Downfall reviewed in the Waiheke Weekender


Downfall: The destruction of Charles Mackay by Paul Diamond has been reviewed in the Waiheke Weekender:

‘“Sergeant, I shot a young man through the chest. I believe he will die.” In 1920 the mayor of Whanganui, Charles Mackay, was arrested after shooting D’Arcy Cresswell, a handsome young gay poet who was blackmailing him. Mackay told police it was an accident. But the bleeding Cresswell weakly managed to tell bystanders “it was not an accident,” before lapsing into unconsciousness.

New Zealand newspapers predictably lost their minds over the “Wanganui Sensation.” The Te Puke Times called it a “shooting affray in Ridgeway Street.” Although Cresswell survived, it led to the end of Mackay’s public life. He had been the energetic and well-connected figure behind the establishment of Whanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery, still one of the most stunning in the country. His name was sanded off the marble foundation stone, his wide got a divorce and returned to her maiden name, and he was sentenced to hard labour. After getting out of jail in 1926, Mackay left New Zealand, and ended up writing for an English newspaper in Berlin. During the street riots in 1929 familiar to fans of the Netflix series Babylon Berlin, he was shot dead by a policeman, who probably mistook him for a communist.

Mackay’s life has long been expunged from the annals of Whanganui history. Original research by the historian Paul Diamond unpeels layers of detail — about a brilliant character who deserves to be better known; the Cresswell blackmail; and the everyday suffering of gay men like Mackay in Aotearoa New Zealand. Scandalous, gossipy, and also historically revealing, Downfall is a human story, an important New Zealand social history and a gripping read.’