Ah Kirkcaldie and Stains, Wellington’s prestigious department store.
Home of the doorman who gave you a little bow, massive sales with huge queues, quality goods and bullets flying in the tearoom.
Yep, that’s right, in 1898 there was an attempted murder at Kirks.
It’s a story of stalking, corsetry, debt and a trial.
On a quiet Thursday afternoon in October, Annie McWilliam spotted tearoom owner Ellen Dick just a few paces away from the counter, on the top floor of the store.
Obsessed over a grudge, Annie stood and pulled out a six-chambered pistol and fired.
Astonishingly Ellen’s corset saved her, the bullet ricocheting off the closely-spaced steel stays.
But Annie wasn’t done. As Ellen ducked, she fired again and again. One closely missed a cook in the process of making scones. Bullets buried themselves in the walls of the tearooms.
Other customers fled in terror.
A shop walker grabbed Annie as she began to leave followed by Sydney Kirkcaldie, then a junior member of the firm, who took the gun away from her.
Annie had been nursing a grievance against Ellen over a lawsuit about a hotel on the West Coast and had been noticed by Ellen at the tearooms several times.
Annie was described as slightly built, about 49, of pale complexion with dark eyes. She was separated from her husband with a son and two daughters.
She was understood to have mortgaged her home to provide the purchase money for the City Hotel in Reefton which Ellen was running. The hotel was later sold by the mortgagee.
At the trial in the Supreme Court, Ellen said she had paid every penny of her salary as housekeeper toward liquidating her debt but that was never accepted by Annie.
The short trial was contentious, Annie was warned many times by the judge about interrupting to call Ellen a liar.
The debt was supposed to be over £2000, a huge sum for the time.
Then suddenly only half a day into her trial Annie changed her plea to guilty and the jury discharged.
She was given seven years imprisonment and hard labour at the Terrace gaol.
Ellen, meanwhile, returned to work the day after the shooting.
In a strange twist to the end of Annie’s story, she lived for many more years only to drown after falling from the Auckland ferry wharf aged 76.
Annie Geraldine McWilliam (nee Mannix) is buried at the Hillsborough cemetery in Auckland.
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