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The Duigan Building
23 Ridgway Street and the Mayor Mackay saga

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  • Video - Lisa Reweti, Paul Diamond & BLOOPERS!
    As part of Whanganui Pride James Barron & building owner Warren Ruscoe opened Mackay's former legal office for small groups on 11 March 2023. The experience of standing on the spot where Mackay's desk was or where Cresswell lay wounded or looking out the window Cresswell smashed with cries of "Murder Murder" while Whanganui Regional Museum storyteller Lisa spoke was magical - we hope you enjoy it too... In an unplanned part of the filming of the TV3 "The Project NZ" video featured at the top of this page the ghost of Mackay (or maybe Cresswell?) shatters the window again 101 years after it was smashed with a chair and Wanganui resounded to cries of "Murder! Murder! The Mayor shot me!" Author Paul Diamond speaks on the book launch of Downfall November 2023 (apologies for poor sound quality, recording wasn't pre arranges so was done off the cuff on a mobile device) Author Paul Diamond answers questions on the book launch of Downfall November 2023 (apologies for poor sound quality, recording wasn't pre arranges so was done off the cuff on a mobile device)
  • Who was Mayor Mackay & why was he Whanganui's most visionary & effective Mayor ever?
    Charles Ewing Mackay was born in Nelson, New Zealand, on 29 June 1875, the son of Joseph Mackay and his wife, Jessie Wilkie. Joseph taught mathematics at Nelson College, and from 1881 to 1891 was headmaster of Wellington College. Charles was a pupil there from 1883 to 1890 then studied at Canterbury College on a Junior Scholarship. A brilliant student, he graduated BA in 1895 and LLB in 1900. He was called to the Bar in New Plymouth in 1901, and the following year established his own law firm in Whanganui. There on 20 January 1904 he married Isobel Mary Agnes Duncan, who was from a prominent Whanganui family; the couple had a two daughters and a son who died as a child. Mackay entered local politics in 1904, serving first on the Mataongaonga Road Board and gaining election to the Wanganui Borough Council in November 1905. In April 1906 he successfully contested the mayoralty, holding office until 1913, and again from 1915 until 1920. He stood for Parliament as an independent candidate for Whanganui in the 1908 and 1911 elections; though unsuccessful, he remained popular in local affairs. Mackay was a controversial and energetic mayor who was responsible for much of the growth and development of Whanganui in the years between 1906 and 1920. His projects were frequently expensive but always farsighted. He advocated the building of an electric tramway system for Whanganui, improved the town's roading, water supply and fire services, and was instrumental in having the Dublin Street Bridge erected. He ensured the incorporation of the outlying areas of Aramoho and Wanganui East within the borough boundaries, and worked continuously to encourage the development of the port and local industry. His principal project from 1915 was the construction of an art gallery for Whanganui, using the bequest of Henry Sarjeant. He instigated a competition for the building's design (which was won by the Dunedin firm of Edmund Anscombe), promoted a purchasing policy for the gallery, wrote tirelessly to galleries and collectors abroad soliciting works and reproductions, and confronted the Department of Education over the acquisition of land for the site. He later persuaded the military authorities to defer the posting overseas of the architect, Donald Hosie, until the gallery's working drawings had been completed. Hosie was killed at Passchendaele (Passendale) in October 1917, three weeks after the foundation stone for the Sarjeant Gallery was laid. Mackay's interests led to the Sarjeant's photographic collection years before most institutions recognized photography’s value. During the First World War Mackay's popularity suffered in some quarters. He did not serve in the military forces, and the conservative Wanganui Returned Soldiers' Association were practically sworn enemies to the extent that in preparations for the visit in 1920 of the prince of Wales the RSA held their own reception for the Prince in competition with the official civic Mayoral reception. Ignoring his detractors Mackay had post turned his attention to promoting the construction of a library and museum to complement the gallery (both were completed in the 1930's and tougether with the later War Memorial Centre forfil Mackay's vision of a civic hub for Whanganui) An earlier “Charles Mackay” a Scottish author and poet put it thus… “You have no enemies, you say? Alas, my friend, the boast is poor. He who has mingled in the fray of duty that the brave endure, must have made foes. If you have none, small is the work that you have done. You’ve hit no traitor on the hip. You’ve dashed no cup from perjured lip. You’ve never turned the wrong to right. You’ve been a coward in the fight.” Mackay maintained two separate offices - his Mayoral office and his personal law office which by 1919 was located upstairs in the Duigan Building at 23 Ridgway Street. It was here that the key events of his downfall unfolded on 15 May 1920.
  • What were the events of May 1920?
    The Prince of Wales didn't think much of the RSA vs Mayoral competition but seemed primarily disgusted by his accommodation as on 4 May, the Prince writes to a mistress Freda Dudley Wardfrom from Imperial Hotel, Wanganui (at 1.00 am): “such a pompous address beloved, but it’s really a miserable hole; no electric light & the hotel boilers elected to burst before dinner so no baths & a vewy nasty dinner!! But we are all pretty peeved tonight as we’ve really had a desperately twying day…”. National and international press joined in lampooning the Wanganui Royal visit as a debacle. But it was arrival of returned soldier and (banal) poet Walter D'Arcy Cresswell on 10 May 1920 was to change Mackay's future prospects dramatically. Meeting (how is unknown) and dining together the same night Cresswell Mackay wined and dined the ex-soldier with the two spending time together viewing naked male wrestler sculptures alone in the Sarjeant and Mackay’s porn collection in his Duigan Building offices. As described by Cesswell in his statement to police "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." At a meeting two days later in the Duigan Building offices to negotiate on the blackmail two days later Mackay produced a gun and shot Creswell in the chest putting the gun in Creswell’s hand intending to fake a suicide. Cresswell however revived, fired off the remaining bullets and threw a chair through the Duigan building window yelling “murder, murder”. This was finally enough to get the attention of the public & a policemen who was just across the road and Mackay was promptly arrested and Cresswell hospitalized where he recovered. Mackay was remanded in custody with the trial commencing (after delay to allow Cresswell recovery time) on 27th May at 3pm. The Wanganui courthouse at the end of the block & within sight of Duigans Building and three times more people turned up than could fit in the packed public gallery. Cresswell's statement (which had already been published in newspapers) was read and signed as substantially correct by Mackay who offered no evidence or defense saying only "I plead guilty". At sentencing the next day Mackay stated he suffered from “homosexual monomania” and had attempted a cure with hypnotherapy "AG Mackay" (no relation) a taxi driver-turned-metaphysician. This makes him both NZ’s first recorded self-admitted homosexual and first victim of “Conversion Therapy” (finally banned in Aotearoa 2022). The attempt to recast what was then viewed as a detestable perversion as medical aberration doesn't seem to have helped Mackay who was convicted of Cresswell's attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years hard labour.
  • Press Release 27 April 2023
    Press Release – Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, Whanganui District Council, Pride Whanganui, Paul Diamond New Zealand’s first Rainbow heritage listing is the site of blackmail, attempted murder and the hidden scandal of a Gay Whanganui Mayor in 1920 that makes the latest Heritage NZ Category One listing truly unique! The heritage values of Duigan’s Building at 23 Ridgway Street, Whanganui have been officially acknowledged by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga through the addition of Duigan’s Building to the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōreroon 11th May as not only NZ’s newest Category 1 historic place but also as the first new list entry to result from Heritage New Zealand’s Rainbow List Project, recognizing its value as taonga for Aotearoa’s LGBTQI+ communities. Listing nominator James Barron sees the now 103 year old story of 1920 Whanganui Mayor Mackay’s downfall as very contemporary story “The Whanganui Incident is a story too good to be lost to history! Starting with Whanganui's best (but gay and deeply closeted) Mayor it journeys through the Prince of Wales visit, intrigue, blackmail attempted murder, scandal, jail, exile and ends with the police shooting of Mackay in Berlin in the “Blutmai” 1929 riots that helped NAZI’s gain power. It also is current story with Mackay being not only the first self professed homosexual in New Zealand but also our recorded victim of Conversion Therapy - quackery only banned in NZ in 2022!” Historian Paul Diamond, author of 2022 book Downfall: the Destruction of Charles Mackay says it is remarkable that what was Mackay's office has survived largely unaltered, making it easier to imagine the tragedy which unfolded there in May 1920. “Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga is to be commended for its “Rainbow List” initiative, which will help ensure sites such as this endure for future generations to learn about prejudice and resilience.” Downfall: the Destruction of Charles Mackay is shortlisted for the Ockham NZ Book Awards with the judges saying ‘This beautifully produced and generous book is a fascinating account of an extraordinary moment in small-town colonial New Zealand with its vivid line-up of characters, a revenge plot, blackmail and local Pākehā political intrigue. Alongside gripping, skilled and elegant popular historical storytelling, readers will find well-researched and closely observed insights into aspects of our national character, and our struggles with social decency.’ Acting Whanganui Mayor Helen Craig comments “Seeing, touching & knowing our history is a basic human need. Whanganui has many heritage stories but this listing is unique and personal, bringing out of the shadows the homophobic prejudice of the time that caused the downfall of someone as talented as Mayor Charles Mackay. Whanganui District Council supports our Pride community and welcomes this significant national heritage listing.” “I don’t know whether I should be terrified or excited that my building will be listed” remarks building owner Warren Ruscoe of Meteor Print. “However it brings out the exceptional vision plus growth that Mayor Charles Mackay bought to our City and region whilst he was Mayor. I also feel it helps right many wrongs done to him, so supporting the listing adds value to our history.” Paul Chaplow W&P Strategic Lead, Visitor Industries observes this not the only recent ‘first’ for Whanganui… “Whanganui has recorded many ‘firsts’ over the past 10 years. Two very notable examples are the extraordinary Te Awa Tupua legislation, achieved by iwi and hapū, and Whanganui’s recent designation as a UNESCO City of Design. Similarly, being Heritage New Zealand’s first rainbow listing is a modern recognition of Whanganui’s history as a place where innovative thinking, creativity, and a desire for authenticity have prevailed.” Christina Emery, Trustee of Pride Whanganui says "This is an incredibly momentous occasion for not only the LGBTTQIA+ history of Aotearoa New Zealand, but for Whanganui. For so long our queer history has been glazed over, pushed to the side and in this case eradicated. This listing shows not just that we are here but that we've always been here! Whanganui is a place of vibrancy, innovation, creativity and history - it's no wonder they call us the Pride Capital of New Zealand!” “We believe it is the first place in this country to be listed as a historic place specifically for its queer history” says Heritage New Zealand Area Manager, Kerryn Pollock. “This is a really ground-breaking listing for Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. The events that took place there, and the subsequent impact on the lives of the people involved, are emblematic of the threat of incarceration and social shame which was a reality experienced by homosexuals living in New Zealand – a reality that only began to change with the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act in 1986. Criminalization of male homosexuality and the social stigma attached to queer identity meant that many homosexual lives were lived discreetly, leaving few recorded traces for their historians, Charles Mackay is a tragic exception as the scandal and court case is a record that society could bury but not erase. Duigan’s Building is the place which holds the story.” To celebrate the listing there will be a special one off performance of “One of those” a play by David Charteris on the 15th of May (the date of Mackay’s blackmail and shooting of his blackmailer Creswell). When details are being finalised, venue & ticket details will be on or call James Barron 0211231750 <ends>
  • "Downfall - The destruction of Charles Mackay" book by Paul Diamond
    Downfall is an impressively researched and very readable book launched in the Sarjeant Gallery in November 2023 Find out more about "Downfall" Extended Foreword from Downfall by Chris Brickell, Otago Uni Radio New Zealand interview with Paul Dianond Listen - RNZ NineToNoon book review NZ Herald on Whanganui public talk by Paul Review on "The Spinoff" You can borrow a copy from any Whanganui District Library You can purchase a copy in Whanganui from Paiges Bookstore You can purchase a copy from the National Library You can purchase & read on Amazon/Kindle
  • Heritage NZ Listing
    HeritageNZ (Pouhere Taonga) is in the process of listing the Duigan Building (the original name for 23 Ridgway Street) as a Category One Historic Place. As well as a Category One listing Mayor Mackay's offices are the first new listing addition to the Rainbow List (identifying the places key to the often hidden & intergenerationally lost history of LGBTQI+ New Zealanders) You can read more here...
  • Other sources...
    Sarjeant article on "One of Those" - a play about Mackay by David Chateris 23 Ridgway Street is a unique and special collection of Edwardian buildings recognised as "NZ's Most Beautiful Street" The reluctance to even refer to Mayor Mackay isn't confined to last century. This Whanganui District Council listing of 23 Ridgway Street (on local not national heritage listings) manages to cover other tenants but completely omit anything about Mackay or the "Wanganui Incident" of May 1920! (interestingly the historian did write a unpublished draft including Mackay & the scandal) so perhaps thought it best to not mention the gay mayor thing when wanting to have the building listed?
  • Aftermath & Mackay shot to death in Berlin
    His name was chiseled from the foundation stone of the Sarjeant, Mackay Street was renamed Jelicoe Street, his portrait & pictures removed from Council and so pervasive was the will that the scandal not be mentioned that the current Whanganui District Council listing of 23 Ridgway Street manages to cover other tenants but completely omit anything about Mackay or the "Wanganui Incident" of May 1920! (interestingly the historian did write a unpublished draft including Mackay & the scandal) His wife divorced him and his family changed their surname to Duncan. Perhaps most tragically despite his writing to them he never saw his children (right) again . After six years in 1928 he was released on condition he leave the country. Reinventing himself as correspondent for NZ papers (published usually as "Our Correspondant in London/Berlin or under assumed bylines) he lived in London (forming a relationship with a British Guardsman) then Berlin (in the pre-NAZI 1920's a haven of gay life) where he combined writing with teaching English. Mackay was mistakenly shot dead by a policeman in a 1929 Communist/NAZI Berlin May Day riot.
  • In a nutshell - a timeline
    Prequel 1907-1912 Mackay elected mayor each year. 1912 Henry Sarjeant bequest to build an art gallery "for the inspiration of ourselves and those who come after us" Mackay leaves mayoralty 1913 for unclear reasons. 1915 Mackayreenters Mayoral race & wins Mayoralty back from Tom Williams of RSA (who went on to chair unsuccessful challenges in 1917 & 1919 becoming Mayor again after Mackays arrest). Back in the Mayoralty Mackay champions the funding & design of the Sargeant gallery. Its 1917 Foundation Stone (from which Mayor Mackay’s name was later chiselled off) also wrongly names Edward Ashcombe as the architect (it was Donald Hosie who died at Paschendale on 12 October 1917). The Sarjeant Gallery opens 6th September 1919. One Month in 1920 3rd May Royalty In what should have been the pinnacle of his career Mackay as Mayor hosts future King Edward the Prince of Wales. The event goes poorly with the Prince also attending a competing RSA reception. 10th May Honeytrap Cresswell arrives in Whanganui, and arranges to meet Mackay who invites him to dinner that same night. The next day Cresswell goes to Harwera on 11th staying overnight & returning 12th 13th May Ensnared Mackay & Cresswell have dinner 14th May Trap sprung Mackay & Cresswell lunch at Wanganui Club then Mackay takes Creswell to private viewing of “The Wrestlers” then to a 2nd visit to Mackays office in the "Duigan Building" at 23 Ridgway St office where Mackay seemingly tries to seduce Cresswell. Cresswell instantly demands Mackay resign. 15th May Downfall The two meet in Mackays office for negotiations then go back to the Wanganui club for a cup of tea finally returning to Mackay’s office for a fourth time. Mackay shoots Cresswell who raises an alarm and Mackay’s arrested. 17th May Court. Mackay (a lawyer) is in the dock and is remanded in custody to ascertain Creswell’s recovery 27th May Trial No evidence for defense. Mackay pleads guilty & is convicted. 28th May Sentencing In mitigation Mackay pleads he suffers from an “affliction” of “homo-sexual monomania” (broadly madness or partial insanity which he blames for the shooting. This makes him the first publically self declared homosexual in NZ. He also reveals he’d had in 1914 hypnotherapy in an attempt at cure. This making him the first recorded victim of conversion practices to change sexuality finally banned in NZ in 2022. Mackay receives a harsh sentence of 15 years hard labour. He is never able to see or correspond with his children. 3rd June Prison exactly one month after welcoming HRH Edward the Prince of Wales to Whanganui Mackay enters Mount Eden Prison. Sequel Released in 1926 on condition of leaving New Zealand Mackay moves to London then to Berlin. On 3rd May 1929 Mackay was shot and killed by Berlin police putting down May Day riots (Blutmai or “Bloody May” riots that were part of the rise to power of the NAZI party). Mackay was buried in Berlin in a since lost grave.

Authorised by R James Barron

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