Alexander McLean (1824 – 1864)
Some years ago, Murray McLean, former Deputy mayor of TCDC, wrote a book on his family history referring to a particular case which received considerable comment when the story was picked up and published by the Informer. In his book, Murray, who hails from proud Scottish stock, sets the historical context for his great-great grandfather, Alexander, emigrating from Scotland first to Australia and later to New Zealand, where the fateful shooting of his wife, Anne, took place.
Murray explained that after the Jacobite uprising and the ensuing Battle of Culloden in April 1746, the Clan McLean found themselves on the wrong side of history in their support of the defeated Stuarts, for the right to the throne of Scotland, and were unceremoniously dispossessed of all their lands, castles, and cattle.
Little was left for them except to go into the military or public service, with huge numbers opting to the military. So it was that Alexander joined the Army and went off to fight in the Crimea between 1853 and 1856, acquitting himself with such distinction, that he was given a field commission and promoted to Coronet, a cavalry officer rank. “By all accounts it was a pretty bloody and brutal war, and my great-great grandfather received the Queen’s Medal in 1854,” Murray said. After the war in 1856, Alexander, now 32, went to Melbourne as a Sergeant Major in the colonial militia, accompanied by his wife. However, he left the military to become a publican there, before heading to New Zealand in 1863 where he ran the ‘canteen’ at the Pokeno Redoubt during the Maori wars.
“They euphemistically called it a ‘canteen but it was really a pub,” Murray said. “Then one afternoon he ended up shooting his wife and killed her. As it was right beside the garrison, everyone came rushing out. He was trying to demonstrate to them what had happened, and somehow managed to blow half his jaw off when the gun went off. But he admitted he shot her, so he was charged with murder,” Murray said. Alexander represented himself at his trial at the Auckland Supreme Court but was found guilty and condemned to death by hanging.
Instead of being buried at Mt Eden Prison, where urban myth has it that executed prisoners were buried standing up so as to never find rest in the afterlife, Alexander was interred next to his wife in Pokeno. “That’s what I find interesting,” Murray said. “Governor George Gray allowed his body to be removed from the prison to be buried next to his wife on consecrated ground in Pokeno. There are no records in the prison museum in Wellington as to why that happened, but we believe it was because of his former service to King and Country.”
Lending credence to this theory is the fact that Colonel Whitmore, who also served in the Crimea, came up from Hawke’s Bay to adopt Alexander’s four-year-old son. “He obviously knew him from his time in the Crimea, and felt an obligation to look after the family,” Murray said.
“Because there is no explanation in the prison museum, one of my projects in retirement is to find out more about his service in the Crimea, where he was promoted. After the battle of Balaclava, he may well have suffered from, what we now call, post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. The only explanation I can come up with is that because he had served King and Country with some distinction, he was granted the dispensation of being buried outside the prison,” Murray said.