Charles Mackay; the Whanganui mayor who shot a man threatening to out him as gay & More Trending News

Former Whanganui mayor Charles Mackay, who shot author Walter D’Arcy Cresswell. Photo / Supplied

He had a lengthy profession in public service and was answerable for financial progress in Whanganui.

But the efforts of the city’s mayor Charles Mackay have been all however expunged from native historical past after he shot a author who accused him of constructing sexual advances towards him and ordered him to give up his job or he’d out him as gay.

In 1920, Mackay was convicted of tried homicide and sentenced to 15 years in jail with arduous labour. He was launched in 1926 on situation he go away the nation, so he moved to England.

Mackay was quickly working in Berlin as a part-time journalist, and was protecting communist avenue riots in 1929 when he was mistakenly shot useless by a policeman.

Writer Walter D'Arcy Cresswell, who was blackmailing Mackay. Photo / Supplied
Writer Walter D’Arcy Cresswell, who was blackmailing Mackay. Photo / Supplied

This extract from Paul Diamond’s new e-book, Downfall: The Destruction of Charles Mackay, particulars the day Mackay’s life modified eternally.

‘Nothing irregular occurred whereas at dinner’

The two males had first met the day Walter D’Arcy Cresswell arrived in Whanganui from Timaru. Mayor Charles Mackay invited the youthful man and his cousin (who has by no means been recognized) to dinner that night time at the Chavannes Hotel, on Victoria Avenue, shut to the Sarjeant Gallery. It shouldn’t be identified why Cresswell, who had come to go to household, had dinner on his first night time on the town with the mayor, whom he had by no means met earlier than.

Did Mackay learn about him? Or did the cousin carry them collectively? Cresswell’s assertion to the police gave no perception into their connection.

“Nothing abnormal happened while at dinner,” Cresswell famous in his assertion to the police. “I spoke to Mr MacKay between the time I had dinner with him on Monday night and entering his office on Saturday morning last the 15th instant. My cousin and myself went to Hawera races [89 kilometres north of Whanganui] Tuesday the 11th instant and returned to Wanganui the following evening.”

The Wanganui Club. Photo / Allen Russ
The Wanganui Club. Photo / Allen Russ

On Thursday, the day after his return from Taranaki, Cresswell invited Mackay to dinner, once more together with his cousin. This time the trio dined at the Rutland Hotel, on the nook of the Avenue — as Whanganui locals name Victoria Avenue — and Ridgway Street.

This meal led to a additional invitation from Mackay to go to the Sarjeant Gallery, which had opened the 12 months earlier than — Mackay had been a driving pressure in its building — the following afternoon. He and Cresswell met in the Ridgway Street workplace earlier than strolling to the Wanganui Club in St Hill Street for a cup of tea after which occurring to the gallery.

On their approach, they handed the city’s underground urinals, which nonetheless exist however have been closed round the time of World War II, following complaints that they have been “detrimental to the best interests of the business premises in the neighbourhood”.

As in different city areas in the Nineteen Twenties, the urinals have been a assembly place for males looking for intercourse with different males. Case recordsdata for indecency instances in the city testify to the existence of what British historian Matt Houlbook has termed a community of sexual alternative. Men would meet in bars or on the avenue however, unable to return to boarding homes the place they could be seen by nosy landladies, they might go to a public place like the urinals or, in Whanganui’s case, Queens Park.

The Sarjeant Gallery's copy of Raffaello Romanelli's The Wrestlers. Photo / Supplied
The Sarjeant Gallery’s copy of Raffaello Romanelli’s The Wrestlers. Photo / Supplied

By May 1920, when Mackay was displaying the gallery to D’Arcy Cresswell, the Sarjeant Gallery had been open for under eight months and didn’t have a lot of a assortment; the preliminary exhibitions have been of borrowed objects. On everlasting show already, although, was a marble, three-quarter-sized copy of Raffaello Romanelli’s The Wrestlers, the authentic of which resides in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery.

Ellen Neame, the a lot youthful widow of Henry Sarjeant, and her second husband John Neame, the artwork grasp at Wanganui Collegiate, whom she married lower than a 12 months after her first husband died, had purchased the sculpture in 1914 whereas in Florence. At that point shopping for copies, both reproductions or plaster casts, was commonplace and respectable, a approach of permitting guests to see well-known works. The Wrestlers, itself a Roman marble copy of a misplaced third-century Greek bronze, has been extensively reproduced.

The one different copy in New Zealand is in the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, having been offered to the gallery in 1928 by rich Dunedin businessman and philanthropist David Theomin. Whanganui couldn’t compete with the dimension and wealth of Dunedin, however the Neames clearly had related aspirations for the Sarjeant. John Neame thought-about The Wrestlers as maybe one in all the six most well-known works of Greek artwork in the world.

The Wrestlers can also be well-known amongst gay males, who have admired the entwined bare male our bodies for his or her homoerotic magnificence and affiliation with what the Romans known as ‘the approach of the Greeks’. As Robert Aldrich has defined, ‘Greek love’ was the most clearly articulated and influential gay subculture earlier than the phrases gay or subculture have been invented.

Homosexual males skilled it each by travelling to southern Europe and thru the artwork and literature of the interval. This was vital at a time when homosexuality was condemned. During the twentieth century, this classical focus was overtaken by the growth of recent subcultures in locations such as Berlin, New York and San Francisco, however in 1920, cultured males like Mackay and Cresswell would have recognised the coded significance of The Wrestlers.

Former prime minister William Massey speaking at the opening of the Sarjeant Gallery in September 1919. Photo / Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery
Former prime minister William Massey talking at the opening of the Sarjeant Gallery in September 1919. Photo / Collection of the Sarjeant Gallery

Things take a flip

According to Cresswell’s assertion to the police, after the gallery go to, issues turned nasty: “When we left the Art Gallery we went to Mr MacKay’s office in Ridgway Street and while there I discovered a certain disgusting feature in Mr MacKay’s character. I purposely encouraged him to display his qualities in his nature which I expected. He also showed me several photographs of nude women. On making that discovery I told him that I had led him on, on purpose to make sure of his dirty intentions, and I told him also amongst a lot of other candid things that he must resign the mayorality [sic] at once.”

How did Cresswell encourage Mackay? Did he make some form of go at the older man? Did the males have intercourse?

Mackay displaying Cresswell pictures of bare ladies is a unusual segue from viewing a statue of bare males wrestling, however this was not an untypical approach of discovering if somebody was gay in an period when males have been having intercourse with one another earlier than any fashionable notion of a gay id had emerged. If mistaken, the man with the pictures might say, “Ah well, I f*** them all”.

The pictures is also used to arouse the different man, which might match a state of affairs of providing intercourse for cash. The pictures additionally counsel that Mackay might need thought he had a probability of seducing Cresswell. If so, it was to be a horrible miscalculation.

The underground urinals in Maria Place, Whanganui, photographed some time after 1919. Photo / Whanganui Regional Museum Photographic Collection
The underground urinals in Maria Place, Whanganui, photographed a while after 1919. Photo / Whanganui Regional Museum Photographic Collection

Cresswell’s assertion to the police was that Mackay “then pleaded for mercy and asked me to think over it for the night, and come and see him next morning and let him know my decision. I stayed at the Rutland Hotel on Friday night as I was going to a dance in the Druid’s Hall that evening. During the night I decided that he should resign the mayorality in a weeks [sic] time”.

By the time of the third assembly in his workplace, Mackay had turn out to be more and more determined about his indiscretion with Cresswell, however the youthful man remained resolved.

“As arranged, I called on him at 9.30am at his office in Ridgway Street on the Saturday morning, and the whole morning was spent by him in pleading with me on account of his wife and family and not to force him to resign. I, however, was quite determined that he should resign. Even though he threatened to commit suicide, I did not believe that he had the courage. At my suggestion and partly at my dictation, MacKay wrote a letter to my cousin and I saw it posted on Saturday morning. I did not believe him when he said that his wife was dependent on the £200 he got from being mayor. I was very anxious to be just and do nothing cruel to his family.”

Ridgeway St in Whanganui. Photo / Supplied
Ridgeway St in Whanganui. Photo / Supplied

£200 was a lot of cash in 1920 – roughly the annual wage for a expert council employee. Mackay’s in-laws, the Duncan household, have been rich landowners whose belongings included property in Whanganui and Christchurch. Perhaps Mackay was unwilling to humiliate himself by asking them for assist. Problems with Mackay’s personal authorized enterprise may also have been a issue; after his conviction, his affairs have been described as being in a mess.

The letter Cresswell compelled Mackay to write has by no means emerged and the police don’t seem to have pursued it as a part of their investigation, despite the fact that it was supposedly despatched to Cresswell’s cousin and wouldn’t have been troublesome to discover. (This relative managed to keep out of the case totally; provided that the police requested Cresswell about the interval when the cousin was current, it’s odd that he was not requested to give a assertion.)

Unable to attain any decision, the two males left Mackay’s workplace: “After useless talking and long silence he asked me to come ’round to the club and try and reconsider my decision over a cup of tea. As I could not stand being in his office much longer, and was very knocked-up, I consented […]”

But if Mackay hoped Cresswell would again off, it didn’t work. According to Cresswell, he then “became very earnest about his decision to commit suicide, and the absolute impossibility of resigning” and supplied a medical rationalization for his actions.

“He told me that he was suffering from a complaint which made it impossible for him to control his passions and said that his doctor could satisfy me in that respect. He rang up his doctor on two or three occasions but each time the doctor was out. Nothing more happened here than had happened in his office and he then pleaded with me to come back to his office, I think I was very foolish not to have left him, but I was anxious to be quite just to him. I should say here that I had promised to say nothing about what I discovered if he would resign at the end of the week. I did not want to judge him but I was determined he had no business to be mayor.”


Cresswell’s resolve undiminished, the males walked again to the workplace for a fourth and remaining time.

“I, being very tired, took a more determined stand about it and threatened that if he didn’t immediately give me a letter promising to resign at the end of the week I would at once wire to my dad in Timaru to come up as I felt that it was getting too much of a strain on me alone. He seemed so terribly upset that I then extended the time to a fortnight. Then he implored me for a months [sic] time and spoke a lot about his wife and family, I was quite firm about the fortnight and he then asked me for a few minutes alone to clear his head or something of the sort, and went into the Anti [sic] room where the girl worked.”

Mackay returned after a few moments and stated, “[G]ive me a month and I will sign a letter straight away.”

Once Cresswell agreed to this, Mackay “came over to his table and wrote a letter promising to resign the mayoralty a month from that date and put it into a large envelope. We then arranged that it should be addressed to me at the general post office, and registered and I promised to let it lie at the post office until the month was up so he put it in his pocket.”

This second resignation letter has additionally by no means been discovered, though the police did attempt to find it.

The Rutland Hotel, where Mackay, D'Arcy Cresswell and Cresswell's cousin had dinner two days before the shooting. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library
The Rutland Hotel, the place Mackay, D’Arcy Cresswell and Cresswell’s cousin had dinner two days earlier than the taking pictures. Photo / Alexander Turnbull Library

Then, as they approached the door, Mackay turned and pointed a revolver at Cresswell’s chest: “We were only about a foot or two apart, I think that he said this is for you but I am not positive, then he fired almost immediately before I could recover from my amazement and I felt the bullet enter my right breast and I fell down.”

Mackay stood over the inclined Cresswell and “thrust” the revolver into his proper hand in an effort to make it look as if Cresswell had killed himself.

But Mackay’s bullet had missed his blackmailer’s coronary heart and had as an alternative hit him in his proper lung. Cresswell managed to arise and brandished the revolver at Mackay, holding him at bay. Mackay, who “looked very surprised and wild”, then ran out of the room. Cresswell adopted, however when he reached the door into the different workplace he couldn’t open it: both Mackay had locked it or he was holding onto the deal with on the different facet.

Cresswell then ran again into the workplace and hurled the chair via the window to appeal to consideration and help: “When I had smashed the window I called out to some chaps on the street to come up. Then eveidently [sic] Mr MacKay hearing my calls for help and thinking he could not escape, came back and asked me to shoot him, and then he rushed me and I kept the revolver pointed clear and pulled all the shots off, the next thing I can remember I was running down the stairs and telling someone that MacKay had shot me, and I heard MacKay say over the stairs that he had shot me by accident, I dont [sic] remember much more. I was wearing the clothes produced when shot.”

The cover of Downfall: The Destruction of Charles Mackay, by Paul Diamond.
The cowl of Downfall: The Destruction of Charles Mackay, by Paul Diamond.

Downfall: The destruction of Charles Mackay
By Paul Diamond
RRP: $45
Published by Massey University Press

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