Controversial ex-mayor killed in Berlin riots

3 May 1929

Charles Mackay, c. 1906-1920 (Whanganui Regional Museum)

Charles Ewing Mackay, the disgraced former mayor of Whanganui, was shot dead by Berlin police during May Day riots in the German capital. Covering the riots between communist irregulars and the police for a British newspaper, Mackay had apparently been mistaken for a rioter.

Mackay achieved notoriety in May 1920 when as mayor of Whanganui he shot the returned soldier and poet Walter D’Arcy Cresswell. Cresswell alleged that Mackay had made homosexual advances towards him in the mayoral office (homosexual acts by males were criminal offences in New Zealand until 1986). There was speculation that Cresswell had tried to blackmail the (secretly) homosexual mayor. Mackay pleaded guilty to attempted murder and called no defence. He was duly convicted and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour.

The case destroyed Mackay’s marriage, and following his release from prison in 1926 he sought a new life in England. By 1928 he was working in Berlin as a reporter for the Sunday Express and as an English language teacher.

Whanganui did all it could to eradicate Mackay from the public record. His name was sanded from the foundation stone of the Sarjeant Gallery, for which he had been a tireless advocate. Following homosexual law reform in the mid-1980s Mackay’s considerable contribution to Whanganui’s civic history was restored.

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