Rev. J.W. Mackenzie

Mackenzie tombs

From our house up on a hill, we look down on an incredibly beautiful ocean view and a small island nestled between the open ocean and the turquoise waters of the sheltered Erakor lagoon.

The small island, now a resort, is also called Erakor. The original inhabitants of the island have moved to the mainland. Erakor island is important in the missionary history of Vanuatu as it was an early Presbyterian missionary station. The people of Erakor were first evangelized by four Samoan evangelists, Mose, Sipi, Taavili and Setevano, who arrived on May 1, 1845.

Rev. and Mrs. John William Mackenzie of Pictou Co. Nova Scotia, Canada, also came to Vanuatu (then called the New Hebrides) and made Erakor Island their home. The foundations of their house and church are still visible.

Samoan missionary tombs

Recently, we went over to Erakor Island on the resort’s ferry to walk around the island and see where the early missionaries are buried. Rev. J. W. and Amanda Mackenzie lost three young children, Joseph aged 13 months died Christmas Day 1875, Arthur aged 19 months died 2 September 1878 and Walter aged 18 months died 12 February 1887. One can only imagine the heartbreak which accompanied each death.

In 1893, a ship, the Empreza, came through the islands bringing a deadly viral dysentery which had devastating effects on the local populations. Mrs. Amanda Mackenzie, became ill and died on the 30th of April, 1893.  J. W. and four of his children survived these difficult years of illness. He remained in Vanuatu and married a second time. J. W. Mackenzie was a missionary in Vanuatu from 1872 to 1912 and died after retiring to Australia in 1914.

4 Replies to “Rev. J.W. Mackenzie”

  1. John William and Amanda MacKenzie are my great grand-parents. My father, who was named after him, was actually born in the New Hebrides in 1913 but left at a very early age when his father, Norman, left the islands with his wife and young family and eventually settled in Auckland, New Zealand, where I was born and raised. My father spent the last years of his life in Canada where he died in 1995. Before his death he had, on a number of occasions, completed the circle by visiting relatives in Nova Scotia where there is still a plaque in the church from whence John and Amanda left Canada for the New Hebrides in 1872, never to return. The Rev. J. W. MacKenzie’s youngest son, William MacKenzie, only child of his second marriage some six yeas after Amanda’s death, eventually became a missionary and, like his father, served for some forty odd years – but his service was amongst the aborigines in the Northern Territories of Australia.

    1. Hi David, thank you for adding that information about your family. I’d really like to be in touch with you as I am doing some research on early missionaries in this area for a book. Please email me at: Thank you, Claire.

    2. HI, my name is Susan Sawyer. I am descendant of J.W.Mackenzie. I am slowly piecing together the family tree as my children, grandchildren and myself are planning a visit to Vanuatu in September this year. I would like to have the family pieced together by then. i want this information to give my grandchildren. My mother was Jean Mackenzie born 1921, her mother was Mary Alice Mackenzie born 1884. Just trying to work out who her mother was???. My mother spoke very fondly of Uncle Bill (William Mackenzie) who was a missionary in NT. If you can help me out with some missing pieces I would be truly grateful. My email is and my phone number is 0438451824. Thanks Susan.

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