Rosamond Siemon’s “The Mayne Inheritance” tells a fascinating tale of dark deeds in Brisbane’s early European past. The story is about the family of Patrick Mayne, a Catholic Irishman and one of the city’s early fathers. According to Siemon, the eventually wealthy Mayne made a deathbed confession to a murder someone else had hung for 17 years earlier. The confession would haunt his five living children, none of whom married or had children.
Siemon’s argument is because of the rumours of a tainted family, the younger Maynes did not get the credit for their acts of benevolence to Brisbane. The murderer Patrick Mayne unfairly tarnished the younger members who never received the praise they deserve for donating the Mayne inheritance – the St Lucia riverbend lands on which the beautiful campus of the University of Queensland now stands.
The story of the Mayne Inheritance begins with a murder in Brisbane on 6 March 1848. Brisbane was then a tiny northern frontier town in the colony of New South Wales. It was established as Moreton Bay prison colony 24 years earlier. That Sunday in 1948, a boatman found a brutally butchered body in the Brisbane River. The dead man was a sawyer named Robert Cox staying in a hotel at Kangaroo Point on the south bank of the river. The prime suspect was the hotel cook William Fyfe, who shared a bed with Cox. Though the evidence was dubious, Fyfe was sent to Sydney for trial. Evidence at the trial implied Cox and Fyfe had a homosexual relationship but could not prove he killed him. Despite the flimsy case, he was found guilty and hanged.
The motive for Cox’s murder was money. He had recently earned the considerable sum of £350 for cutting and selling a large quantity of cedar to a Tweed River boatyard. The money was never found. Cox’s mistake was to tell his drinking friends about his good fortune. Brisbane was a harsh place with many rowdy hotels and few women. Violence was part of the culture. One of the men Cox told about the money was butcher Patrick Mayne. Mayne's alibi for the murder was never tested. Within a year of Cox’s murder, Mayne produced the equivalent of six years wages to buy a butcher shop and stock in Queen St where he began trading.
Patrick Mayne was then 24 years old. He was born in 1824 in county Tyrone in the north of Ireland. Both his parents died when he was young. To escape Ireland's crushing poverty, he set off for Port Jackson as an indentured apprentice, aged 17. He arrived in Sydney after 100 days at sea and spent two years in the service of businessmen John Gilchrist and John Alexander. In 1844 he went north to seek his fortune in Moreton Bay. He got a job at a slaughterhouse for £1 a week. It was not until after the murder his stocks began to rise.
Within a year of the murder, he married Mary Mackintosh. Mary was a young Irish Protestant serving girl, just as headstrong as Patrick. The pair began to build their family in the leafy solitude of Moggill, upstream on the Brisbane River. Patrick returned to Brisbane to buy the Queen St butchery. The previous owner had struggled and had to sell up for £240. Mayne bought the business and turned it round. As a man of property, he was now also on the electoral roll. He went surety for Irish publicans who returned the favour by buying his meat.
Despite occasional brushes with the law due to a violent disposition, his business grew as the great depression of the late 1840s finally ended in 1853. He began to expand his portfolio of land. The town’s population doubled in six years. The southern gold rush saw businessmen such as Mayne offer rewards for the discovery of gold in the Brisbane region. In 1859 J. D. Lang led a successful push to separate Queensland from NSW. It was now a separate colony and its new capital Brisbane held its first ever municipal elections. Mayne stood for office and won. Out of 37 candidates he was now one of Brisbane’s first nine unpaid aldermen.
Businessmen won all the seats in the first election. As well as the butchers Mayne and George Edmonstone, there were innkeepers George Warren and William Sutton, builders John Perrie and Joshua Jeays, tanner TB Stephens, seedsman AJ Hockings, and baker Robert Cribb. Mayne finished second in the poll to Perrie. Mayne also sat on the first Queensland Board of Education. However a concerted hate campaign kept him out of state parliament.
That wasn’t his only disappointment. His second child and first daughter Evelina died in 1853, aged 1. Nevertheless the Maynes were the parents of five living children. While Mary looked after the family, Patrick was a man of action who loved argument and debate. He was an authoritarian but useful and energetic member and the driving force behind committees to improve the town. His energy waned after he fell ill in 1865. He deteriorated quickly and died shortly after making his murder confession. Although his will allowed for the possibility his children would marry, the result of Patrick’s devastating confession and discussions about his mental stability caused the family to agree on a pact that none would marry.
The word about the confession quickly got out. The family closed in as it became the victim of smears and innuendo. The Maynes were treated as social outcasts. Yet Mary kept a tight grip on the family and smartly held on to all the property Patrick had accumulated despite the threat of another recession. They hid away at the family home of “Moorlands” in Auchenflower.
The eldest daughter became a nun and was excluded from all the family wills for fear the church would inherit it. The Maynes had different plans for their inheritance. In 1889 Mary Mayne died and she gave her property to her four other children. Eldest son Isaac had a less happy inheritance from his father – his dangerous side. He murdered a Japanese trader near their home. Although never charged, Isaac was confined and restrained to his room. He was eventually transferred to a Sydney psychiatric hospital. Isaac hanged himself in hospital after being linked with another Brisbane murder; that of Carl Markwell.
The youngest three surviving Maynes struggled with the burden of inheritance. William was a man of leisure, James was a doctor who retired early and the youngest was Mary Emilia who never left home. After William died in 1921, James and Mary Emilia had all the family’s money. Among the few visitors to Moorlands was the Catholic Archbishop James Duhig of Brisbane who hoped the Mayne fortune would end up with the Church.
But though they lavished three stain-glass windows on St Stephens Cathedral, his Eminence was to be disappointed. The Maynes had already donated money to the Brisbane University to build an agricultural facility at Mogill; now they proposed to donate £50,000 to buy the riverside land at St Lucia for a new campus. The university in the city was cramped and James Mayne thought of his own days at spacious university grounds in England.
The 274 acre donation was not immediately embraced by the university. The medical facility wanted to be near the hospital at Kelvin Grove. After a three year battle with the help of the city mayor William Jolly, James convinced the University senate to move to St Lucia. The first foundation stone was laid in 1937.
James died two years later and Mary Emilia died after another 12 months. Her estate of £200,000 including Moorlands went to the University Medical School. Despite having a small suburb near Bowen Hills named after the family, the Maynes remain low key in the university they bequeathed their fortune to. The stains of Patrick and Isaac reached beyond the grave to taint the memory of the younger Maynes. There are none left now to change the story.