Catriona Burnett records several things about John Sidebottom that I think explain why he took so long to catch up with the stolen sheep.
First, Sidebottom wrote to the Rhodes Brothers that he had seen a large plain when he had looked out from the place, where he discovered the sheep.
I should tell you I have found old sheep track (large tracks of a good mob) leading up to the same pass, therefore I have a strong opinion this is not the first mob that Mackenzie has driven off… There seems to be a fine plain just at the back of the snowy range and a fist rate pass through the mountains to it.The first sentence can’t be true, because Sidebottom came upon the Mackenzie at dusk, so he would not be able to see track from sheep that had passed the same way several weeks earlier.
His claim to have seen a “fine plain” is also problematic. In a newspaper article written in 1917, Catriona’s father T.D. Burnett discussed the question of where Mackenzie was captured. Sidebottom said that they came across the sheep when “looking down a very abrupt hill”. TD Burnett thinks they had not reached the crest of Mackenzie Pass, but were on the Waratah side of the pass on the “little flat formed by the junction of Lockhart’s and Mackenzie’s steams. Several other witnesses confirm that they were caught in the fork of two creeks on the eastern side of the pass.
TD Burnett points out that the plain cannot be seen, except from the summit of the pass, or from the mountains on either side, so it was odd that Sidebottom wrote that he had seen “a wide plain”. The most plausible explanation is that Sidebottom had already explored the area, and already knew about the pass and the plain.
Second, Catriona Burnett reports that Sidebottom applied for a pastoral license to graze land 75,000 acres in the Mackenzie Country on 1 May 1855, when he went to Christchurch to give evidence against Mackenzie. The license was signed by William Brittain, Commissioner of Crown lands, and is labelled “Pastoral Lease No 53. These licenses were awarded on the condition that the land was fully stocked within a year. It seems that Sidebottom was unable to get sufficient sheep, so his license had lapsed by 1857, when licenses covering the same area were issued to others.
Sidebottom resigned from his overseer role at Levels at the end of the Mackenzie’s trial and took over Eureka Station in Canterbury. He died suddenly in Christchurch, two years late in April 1859, after selling a run for a considerable sum of money. He was seized with a fit of apoplexy and lingered only a short time.