Canterbury’s And The South Island’s Last Hanging – 5th March 1918

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The moment Christchurch divorcee Elizabeth McMahon saw Fredrick William Eggers in handcuffs, she recalled him saying to her only days earlier, “I have made two terrible mistakes”.

Fredrick William Eggers was born in Western Australia sometime around 1886.  He began his adult life as a farmer but in 1909 was arrested for forgery and sentenced to 2 years hard labour.   It appears he arrived in New Zealand round about 1914 and little is known about his life here – that is, until the 9th November 1917.

It was a little after 9am that morning when Isaac James, the manager of the State Coal Mine, and two of his employees, John Coulthard and William Hall, came out of the Bank of New Zealand in Greymouth with the wages of their fellow miners.  They headed towards their motorcar, Coulthard moved in behind the wheel.  They began their journey back to Runanga – 8km north east of Greymouth.   They had travelled about 3km when they came along an obstruction on the road;  It was made up of a ladder and box and being unable to stop in time, they crashed into it.  Understandably confused, Coulthard climbed out of the car to clear the road.  It was then a masked man stepped out from behind a nearby bush.  With a gun in both hands, he yelled, “HANDS UP!!!” and started shooting.  He fired off 7 bullets, instantly killing John Coulthard where he stood.  William Hall took a bullet to the spine and somehow, his clothes caught fire as he sat there helpless.  Isaac James was shot in his thigh, calf and hand as he fled for his life, disappearing from the killer’s view.

Unbeknown to the masked man as he made his way over to the crashed car, two witnesses hid close by, watching as he made off with £3659.  Once it was safe, Peter and Leonard Manderson – a father and son who had been biking to Greymouth – quickly made their way over to the victims.  Leonard was quickly instructed by his father to go and fetch the police and an ambulance.

News of this robbery and murder soon spread across the West Coast.  Mines were closed and around 150 miners took to the bush that day in search for this dangerous Greymouth Highwayman! But there was sign of him.

It would take two tip-offs that would eventually lead to an arrest on 19th November 1917.  A 32 year old man who gave him name as Fredrick Eggers McMahon was taken into custody as he exited the Empire Hotel on High Street, Christchurch.  On his person was a bag full of money and a hand-gun which he had tried to pull on the arresting officers and failed.  He had been living at a boarding house at 286 Gloucester Street with his girlfriend Elizabeth McMahon.  More money was found in their room and Elizabeth was taken in for questioning.

She admitted the gun was hers and Eggers had been using her surname as they had been posing as brother and sister to keep the rumours at bay.  She was cleared of any involvement and her lover was sent back to Greymouth for a preliminary hearing.  He was committed to trial in Christchurch.

The trial started at the Christchurch Supreme Court on 11th February 1918 and lasted only 4 days.  He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang.  During his stay at the Lyttelton Gaol,  between the suicide attempts, he declared his innocence and wrote an 85 page document stating the same.   It certainly didn’t help that William Hall had died of his wounds on 27th December.

At 8am on 5th March 1918, after a glass of water, Eggers went to the gallows.  Three times he stated, “Standing here as a condemned man with two moments to live, I say I am not the man that did the shooting.”  He was the last to be hung in Canterbury and the South Island.

 

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