The victim of the shooting, poet and returned soldier Walter D’Arcy Cresswell (pictured), alleged that Mayor Charles Mackay had made homosexual advances towards him in the mayoral office. The incident brought Mackay’s 11-year career as mayor of Whanganui to a shocking end. Cresswell was only slightly injured.
Cresswell claimed that Mackay (who’d previously sought treatment for his homosexuality) had made sexual advances, then panicked when faced with the prospect of public exposure. But Cresswell, later known to be a homosexual himself, may not have been an entirely innocent party. Following the shooting, there was widespread speculation that he had been enlisted by others to blackmail the mayor into resigning. This has never been proven.
Mackay was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour. While in prison he was declared bankrupt. Mackay’s wife divorced him and resumed her maiden name, which was also taken by their daughters. Whanganui’s Mackay St was renamed Jellicoe St and his name was removed from the foundation stone of the city’s Sarjeant Gallery. Mackay’s portrait was taken from the council chambers and destroyed, and he was not mentioned in local histories for the next 50 years.
Released from prison in 1926, Mackay travelled to England. After a failed business venture it is thought that he worked as a journalist. In 1928 he moved to Berlin and worked as a reporter and English language teacher. The following year he was covering May Day riots for a British newspaper when he was shot and killed by a German police officer, who mistook him for a communist. Representatives from the British Embassy and German Foreign Office attended his funeral.
In 1985 Mackay’s name was reinstated on the inscription on the Sarjeant Gallery’s foundation stone.
Image: D’Arcy Cresswell (DNZB)