Authors: Rosamond Siemon
Tags: #True Crime/Murder General
Much of the case against Fyfe rested on the fact that before seven o'clock on Sunday morning he asked Charlotte Sutton for a clean shirt as his had not come back from the washerwoman. In addition he had been seen cleaning out his room with a cloth. At first the jury could not agree, but on Thursday brought in a verdict of wilful
murder against Fyfe. To the end there was division of opinion about the innocence of Sutton, but nine of the twelve believed the publican innocent and he was freed. On 12 April the cook, William Fyfe, was sent to Sydney where he faced a judge at Central Criminal Court on 5 June 1848.
In Fyfe's signed statement to the jury before he was committed for trial in Sydney he pointed out that all his clothes which were supposed to have been burnt or found in the well were eventually found elsewhere, without bloodstains and intact. Because the murdered Cox had slept in his bed, his room was thought to be the scene of the murder, but on Sunday nothing was found there except a blood-marked sheet and two towels, stained from Fyfe's bleeding lips. The fact was that in the hotel yard a great amount of blood was traced through long grass and over some chips. From Sunday to Wednesday, while Fyfe was in custody, the kitchen had been unguarded and open to anyone, but on that Wednesday when he was taken from the lock-up to the hotel, the Chief Constable had found blood under his bed. Had it been there all the time, it could have been seen on Sunday by Constable Murphy without raising the floorboards. Fyfe added, ââIt has been stated in evidence against me that I washed and swept my sleeping room on Sunday, which was not usual. Had I seen the blood, I should have washed that first.''
Fyfe's statement carried no weight with the jury. However, in the absence of a motive, few Brisbane townsfolk believed he was guilty, and reports in the
Sydney Morning Herald
echoed that uncertainty. Twelve days after Fyfe was committed, a sawyer, John Humphries, voluntarily gave a signed statement to Captain John Wickham in which he said that on the Saturday afternoon before the Cox murder, Fyfe had come to him to borrow a clean shirt as all of his were dirty and with the washerwoman. He lent him a white shirt and Fyfe returned to the Bush Inn. Captain Wickham forwarded this statement to the court in Sydney, but it carried no weight either. This is surprising, as on 15 June, in Sydney, the same circumstantial evidence as that produced in Brisbane caused the trial judge to comment that the circumstantial evidence was remarkable, and he severely censured the Brisbane policemen for their neglect in not taking charge and locking the cook's room at Sutton's hotel.
In Sydney, on 4 July 1848, Fyfe protested his innocence to the end and walked to the gallows with great dignity. A speech he had planned to deliver on the scaffold was taken from him; and, before a crowd of some four thousand people, he suffered broken bones and flesh wounds in a mismanaged hanging before he died.
In August 1865, during his dying days, Alderman Patrick Mayne, butcher, of Queen Street, Brisbane, then aged forty-one, confessed to the crime committed seventeen years ago.
Some intriguing anomalies surrounding the Cox murder
which were obvious in the evidence suggest that several people knew more than they admittedâand that the jury was not very attentive to the finer points of the witnesses' testimony. All the main witnesses seemed to have been uninterested in sleep on that eventful night. At six o'clock on Sunday morning, a full hour before the boatman discovered the murder, John McGrath saw Lynch and Nosely at the Bush Inn looking for Robert Cox; they both knew he had been asleep in Fyfe's bed on Saturday night and was unlikely to return to either of their lodgings to sleep. By Mayne's testimony, his fellow butchers Lynch and Platt had been with him until four o'clock on Sunday morning. Nor did Sutton seem to have needed much sleep. Although unsure of the precise times, he said that he went to bed at eleven o'clock, got up at one o'clock, drank with the three butchers until three o'clock, then talked to his cook. He was up and fully dressed at five o'clock when Croft delivered the ginger beer. When the black-trackers were asked to trace the blood, Sutton refused to allow them into his premises. Young John Rankin based his identification of Sutton on the fact that he saw a tall man wearing white and a big straw hat. Mayne was tall and, like most men in Brisbane town, wore a big straw hat.
Of all those questioned who had been drinking for much of the weekend, Mayne was the only one who was precise about time. There was probably a clock at the hotel, but it is doubtful that the twenty-three year old employee from the slaughterhouse owned a timepiece which enabled him to state that they talked at his lodgings
until four in the morning. He was living very close to the hotel, yet on Sunday morning he was the only one of the group who did not gather with the many locals at the scene of the crime. He was also the only man closely involved with the events of the night before who was not arrested. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the three butchersâMayne, Lynch and Plattâbelieving that Cox had money and that, together with Fyfe, was drunk and asleep, decided to come back to the hotel after midnight and gain access to the cook's bedroom for a spot of easy robbery. When they discovered Cox had gone from the hotel, there may have been hope that a few drinks with the publican would elicit his whereabouts. It also seems reasonable to speculate that when the drunken Cox left Fyfe's bed, he got little further than the hotel backyard before collapsing in a drunken stupor. In that state and in that place he was murdered.
George Croft, a nearby Kangaroo Point resident, heard cries in the night. Those sleeping in the hotel heard nothing and declared that had any noise been made downstairs it would have been heard throughout the building. Had any one of the three butchers who lived and worked near the hotel wanted to implicate the suspect further and divert suspicion from himself, he had ready access to blood at the slaughterhouse, with which to stain the clothes and floor of the cook's bedroom during the absence in the lock-up of both Fyfe and Sutton. Only one of the butchers, Patrick Mayne, was not in the lock-up. No questions were asked as to how, three days after the cook's
room had been searched, Chief Constable William Fitzpatrick went back to the deserted room and was able to find bloodstains on the floor and on linen, and in the kitchen the remains of burnt clothes in the oven. No one asked who else might have put them there, or why.
The murder had to have been committed after midnight. The carving up of the body in the manner of a slaughtered beast suggests the murderer was a trained butcher. It is difficult to imagine that Mayne could have perpetrated such a time-consuming crime and been at the hotel during the hours he stated. It seems more reasonable to accept the times given by the only certain sober witness, Charlotte Sutton, who said the three butchers arrived at about midnight and left an hour later. Her stated times make feasible Patrick Mayne's deathbed confession to the murder of Robert Cox.
Nine months after Fyfe was executed, Mayne, now twenty-four, married Mary McIntosh. A few months later he produced the equivalent of five or six years' wages, sufficient money to purchase the shop and business goodwill of the Queen Street butcher James Newbould, then purchase stock and equipment and begin trading.
From his early years Patrick Mayne knew what he wantedâto break out of his past into a better future. It was so when he fled the unrelieved deprivation of his youth in Ireland, and equally so as he lay dying at his Brisbane home and contemplated the terrors of the hereafter. Between his youth and his premature death is a life that was brutal, spectacular and tragic. No one can say what awfulness in the child's life directed the actions of the man.
Life for the Maynes in County Tyrone was harsh in the extreme. Patrick and his siblings were orphaned years before the Irish famine of 1846, but even then Ireland was a sad and impoverished place for its poorer classes. Three-quarters of the population were Roman Catholics, the
majority either labourers or tenant farmers who held land on short leases without security of tenure or protection against increases in rent if they improved their holdings. Agents managing estates for absentee landlords had no social responsibility and were concerned only with extorting the utmost profit from the land. As prices rose after the Napoleonic wars it became profitable to subdivide estates into smaller holdings, often less than ten acres, to increase rent rolls. Landlords were not required to provide farm buildings, or even cottages; a self-erected miserable shack was all that many farmers could manage. Their standard of living was miserably low. The crop, mostly potatoes, constituted the family food. Milk or butter were luxuries rarely seen. Any small grain crop, or perhaps a cow or pig, often had to be sold to pay rent or tithes, which were exacted regularly.
One of life's few consolations was the marriage bed. The little shacks were filled with undernourished children: more mouths to feed and no hope of future work for most of them. Isaac Mayne and his wife Rose,
Mullen, were caught in this subsistence trap at Cookstown. They produced at least five living children: Patrick (b.1824), James (date of birth unknown), Annie (born 1829), Rosa (date of birth unknown), and Eliza (date of birth unknown). Both parents were dead before Patrick turned seventeen; with minimal education he had been labouring wherever he could find work. Ireland's poor were abused by the system, and either directly or indirectly, so were the children. This is reflected in colonial records showing the high
incidence of crime and difficulties with authority among the nineteenth-century Irish who were sent, or fled to the colonies. During the first forty poverty-stricken years of the nineteenth century, Ireland's population had doubled to 8,200,000; by 1840 people were being encouraged to migrate to reduce the large numbers of uneconomic land holdings. For those who made the decision to leave, the choice was usually to sail for Canada or America, but by the time the impatient Patrick decided he was old enough to go, Australia, too, was calling for artisans and labourers.
To meet that need, Sydney entrepreneurs were quickly active with Bounty ships. They contracted to bring to Port Jackson strong, healthy young workers for whom they were paid a bounty of Â£19 a head. The Bounty rules encouraged strict screening for selected migrants. It was cash on delivery and since the promoters were not paid for any who died en route or proved to be puny, diseased, or otherwise unfit for work, they tried to ensure a reasonable standard of existence during the voyage. There was a set food ration, physical exercises, school classes and dancing. To protect their valuable cargo from disease and avoid the expense of being quarantined on arrival, the ships did not call at any ports en route. With luck and good management it was quite a lucrative trade. A Sydney partnership, John Gilchrist and John Alexander, was agent for several Bounty ships, one of which was the
When it sailed from Greenock on 21 May 1841, on board was the seventeen-year-old farm labourer, Patrick Mayne.
Young Mayne was tall, strong, and darkly handsome.
He had the makings of a big man, and a temper as quick as his ready wit. He was also ambitious and possessed the drive and single-mindedness to realise that ambition. There was little patience in Patrick.
To leave behind the deprivation of his childhood he advanced his age to an eligible eighteen, left his four sibling orphans to whatever care was available, and set out to find a better life for himself in Australia. His entitlement certificate suggests that as a labourer in poverty-stricken County Tyrone, he had found sufficient work and food to keep him physically strong. It declared that his state of bodily health, strength, and probable usefulness made him suitable for any work. He had no physical complaints, could read and write and had been baptised into the Catholic faith by his parish priest, William Conville.
On 28 August 1841, after one hundred days of endless heaving ocean with rarely a sea-bird to vary the scene, there was a sudden calm as they passed through towering cliffs to the sanctuary of the harbour. The late winter sun sparkling on Port Jackson, with its backdrop of sombre grey-green scrub, so different from the vivid green of home, must have stirred mixed emotions in the 282 passengers on board. Welcome as dry land and the sight of settlement were, the future was still disturbingly unknown. Conflicting tension, excitement, and gut-wrenching apprehension pressed urgently, for waiting on the wharf below were groups of sun-browned men in down-drawn hats and oddly mixed clothes, some with
horses or drays, hungry for their new workforce. It was time for the emigrants to leave the shelter of their sea-bound home and be whisked away to a new, perhaps still hard, temporary bondage. Sydney in 1841 was bursting with opportunity for those who sought it, but the new arrivals, mostly contracted to work for two years, had to rein in their impatience.
By 1844, Patrick had been long free of his sponsor. He was restless, and kept hearing of more opportunity further north. At Moreton Bay, six hundred miles away, the former convict settlement had received a population boost when it began selling town allotments, and the promoters and traders who seized that opportunity were short of labour. Assigned convicts were no longer available, so they sought free men from Port Jackson. Mayne contracted to come north and work for Â£1 a week for John ââTinker'' Campbell at the slaughterhouse and boiling-down works newly erected at Kangaroo Point. This was one of three rough settlements sprawling along the banks of the Brisbane River. The somewhat swampy South Brisbane and the higher Kangaroo Point faced North Brisbane across the water; each settlement, pushed by its investors, vied to become the trading heart of Brisbane. The investors were in a hurry to obliterate the signs and stigma of the old penal colony of Moreton Bay, and to grow rich on the wealth of wool, hides, meat and cedar brought to Brisbane on the hoof, or piled high on creaking bullock wagons that laboured over range and plain from somewhere in the blue distance.
If Sydney had been a new world after Ireland, Moreton Bay bore scant resemblance to any sort of civilisation Patrick had known. It was a frontier settlement with little resemblance to a town. Each dun-coloured hamlet, carved out of the harsh surrounding scrub, was a scattered rough-and-ready mish-mash of slab or wattle-and-daub box-like cottages and shops, some mere shacks, all widely separated by rutted, dusty tracks. They were rooted like a mouldy excrescence on the bare brown earth, a future threat to the vigour of the forest-clad hills surrounding them. At North Brisbane, two substantial buildings, the Commissariat stores and the Court House, left over from the penal years, imposed a dubious authority. Each hamlet had its well-patronised, mostly disorderly hotels, eager to attract and succour the tired and thirsty bush traveller, who, after weeks of sleeping in a swag, thankfully melted into the company of the rowdy mob in the bar.
Ships, when they came, were the lifeblood of Moreton Bay. When the river steamers docked and unloaded at the Queen's wharf at North Brisbane, the precious outgoing cargo of produce that had been brought overland to Brisbane with such difficulty had to be ferried across. The dray traffic terminated at South Brisbane. The only links between Kangaroo Point and South Brisbane and their cross-river rival on the north bank were the boatmen with their ferries. These two southbank communities should have enjoyed a trading edge over North Brisbane: they were on the direct route to the inland, the Darling Downs, and the long overland haul to Sydneyâbut the race for
supremacy was very much in the hands of the entrepreneurial capitalists. The rivalry between the three areas provided a climate of challenge. The lucky break for the smart and the hopeful must lie close at hand.
In the mid-1840s, when Patrick Mayne arrived at Kangaroo Point, that area appeared to be gaining a commercial advantage. The high-flying investor Evan Mackenzie had built the boiling-down works and added a new wharf strong enough for the ships from the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company to berth and load cargo. For a time the wagons bypassed South Brisbane and brought trade to the Point. It seemed that Patrick had come into an area where there was life, bustle and promise.
Earning a pound a week as a slaughterman gave young Mayne some reasonable independence. Close to the boiling-down works, other settlers offered cheap lodgings for the artisans and labourers employed there or at the nearby tannery or workshops ancillary to Campbell's factory. Many of the recently arrived Irish labourers who dossed in these houses proved congenial company in the evening hours, usually dissipating their wages with the boisterous mob at Sutton's Bush Inn. Very few had wives, and there was almost no unattached female company. It was a rough workingman's world.
Contrasted with the poverty and social restrictions of his youth, this new life gave Patrick a feeling of freedom; he could relax in the homespun camaraderie at the Inn. Licensing laws were lax and often disregarded, and drinking was the leveller common to all classes. The man who
tethered his horse outside, or the bullocky who left his shambling team to graze some distance away might be the squatter, his son, or a trusted employee. It was impossible to tell. They all wore sweat-stained moleskins, red or blue flannel shirts and cabbage palm hats. Sometimes when a man spoke he might be recognised as a toff, but the chance of company in some sort of civilisation and the release of prolonged loneliness led many such travellers to roister uninhibitedly with the noisiest labourers. For a poor Irish immigrant this place had a smell of opportunity; it was a place where he could mix with all-comers and unrein his fierce energy and ambition. Strong on ambition, young Patrick also had an innate efficiency and business sense.
His employer, John Campbell, was soon deep in debt to the now financially embarrassed and pressing Kangaroo Point entrepreneur, Evan Mackenzie. In addition, Campbell was experiencing production difficulties at the boiling-down works. This was temporarily solved when he sold some land he had purchased earlier and was able to set up his own new boiling-down works on the downstream side of Kangaroo Point. It had a new wharf to accommodate ships and a tidal creek to swirl away the stinking effluent. But within a year Campbell's finances again deteriorated to a point where he could not meet the wages of some twenty of his staff. Without wages, Mayne and the other employees were destitute. They had nothing to fall back on. On 7 October 1846, with their pay six weeks overdue, some of them took Campbell to court to recover their money. Patrick was owed Â£6.1.3d. In
November he had to sue Campbell again, this time because his employer's promissory notes for Â£10 and Â£2.13.4d had been dishonoured. Campbell's insolvency was complete when his creditors forced him to sell and the new owner, Richard J. Smith from Sydney, took over on 27 February 1847.
Without pay, it had been a lean and difficult three months for the lad from County Tyrone, but he gained something from the experience. In Ireland, land was everything and here in Australia it was the same. For Campbell, land had temporarily provided a bulwark against trouble. But with insufficient land to give him long-term security, Campbell's entrepreneurial bubble had burst. It was common talk that despite Campbell's failure, the Kangaroo Point boiling-down works provided a new product and was valuable to the pastoral industry. Patrick knew that he was becoming a proficient butcher, and despite the monotonous routine, this was a trade he could follow anywhere. He did not seem to mind the fact that, except when an animal broke loose and they enjoyed the chase, the daily routine was soulless. Day after day he and his fellow butchers, William Lynch and George Platt, stunned the sheep with an axe, placed it over the blood gutter and cut off its head. The hind legs were cut off for sale at sixpence apiece, and the rest of the meat chopped into slabs and the bones broken. Other workmen jammed the pieces into large steam boilers to cook before the tallow could be drained off into wooden casks. There was little waste. The blood and remnants were fed to the
waiting pigsâthese, in turn, when fully grown, were dragged squealing to the assembly line for the same butchering. The three men were usually kept busy all dayâbut they had time to talk. They developed a companionship that extended late into most evenings, after the all-pervading smell of bloody meat had been washed away.