the local community, agitating for such concerns as improved roads and the fencing and beautifying of the Suburban North cemetery. In 1890 she applied for a patent for an ointment known as Mrs Mackay's Rheumatic Exterminator, and she also patented a cooking utensil, likened to a combined saucepan and colander.
In the 1880s the Mackays built the Half-way House Hotel at Whangamoa valley, which Elizabeth's daughter, known as Emily or Lily, ran with her husband, William Oliver. Robert Mackay worked for a time as a brewer, and after another stint at the Black Horse, he and Elizabeth retired to Nelson about 1904. Elizabeth Mackay died at Nelson on 24 August 1908. Her husband survived her by nearly five years, and died on 8 June 1913.