Canterbury’s 5th Hanging Took Place – 31st August 1901

It had been so unusual to the see Martin’s Eyreton property so quiet and still.  Concerned neighbours soon raised the alarm and a party of four made their way towards the house.  Upon finding all the doors locked, windows fastened and no reply to their knocking, Obed Frederick Clothier smashed the window of the bedroom of his widowed mother-in- law, and climbed inside.  He made his way around the bed, noticing a pile of bed clothes on the floor.  Upon picking them up, he made the ghastly discovered of Sarah Martin, dead in a pool of blood.  Obed quickly made his way back to the window, telling the others – which included his wife – to call the police.

With the arrival of the police and a doctor, the full horror of what had happened at the Martin residence was soon revealed.  Not far from where seventy year old Sarah Martin lay, with hideous wounds about her head, her four year old grandson had been killed in the same manner.  It was apparent the two had been sleeping together when the attack happened.  As the police made their way through the house, it was obvious that a robbery had taken place.
Drawers had been emptied, books swept off shelves and everything was in disarray.

Upon entering the kitchen, forty year old Ellen Martin was found on the floor, her head also smashed in.  Nearby lay a bloodied tomahawk.  The rest of the house was searched and it was reported that the twenty-five year old manservant, Alexander McLean was missing.  He had been in the employment of the Martins for the past two months and according to those who knew him, he had been a good employee.  The family’s trap and horse were missing and McLean became the primary suspect.  As news spread of the murders – including a description of McLean – sightings of him were soon reported.   He wasn’t hard to miss due to having had two broken feet; he had a very bad limp.  There had been confirmed sightings of him in Waddington and Oxford.

By the time Alexander McLean was arrested, by the kitchen fire of Lagen’s Hotel in Tinwald, he had ditched the trap and gone on foot.  Recognised by the hotel owner, he let him rest by the fire, unaware, while he called the police.  Although at first he denied the crime, he later stated that he “…must have been mad…” as the only bounty he had made away with was £10, a woman’s watch and chain.  Having been known to suffer from depression and threatening suicide several times, he told the police that upon receiving an upsetting letter from Australia, he had come across Ellen Martin who was ironing in the kitchen on the evening of 22nd June.  He attempted to make sexual advances towards her – and for his trouble: she hit him with a stoker from the fireplace.  Enraged, he attacked her, hitting her fatally around the head.  He then killed her mother and nephew before robbing the place.  He had been robbing houses since 1897.

Sentenced to hang in the court at Kaiapoi, McLean was transported to Lyttelton Gaol by train.  He showed little emotion and was calm throughout his imprisonment.  He took to biblical studies with visiting clergy and enjoyed singing hymns.  He went to the gallows on 31st August, 1901, showing no fear; his death was instant.



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