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Authors: Rosamond Siemon

Tags: #True Crime/Murder General

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In October, Patrick's and other councillors' agitation to improve the appearance and fire safety of Brisbane was taken up by newspaper proprietor and alderman T.B. Stephens. Mayne seconded the successful motion that the upper part of the town between Ann, Alice and Saul Streets be proclaimed ‘‘first-class''. All new town buildings were to have external walls of brick.

Seven weeks later, on Thursday, 1 December 1864, Brisbane's worst-ever fire began in Stewart and Hemmant's corner drapery and blazed out of control uphill until it had consumed twenty-two business premises, the new Music Hall, and some forty houses in the block bounded by Queen, Albert, Elizabeth, and George Streets. Lost in the blaze were four drapery stores, three hotels, three restaurants, two banks, two butcher shops, two saddleries, and others supplying groceries, fruit, confectionery, oysters and jewellery, as well as the auctioneer's mart. Most of the destroyed wooden houses had been crowded behind the Queen Street shops and occupied by the poor. The fire was only prevented from sweeping along George Street when a group detached from the hundreds of voluntary fire-fighters was able to demolish Mr Pillow's humpy to make a fire-break. The
Brisbane Courier
reported that 6,000 people gathered to watch the great fire. This time looters were held at bay by redcoats from the Twelfth Regiment with fixed bayonets, parading in front of the smouldering ruins as the conflagration ate its way through
the rest of the unprotected block. At its height the flames and sparks roared so high that for some time the survival of the opposite side of Queen Street was in doubt, even though the buildings had been smothered in wet blankets.

Mayne was not among the butchers who were burnt out, but his new brick shops, praised for their brilliant gas lighting, were in ruins. His tenant, Kosvitz the jeweller, had time to save only some of his stock. The Mayne account entries for repairs to burnt premises reveal that the Cafe Nationale and at least two of his houses also suffered. The
Brisbane Courier,
which gave much space to naming the leading townsfolk who were especially prominent in their exertions to save property, listed all the usual hierarchy of names, all aldermen or town businessmen, but made no mention of Patrick Mayne.

Was this because of the continued non-acceptance of this very wealthy alderman as a social equal to those other townsfolk? He was too large a man to remain unnoticed, too aggressive and authoritarian to have done nothing. His own properties were at hazard and it is inconceivable that he and his staff were not helping. The
Brisbane Courier'
s constant overlooking of Mayne when he could have had positive publicity must raise the possibility that there may have been an undercurrent of dark and shadowy suspicion about his link with the long-ago Cox murder, or even that of the German herdsman, Jacob Schelling. There may also have been an element of this in the anti-Mayne publicity when he was nominated to the Education Board
in 1860. Dismembering and drowning feature in the many stories that still surround the family name.

The fire cast a gloom over the whole community. Through Christmas and into the new year people were faced with a variety of shortages, including festive fare. Neither could they escape its daily reminder in the stark, charred black stubble of stumps and walls that spiked the wasted street. Not only the streets were ruined. Ruined businessmen either could not or were slow to pay their accounts and mortgages. Some had lost everything. There was no money to spare. Somewhere in all of this there was a tilt in the fine balance of the solvency of the speculating Patrick Mayne. For his last two large property purchases he had seriously over-borrowed. It took only two costly, unforeseen town fires and their aftermath to agitate the town bankers waiting beyond the widening economic chasm. He was now unable to meet their pressing requests to reduce his considerable debt. Some time earlier, he had sub-leased all but the homestead area of ‘‘Rosevale'', relieving himself of the £80 a year Government rental. The land at Moggill was also rented to a farmer, but now there were no rents coming in from his burned town premises and no ready money to repair them.

Most of the townsfolk regarded the big, colourful character Patrick Mayne as one of the colony's success stories. He was still a relatively young man and had risen rapidly from rags to riches. Perhaps his deteriorating health had made him careless of the fact that other traders and customers owed him almost £4,000. Whatever his health
problem may have been, the new year of 1865 saw him a sick man, heavily in debt to T.L. Murray-Prior and an impatient Bank of New South Wales, at a time of downturn in the economy. He was also struggling to maintain his role as an alderman in a quarrelsome, faction-ridden municipal Council. If he recognised the pressure, the stress must have worked against him.

There were plenty of assets which could have been sold as a simple solution to his pressing debt. But it was not a good time to sell, and he was not about to have a fire-sale of his valuable properties. He believed that those who retained their assets won the game. His temporary shortage of money had to be traded away. Quite evidently his usual quick, clear mind was not grasping the seriousness of his own or the general economic position. At this stage he was having difficulty in coping with both his life and his business. Unfortunately, the page is missing from a record of his ten days' hospitalisation in 1850, and the slot for ‘‘cause of death'' is blank on his death certificate. The secret of his health problem remains.

On 25 May 1865, Patrick went with the other aldermen to the Governor's levee, but aldermen were not important enough to be presented to the Governor. He managed to attend the next Council meeting, which must have demanded real determination. Within days, his illness was such that he needed a full-time nurse in attendance. But that meeting dealt with the imminent opening of the first timber bridge to span the river at North Quay. He had long battled for its construction, and his role on
the Finance Committee had given him some meetings of satisfying arguments. He was not destined to take part at the opening.

If life for Patrick had become either a drift into a world of shadows and phantasms or a misery-ridden bed of pain, it must have been something of a nightmare for Mary. No one could doubt that her irrational and ill husband would be difficult to nurse. Moreover, on 4 March, her mother, who had arrived only two and a half years earlier, had died aged sixty-four. Patrick contracted to finance her funeral and burial in the Milton cemetery, but the account remained unpaid. Rosanna and Isaac, now two high-spirited and wilful teenagers, who both proved later to be damaged children, were not easy to control. In her travail Mary turned to the understanding and caring Fr Dunne.


Crisis After Crisis

As the cold winds of July 1865 chilled the winter days, all those close to Patrick knew that he had little time to live. On top of Mary's concern and grief she was faced with the bank's pressing demands, the huge debt, five young children and a multiplicity of scattered business ventures about which she knew nothing, as well as the butcher shop, which she valiantly kept trading. It was clear that they would depend on this for their immediate livelihood. The two executors, George Raff and Joseph Darragh, were no doubt helpful with advice, but Raff was preoccupied with Parliament, his many involved business ventures, and the imminent foundering of the Queensland Steam Navigation Company, which had been waging an unproductive price-cutting war with the
southern-based Australian Steam Navigation Company. Joe Darragh, less pressed by business, was at Kangaroo Point, on the other side of the unbridged river, not readily accessible. Fr Dunne, a good mathematician, had straightened out the Church accounts for Bishop Quinn, but he was no capitalist entrepreneur. His pastoral priorities were the care of the sick and dying and the education of the young. He had already helped Mary by drafting a letter for her requesting further education for young Isaac, who would soon finish at the Normal School.

Dunne had liberal views on education, and in Queensland he worked hard to see that bright young Irish lads had an opportunity to further their education. In 1865 he established a Catholic Young Men's Society with a heavy emphasis on education. Here he hoped to make up for the lads' lack of access to a Grammar school. Some he prepared for the Civil Service examination. Young Andrew Thynne he prepared for law. The Maynes, too, would come under his watchful eye and influence.

Dunne had long been disturbed by the apathy and defeatist attitude common to far too many young Irish migrants. They seemed content to remain on the bottom rung of colonial society. In Patrick and Mary Mayne he responded to the positiveness and energy that shone through their rough and sometimes disordered behaviour. In the face of Patrick's imminent early death, it was characteristic of Dunne to want to ensure that the tragedy did not result in the wasted potential of their capable, bright children. He had a good ally in Mary.

At some point in the first week of August, while Patrick was still lucid, a decision was made to include Mary as a trustee and executor of his estate. The codicil, giving her equal power and authority with Raff and Darragh, was unusual for the times. Wives had little standing in the community; any status they had was derived from that of their husbands. Business affairs were considered to be far beyond their ability. The decision to include Mary suggests that she had already demonstrated that she was a capable and responsible woman. The codicil seems to have been drawn up in great haste. It was not dated, and six weeks later its legality was questioned in the court. Patrick's signature, which on his will drawn up in February 1858 was large and clear, written in a firm sure hand, was now shaky and unsure, difficult to recognise as his. But there was no difficulty in proving its legality. When the matter came to court on 22 September 1865, Robert Cribb, whose honesty was regarded as beyond doubt, tendered a letter confirming that he had witnessed the drawing up and signing of the codicil on 7 August, ten days before Patrick died. A second confirming letter was tendered by the solicitors' clerk, Walter Barber. The calling in of Cribb, a Queen Street businessman who was not a friend, to witness such a document, suggests something of the haste with which the change was made. It also indicates that several people as well as Dr Hugh Bell, Fr Dunne, the nurse, family, and maid visited the sick room during those last two weeks. The solicitor and Raff and Darragh were there, and other friends may also have made
a last farewell. Any one of those could have overheard a rambling or delirious Patrick and subsequently disclose his death-bed confession to murder, which became public property some days before he died.

Anyone who had ever been harangued by hellfire preachers about the plight of the unrepentant sinner brought to divine justice and the horrific eternal hell of the damned might have shared Patrick's terrible fear. He had a few despairing weeks to ponder on his future damnation; weeks when he was suspended agonisingly between the successful man he had built himself up to be and the murderer about to face his God. Now, shrunk in illness, with nothing left, not even his size to intimidate his terror, he desperately wanted salvation.

The story was out. Patrick Mayne had committed a murder and the wrong man had been hanged for it. The town knew of it several days before he died on 17 August. The community belief was powerful and the shame and misery within the family must have shafted into their grief. The strength of Mary Mayne stands out like a beacon. The backlash in the minds of the children can only be imagined. In her boarding school, Rosanna would have nursed her pain alone, without the consoling comfort of family mealtime discussion, anger and questions to release the pent-up stress. The two eldest boys would have faced taunts and whispers, and stony eyes that followed them as they walked to school.

Mayne's confession to the murder in 1848 of Robert Cox created a surging buzz of excitement and
anticipation. The public perceived that Patrick was a murderer, but most of the townsfolk had arrived after 1850; they had never heard of Robert Cox and William Fyfe. It was the old hands such as Henry Stuart Russell, Thomas Dowse, J.J. Knight, William Sutton and the Petries who remembered the case. Years later, without mentioning Mayne's name, Russell and Knight wrote of the confession in their memoirs; and Dowse, who had been on the grand jury which condemned Fyfe, made a pointed non-mention in one of his ‘‘Old Tom'' articles in the
Naming the traders in Queen Street, he wrote of Mayne's shop: ‘‘...occupied by another, who for prudence sake, I decline to name.'' To this day, the connection between Mayne and the murdered Robert Cox has disappeared. Among historians, the Cox case is occasionally mentioned as having an unsatisfactory finding. Mayne's name was omitted from the press reports at the time. He was not suggested as a suspect. Instead, the name of Mayne, without specifying which member of the family, is constantly linked with a series of disconnected, bizarre but fictional murders.

This came about because generally the townsfolk let their imaginations embroider the confession, and handed down to their children and grandchildren their own exciting versions of what happened. No one spoke out publicly about the confession. The papers could not carry it. The story remained intriguing gossip. In an isolated colonial town where the only events that disturbed the general boredom were accidents, crime and hangings (which could be counted on to draw a big crowd of whites and
Aborigines), Patrick Mayne's funeral, held on a Sunday, became an EVENT.

Head high, Mary spared no expense. The undertaker's account for £97.11.0 was well over twice the cost of her mother's funeral, which, only months earlier, had been a fitting farewell reflecting the wealth of the Maynes. Her husband had been a public figure; many civic dignitaries would attend. They did; but she underestimated the power and rapid spread of flying rumour. On the morning of the funeral the buzz of the throng in Queen Street must have seemed daunting to Mary and her sister-in-law, Ann. The
Brisbane Courier
(21 August 1865) estimated that 4,000 men and women were crammed outside the Mayne house waiting for the hearse to move off. Along the route, groups of one to three hundred people waited at vantage points for a better view.

As Irishwomen, Mary and Ann knew that they were watching for confirmation of the flying rumours. There was a strong belief in Irish folklore that when a murderer dies, the horses of his hearse will refuse to move it. Stories still abound that the horses of Mayne's hearse would not move until they were thoroughly whipped. The poet, Gwen Harwood heard the story and wrote of it in 1943. In another version, the horses baulked at the entrance to the Roman Catholic cemetery at Milton and refused to go in until they were forced. Whether or not the spectators' macabre curiosity was satisfied, they would have been rewarded with the longest funeral procession that Brisbane had seen. There were many private coaches to carry
all the aldermen and the large number of leading businessmen, and every vehicle plying for hire in the town was pressed into service. Behind them came some hundred horsemen and a large number of people on foot. The
Brisbane Courier
reported the length of the procession as extending from the hospital in George Street to the gaol at Petrie Terrace. Whatever his knowledge of events and whatever his thoughts, the compassionate Fr Robert Dunne kept his own counsel as he buried forty-one-year-old Patrick beside his baby daughter, Evelina Selina who had died eleven years earlier.

The continuing care and friendship offered by Fr Dunne was unaffected by the fact that Patrick left the Church not one penny. The extent of his previous largess had been limited to a £50 donation some time earlier for Bishop Quinn's Cathedral Fund. It would have been in keeping with Church practice for the visiting priest to try to ensure some benefit from Patrick; at that time he believed him to be a very wealthy man. An appropriate time would have been when the codicil was added ten days before Patrick died, but Dunne took no advantage of his ill and frightened parishioner.

Had anyone questioned Patrick's mental state during his tempestuous life, the revelations about the Cox murder would have offered some confirmation that he had a problem. Early this century, Dr James Mayne told Dr Lilian Cooper that there were three generations of madness in his family. This must have included one of his grandparents. If Patrick had kept this knowledge from
Mary, at the time of his confession his sister Ann or his cousin, Joseph Darragh, may have revealed it. Darragh's mother Ann and Patrick's mother Rose had been the O'Neil sisters at Cookstown, Ireland.

The far-reaching result of Patrick's confession and the discussions about his mental instability was some sort of family decision that none of the children should marry. Patrick's will of 1858 had been drawn up in the belief that his children would marry and he allowed for the possibility of grandchildren. Dame Rumour still has it that the priest who heard the confession forced a non-marrying rule on the family before he consented to Patrick's burial in hallowed ground. Dame Rumour did not look at the facts. Fr Dunne had no such legal authority, and if he had made such a proviso, there was no way of long-term enforcement. In later years, in his scattered bush parish on the Darling Downs (1868–81), the compassionate priest was known to have pardoned penitents for all the sins of their past life, even the most serious transgressions, where the granting of absolution is usually the preserve of a bishop or pope. There is no reason to believe that in this case he imposed conditions on the children of the penitent Patrick before granting him absolution. There is more reason to believe that such a worldly-wise priest would know enough about his parishioners to recognise some mental instability and allow commonsense to prevail over ecclesiastical law.

There is also reason to believe that this very humane man, whose record shows that he worked hard to solve the
human problems of his colonial flock, would have discussed that problem with the attending doctor and then talked over the prospects of the family's future with Mary. It is possible that both of them suspected the beginnings of a problem with Rosanna. Dunne would undoubtedly have backed Mary in convincing her children of a sensible decision. The two eldest were well into puberty, old enough and intelligent enough to take part in any family discussion. Assuming that Mary was ignorant of the murder until Patrick's confession, she would have been horrified by her recently acquired knowledge and saddened by grief and malicious whispers; but she was strong enough to understand and act on what she considered best for her family. She was a Protestant; Father Dunne was a valuable friend and counsellor; she was capable of issuing the advice not to marry and hoping that her children would comply.

The actual crime and the names of the two victims, Cox and Fyfe, unknown to most, were forgotten quite early. The name of Patrick Mayne, the murderer, was not forgotten. Had any of the children ever contemplated marriage, the wild distorted versions of his many supposed crimes that exist to this day were waiting to engulf them. They grew up painfully aware of that circumstance.

BOOK: The Mayne Inheritance
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