Hearsay ... the Journal of the Bar Association of Queensland
OOPS. Your Flash player is missing or outdated.Click here to update your player so you can see this content.
Issue 74 - Dec 2015
The True Facts behind the Mayne Inheritance Print E-mail

mayne_book.jpg

The Mayne Inheritance [1] , written by Rosamond Siemon and first published in 1997, asserts that the magnificent University of Queensland standing on the bend in the river at St Lucia was built on land purchased with money tainted by murder and theft. The author pleads that if it was not for a murder and robbery the university may not have been built at this iconic location [2] . It is a well written, extraordinary and irresistible tale that has been well acclaimed but has stirred the emotions of professional and amateur historians.

The university, originally located adjacent to the Botanical Gardens in Brisbane was considering options to relocate to another site. In 1927, siblings James and Amelia Mayne stepped forward and offered to fund the acquisition of the beautiful rich land at St Lucia for the benefit of the university. The offer was accepted, the land was acquired and it must have been a proud moment when in 1937 they witnessed the ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone for the new Forgan Smith building. On their deaths, James and Amelia bequeathed their large estate to the university, they being very significant university benefactors and possibly the largest in the history of the state. The annual cash distribution to the Medical School from the Mayne Trust totals many millions of dollars.

Issues

Siemon maintains that in 1848 Robert Cox arrived in Brisbane with a large sum of money in his bag. Notwithstanding that William Fyfe was convicted of Cox’s murder, Siemon alleges that Mayne murdered him, stole his money and used the funds to purchase a butcher shop in Queen Street. This acquisition was the foundation stone for a massive property empire that was built over the following decades. Finally, she asserts that in 1865 Mayne confessed to the murder. Ultimately, it was this property empire that funded the purchase of the university land.

In this paper, I have only considered original sources to determine whether there is any evidentiary basis to support Siemon’s contentions. The evidence I have examined include: The statements tendered at the inquest [3] , the newspaper recordings of the evidence tendered at the murder trial in Sydney and the oral comments made by Siemon in our discussions. I have not relied on the opinions and comments of any academics. I have examined the evidence, applied a strict forensic legal discipline and asked whether there is any evidence to support the contentions raised.

There are four issues:

  1. Is there any evidence to prove that Cox possessed a large sum of money in 1848?
  2. Is there any evidence to prove Mayne murdered Cox in 1848?
  3. Is there any evidence to prove that Mayne stole Cox’s money and used these funds to acquire a butcher shop in 1849?
  4. Is there any evidence to prove that Mayne made a deathbed confession to murdering Cox?

To consider these questions and to form my own opinions, I had the privilege of visiting Siemon at her home on three separate occasions to discuss the evidence that she relied on. During our friendly and amicable discussions, Siemon maintained her view that Mayne murdered Cox although she did make one major concession that will be referred to later herein.

This paper considers the issues raised in the debate held at the university on 12 May 2013 between both Siemon and I. The topic for debate was: Did Patrick Mayne murder Robert Cox? We also participated in a short debate on ABC radio a few days before the university debate, when jointly interviewed by Steve Austin.

Kangaroo Point

Kangaroo Point is an area on the south side of Brisbane bounded by a horseshoe bend in the river. In 1848 a road traversed its spine and on the right hand side, (facing north) and where the current Main Street joins Holman Street, the Bush Inn [4] known as Suttons Hotel, owned by William Sutton stood. Sutton lived at the hotel with Charlotte, his daughter and the cook, William Fyfe slept in the sleeping room adjoining the detached kitchen at the rear of the hotel. The secured backyard was surrounded by a high fence, with a high gate on the southern side and within its outer perimeter stood a small horse stable and a deep well that was used primarily as a cool storage facility for food to be consumed at the hotel. The food was kept in a bucket left dangling in the well above the water lying at its base. The southern gate faced a narrow lane and directly across the lane stood a partially completed building owned by Mr Campbell. The boiling down works was located a little further away and adjacent to the river. The modest hotel was a place for drinking and eating by those working at the boiling down works and other industries and it provided modest accommodation to travellers and local people.

Brisbane in 1848 was a wild colonial town with a small population and at Kangaroo Point the men earned a living at the two boiling down works. In those days cattle and sheep were reared, not just for meat, but were boiled down for their oil and fat, to be used for lighting and axle grease. The animals were slaughtered, their carcasses chopped up and jammed into a large wood fired steam boiler before the tallow was drained off into wooden casks. The remainder was used as pig fodder. The excrement from the live pigs, cattle and sheep, the blood draining into the river and the unboiled remnants of decaying animal parts would have created a nauseating and putrefying smell. Kangaroo Point would have been an unsavoury place. The rough men employed at these boiling down works, drank and ate their hard earned £1 per week at the nearby Bush Inn.

The murder

At 7.30 am on 26 March 1848, on a sunny autumn Sunday morning, a boatman rowing down the river was horrified to observe a mutilated body lying on the banks of the river [5] . It was lying below Mr Rankin’s garden and a short distance from the Bush Inn and probably on its north eastern side. The police were called and Chief Constable Fitzpatrick and District Constable Murphy attended the scene. Fitzpatrick said the body was severed in two across the loins with the arms and torso lying in the grass three metres from the upper part of the body , a deep cut had been made on the right side of the breast severing the ribs, a smaller cut was made on the left side and the head was deficient. The entrails were hanging from both portions. The upper part of the body was lying below the high water and above the low water mark and the arms and torso were in the grass about three metres away. The tide was running in rapidly and would have quickly covered the mutilated remains. A close inspection of the deceased’s trouser pocket revealed a sixpence with a small dent.

Mr Nosely recognized the victim as Robert Cox as he had a bed at his house. After a preliminary examination at the river bank, the body was placed on a cedar board and conveyed to the nearby Bush Inn where Constable Murphy reassembled the body. Dr Keasey Cannon, the surgeon, examined the body and rendered an opinion that the abdomen had been cut open with a knife and the spine divided with an axe. The surgeon said the body had been stabbed and was so mutilated he was unable to say how death occurred.

When news got out that a murder had been committed, people came to observe and help. David Williams peered down the well and observed a piece of candle floating on the water. A closer examination revealed blood in the bucket hanging in the mouth of the well and blood with remnants of intestine were mixed with the water at the base of the well. Murphy’s evidence was to the effect that two striped shirts, a flannel shirt, a white handled table knife and towel with marks of blood were taken from the well. It was quickly revealed that the knife came from the kitchen and an inspection of the kitchen and Fyfe’s sleeping room produced an axe and adze. When the body was examined a torn part of the sleeve was still on the arm and a matching piece was found in the well.

James Copson was walking along the lane past Sutton’s side gate when he observed a dog scamper from Campbell’s unfinished new building. Copson entered the front door of the building and observed a severed head lying between the joists on the partially constructed floor and lying at ground level in the long grass. After finding the head, Fyfe came running over from the hotel and immediately and without hesitation identified it as belonging to Cox. Later, Fitzpatrick tracked the blood from the severed head to the gate and observed that ashes similar to the ashes in the kitchen oven had been thrown in a heap near the gate, as if to cover the blood.

The blood

In the backyard of the Bush Inn, Williams discovered blood scattered on the ground between the fence and the well, and Fitzpatrick repeated that the ground near the well and by the fence was saturated with blood. Fitzpatrick also affirmed that blood was found on the top, underneath and behind the fence and it appeared that attempts were made to wash it off. He measured a distance of six paces separating the blood and the kitchen. On the outside of the fence, the grass was crushed in two places as if the body was dropped over. Blood was found on the grass, on the outside of the fence and blood marks were traced by the trackers from the side fence to the river where the body was found. Fitzpatrick gave the opinion that one person could have thrown the two parts of the body over the fence.

On Sunday , Murphy searched the kitchen and sleeping room and found amongst Fyfe’s possessions a towel with blood marks. He saw a piece of board in the sleeping room with dark spots and initially thought it was ink but the room was very dark and he did not light a candle to examine the marks more closely. He lifted floor boards from under Fyfe’s bed and found a sheet with numerous spots of blood.

Two days later, on the Wednesday, Murphy re-examined the board previously located in the sleeping room and now changed his mind and concluded that the dark spots were blood. The bed was pulled apart and a close inspection revealed a quantity of blood on the floorboards under it and Fitzpatrick said the boards were “much stained in blood”. The floor was lifted and Fitzpatrick said the ground under the floor was moist with blood, and a blood stained shoe and a blood covered stone were found. The officer also observed blood on the bed-boards, the bed-head and the wall. The constable expressed the view that the blood had been there for 2 or 3 days and he did not consider it had been left there after the Sunday.

The Inquest

Statements were taken from over thirty witnesses, including the hotel owner and patrons. The police and lay witnesses gave evidence not only of the murder scene but the events in the hotel the evening and days before. The police arrested Fyfe, the hotel licensee, Sutton, and others.

An inquest [6] was quickly convened before Coroner DK Ballow and jury at the Bush Inn. The inquest was required to examine the evidence and determine if there was sufficient evidence to commit any of the arrested individuals for trial. It was essential that it be hastily convened, as it was held before a jury and in view of or in the presence of the body. By 1848, the first circuit Supreme Court trial had not arrived in Brisbane and all capital trials were held in Sydney.

The jury determined that there was sufficient evidence to put Fyfe on trial for murder. He was taken to Sydney and despite his persistent denials was convicted and hanged for the crime. The evidence was circumstantial only, and when all the evidence was considered Fyfe’s guilt was apparent, and much of the evidence could have led the jury to cast doubt on his denials. This evidence was: When Cox’s head was found Fyfe immediately told Copson it was Cox’s head but seemed to prevaricate when questioned by the chief constable; The murder probably took place in the sleeping room and the butchering of the body occurred in the backyard and as a high fence protected the backyard it must have been an inside job; Fyfe’s comment the night before that Cox had gone over the fence, is difficult to believe when it was discovered that Cox’s body was butchered in the backyard; when arrested blood was seen on his shirt, blood was also found in the well, in his bedroom, on other pieces of clothing, on a towel hidden under the floor boards in his sleeping room, under his bed, on and under the wooden floor; blood was found on both the Sunday and after a closer examination three days later; t he knife removed from the well came from the kitchen and the adze was found in his room; Significantly, Cox was in Fyfe’s bed the evening before and they were overheard to argue over money and threats were made.

Mayne’s background

Mayne, a catholic orphan, left County Tyrone at age 17 and arrived in Australia on 20 August 1841. After spending two years working on the Liverpool Plains to satisfy his sponsor’s bond, he travelled to Moreton Bay in search of work. By 1844, he was employed earning one pound per week at John “Tinker” Campbell’s slaughter house and boiling down works at Kangaroo Point. Mayne was described as a proficient butcher.

At the time, Brisbane was a rough working man’s world, however for a poor Irish migrant there was a smell of opportunity as land was cheap. Campbell’s finances deteriorated and all of the employees, Mayne included, suffered financially. Mayne and others took Campbell to court and obtained a judgement for £6 1s 3d and Mayne successfully sued him on a second occasion. Ultimately, Campbell was forced to sell and the facility was acquired by Richard Smith who took over on 27 February 1847. There were no banks and very little cash was available, so wages usually took the form of promissory notes. These were often handed to the publican and the workmen drank away his wages.

In 1848, Smith moved the slaughterhouse to Goodna because of local complaints about the smell and Mayne and the other employees shifted with him. Even though there were only a few unattached females in Brisbane, at Moggill he met Mary McIntosh from County Claire in Ireland, a protestant housemaid who could read and write. They were married on 9 April 1849.

On 29 September 1849, Mayne purchased a business in Queen Street from James Newhould and his family relocated back to Brisbane. On his return, the town was much busier and larger than when he had left a year earlier. This boost was due to the arrival of the John Dunmore Lang immigrants who stepped ashore from the Fortitude, Chasely and the Lima at about that time. These immigrants were better educated, better dressed and more soberly behaved than the residents who were already living in Brisbane. The new immigrants gave a real impetus to the community.

Mayne now had a family and security. To him, land was important, it was a sign of status and by 1851 he had commenced accumulating this precious commodity. Eventually he owned between fifty to sixty allotments totalling 1700 acres. In 1859 Queensland became a separate colony, the Brisbane Municipal Council was proclaimed on 7 August 1859 and Mayne was elected as a first councillor. He was involved in other aspects of community life, as a donor to schools and he was appointed to the first board of National Education in Queensland. In 1864, Mayne continued his involvement in community projects, including the Town Hall project, the river bridge and he was on the Council’s finance committee.

By 1864, Mayne’s business interests were overstretched. He had borrowed heavily for his purchase of the Moggill land and Roseville. Then on 1 December 1864, a fire burned large tracts of Brisbane including many of Mayne’s shops. His health declined, he became careless with his business interests, his customers owed him about ₤4,000.00 and he was heavily in debt to the Bank of NSW and to Mr. Murray-Prior.

Death

Mayne died on 17 August 1865 at age 41 years and Mary managed the business thereafter. As the economy was in recession and property prices were low she avoided selling any significant property and with her astute management, by 1879 all debts were paid. There is no doubt that she is the unsung hero of the family’s financial success, as she maintained the properties and paid all the debts after her husband’s death. She died in 1889 at Moorland Villa, a house situated behind where Moorlands was later built in 1892. There is no known photograph of her.

With respect to the four issues raised above, I comment as follows:

Is there evidence to prove that Cox possessed large sums of money?

Richard Smith came with Cox from the Tweed and gave evidence that Cox had a £4 order with him and he did not see any other money in his possession [7] . This £4 order was handed to Sutton and Smith observed Sutton give Cox £2 and promise the rest when the order was ascertained to be good. In his statement, Smith also made the vague statement that “Cox had 16 or 17 thousand feet of cedar which I think he sold before he left the Tweed. My reason for supposing he sold (it) is that I know he had no intention of returning to the Tweed and that he brought the timber to the place where the vessel was building”. Based on this statement, Smith said he believed that Cox had other money in his possession as he had sold the timber, but he did not see any.

Joseph Liddiard, a blacksmith gave the best evidence on the issue of money. Liddiard became acquainted with Cox on the Friday when they discussed work and money. Liddiard offered Cox work in his blacksmith shop and the reply came that; “he had about 25/- to spend, and that when that was gone he would come to work”. Cox also told Liddiard that he had deposited money with Sutton of which only 25/- remained. Thomas Gnosill confirmed the existence of the £4 money order and that Cox received £2 from Sutton, though he said that he did not know if Cox had any other money in his possession. Cox and Liddiard again met on Saturday when walking between Campbell’s Public House and the Bush Inn. Cox now stated that all his money was gone except six pence and what he had earlier consumed at the Bush Inn was not paid for.

After the murder, the police collected and examined all the papers belonging to Cox that had been left at Nosely’s house and these documents were tendered at the inquest. These documents did not provide any evidence of a money order, of a contract for the sale of timber, an invoice or receipt. There was simply no documentary evidence to prove that Cox possessed any money.

The submission made by Mr Holroyd, the barrister for Fyfe at the Sydney trial, and recorded in the newspaper [8] , also adds weight to the inference that Cox did not have money. Holroyd submitted that money was not a motive for the murder as it was proved that all of Cox’s money had been expended.

The relationship between Cox and Fyfe also had a bearing on the issue of money. They were both former convicts from Moreton Bay and knew each other from that time. Cox came from the Tweed a few days earlier and Fyfe commenced work at the hotel as a cook a few days before that. After they met up, they were very close for a short time but eventually the relationship detoriated. Thomas Gnossill observed Cox and Fyfe at breakfast together on Friday morning and to him they appeared like brothers, but by Saturday they were arguing and the relationship had deteriorated .

John Connell gave evidence that on Saturday afternoon between 3 and 5 pm, he observed Cox lying in Fyfe’s bed. They had been drinking and Fyfe was three parts drunk and Cox half drunk. Connell overheard Cox complain that Fyfe had some of his money and in reply, Fyfe shook his hand and said that before he left town he “would knock that man’s head off - that he would have satisfaction of him or kick him in the ribs or something like that”.

After dinner on the Saturday evening, Charlotte also observed Cox and Fyfe in Fyfe’s bed together. She overheard them arguing and heard Cox accuse Fyfe of robbing him. Charlotte asked her father if he thought Cox had any money and the reply came that he thought not.

Connell said he overheard Cox accuse Fyfe of robbing him. Fyfe informed Sutton of the allegations and Sutton responded by telling him not to pay any attention to it and said: “I do not think he had sixpence about him”. Connell also swore that he thought Cox was in danger and he himself was afraid to sleep in the kitchen.

Finally, the reader should be reminded that in 1848, cash was not available like today and there were no banks in Brisbane or elsewhere. If a significant transaction occurred it was usually by money order or calabashes and it would be almost impossible for a timber purchase to be paid in cash.

Siemon appears to have relied on Smith’s vague statement that Cox had sold timber and he may have possessed money. Smith does not say how much was paid for the timber if at all, how it was paid and how he came to have received this information. It seems that this unsubstantiated comment is contrary to every other piece of evidence. Also, it is probable that Cox was an employee and was paid £4 for his services to help extract timber from the Tweed, and Cox was not the owner of the timber. To cut and transport a large volume of cedar I think a crew of axemen, a team of bullocks or horses and organisational skill would be required. It is fanciful to suggest that Cox received a large sum of money in cash for the sale of timber. Furthermore, if he did have cash in his back pocket, why would he be staying at the rough Bush Inn and having to draw down on his money order with Sutton. The evidence is overwhelming that Cox had a £4 money order and this money had been expended and only sixpence remained. The submission by Holroyd that money was not a motive for the murder as all of Cox’s money had been expended is overwhelmingly accurate.

The assertion that Cox possessed a large quantity of cash is wrong and against the evidence

Is there evidence to prove that Mayne murdered Cox?

There is no direct or even circumstantial evidence that Mayne murdered Cox. There are no witnesses to the murder and there is no evidence that Mayne was even present at the time of the murder. Mayne was at the Bush Inn on Saturday evening and early on Sunday morning. He was present at about 9 pm for about 5 minutes and returned with William Lynch, George Platt and Connell at about 12.40 am and stayed until later and during this time they were inside the Bush Inn drinking ginger beer and wine at the bar. The evidence was that they left at about 3am, though Charlotte, being in bed at the time, heard them arrive and leave and gave evidence of slightly different times. Platt and Lynch returned with Mayne to his residence and talked until 4 am.

There is no evidence that Mayne was drunk, and there is absolutely no direct or circumstantial evidence to prove that he murdered Cox. He did not return in the morning and there is no evidence that he stole money. The police took a statement from Mayne, they did not suspect him of being the murderer and no mention was made in the police statements that he was arrested. He was not mentioned as being a suspect in the newspapers.

In my view the claim made by Siemon, that Mayne murdered Cox can be rejected categorically as there is not a scintilla of evidence.

Is there evidence to prove that Mayne used stolen money to purchase the butcher shop?

Not one witness or document is available to support the thesis that theft was the source of the acquisition money. Siemon says that Mayne must have used stolen money, how else could he have funded the purchase. She maintains that he could not move from a penniless Irishman to a substantial property holder in a few short years by legal means only. This allegation has a taint of race or religious prejudice but during those early years, when land was cheap, many people became wealthy property owners.

Siemon’s allegations are extraordinary considering nothing is known about the transaction to acquire the butcher business. Did Mayne acquire the business with or without the real estate, what price was paid, did the seller owe money to a money lender or a third party, was the seller struggling and prepared to accept any price. The money-lenders may have been keen to call in the loan and Mayne agreed to take over the seller’s loan obligation and in these circumstances he would not have needed cash. Mayne may have acquired the business at a very modest price as it was run-down and rented the buildings for a short period until he could afford to purchase the real estate. There are many options available to a purchaser without resort to a baseless claim of theft.

Siemon conceded that Mayne had an extraordinary ability as a businessman. It is highly probable that these skills, together with the skills of his wife, were present for years before they were married. They must have been endowed with skills of thrift and carefulness with money. They were both employed for many years in Brisbane, he a slaughter-man and she a house-keeper and they lived at Moggill for a time, away from the temptation of shops and hotels. It is possible they saved sufficient money for a deposit or even the entire purchase price for a run-down butcher shop at a small-town price. If they did not have sufficient funds for the purchase, a vendor’s mortgage or borrowings may have provided the balance of the funds.

To borrow the large sums of money required to fund his massive property empire, Mayne must have had a sound credit reputation. This reputation could only have been gained by borrowing money and making the required repayments when it was due and owing. This reputation may have begun when he borrowed money to acquire his first business and land, namely the butcher shop.

Timing in the property market is also very important . Mayne acquired his first property in 1849 when land was cheap, at the very time the population of Brisbane began to increase with the arrival of the Lang immigrants. Mayne was the beneficiary of this boom and he did very well as a property tycoon. The alleged stolen funds of £250-£300 would not have made a major difference to the massive increase in wealth that he achieved over the years. His empire was built on borrowed money, on land price increases and not by the theft of a relatively small, unknown and unspecified sum of money.

The allegation that Mayne purchased the business from stolen money is without any factual foundation.

Is there evidence of a confession?

A confession of murder is highly probative and is the best and strongest evidence of guilt. To be a valid confession it must be made with a voluntary mind and must not be made after an inducement was given. Furthermore, a confession is inadmissible if the person making it was of unsound mind at the time.

Siemon clearly appreciated the power of a confession as she repeatedly asserted throughout the book that Mayne made a deathbed confession to murder. The reader is left in no doubt that a confession was made. On page one the author confidently asserts that the murderer confessed in August 1865, on page two she again asserts a deathbed confession and on page 14 the author said that Charlotte’s evidence makes feasible Patrick Mayne’s deathbed confession to the murder of Cox. [9] She wrote that the confession was overheard and by the time of his death it was public knowledge. The confession, she wrote, created a surging buzz of excitement and anticipation [10] .

An examination of this and any alleged confession requires consideration of critical issues, such as who heard the confession, who did he confess to, was the confession in writing or reduced to writing, what words were said, was he of sound mind and what were the circumstances surrounding the alleged confession.

The Mayne Inheritance published in 1997, 132 years after the death is silent on these vital issues. To allege a confession, Siemon should have viewed a document that recorded the exact words used. Unfortunately, she has not done so, though she does attempt to set out the circumstances surrounding the confession. [11] She writes that a codicil appointing Mary as a trustee and executor was drafted by solicitors Raff and Darragh and about ten days before the death, the codicil was executed by Mayne in the presence of Queen Street businessman Robert Cribb and another.

She noted that several people may have visited Mayne during his dying days, people such as Dr Hugh Bell, Father Dunne, the nurse, his maid, his solicitor, members of the family and friends. She does not say they did visit but infers, probably accurately that they did. Also Siemon does not say that Mayne confessed to any of these visitors, but wrote that they could have heard a confession if one was made and they were present. She wrote:

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 before he died.

Anyone who had ever been harangued by the hellfire preachers about the plight of 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 was hanged for it. The town knew of it several days before he died on 17 August.

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…

The statement that Mayne must have confessed as he was a dying unrepentant sinner and could not resist the haranguing of a hellfire preacher is not evidence of a confession but is simply emotional and exaggerated story telling. The suggestion that the story about the confession was out in the public arena and that it created a buzz of excitement is baseless. If this occurred, it would have been recorded in private diaries, letters, newspapers and history books. No such contemporaneously written document is known to exist and no evidence is available to prove it was made public. Furthermore, there is simply no evidence that Mayne was then delirious.

If Father Dunne had taken a deathbed confession, and it will never be known if he did, he would never have divulged it to the public or anyone else. If he did, it would constitute a serious breach of the sanctity of a confession, one of the most basic tenets held by the Catholic Church.

This evidence of a confession was raised by me with Siemon at the first of my three visits to her home. Initially, she explained that it was recorded in Father Dunne’s dairy. Siemon explained that about two years before the book was published, she visited the Catholic Archives adjacent to St Stephens Cathedral. She was directed by archivist, Father Martin to a desk where documents were presented to her for viewing. A lady librarian left a copy of Father Dunne’s letter book, about 10 inches by 12 inches in size on an adjacent desk. She said the book contained carbon copies of Father Dunne’s hand-written notes, interviews and letters written during colonial times. An impression, she said, was given that she was not permitted to look at this book but she did. It was this book she said, that recorded the details of the confession.

On closer examination by me, she admitted she could not read the words in the book, as it was almost upside down when she attempted to read it. Despite this, she reiterated that the letters must have confirmed that Mayne admitted killing someone. I rejoined, asking, whether she observed Cox’s name being mentioned, and she replied no. I asked, could Mayne have confessed to killing Schilling and not Cox, and she responded by saying, possibly.

In response to these comments, I also visited the archives to confirm the story and was given access to father Dunne’s diaries. Not only was nothing able to be gleaned from the dairies on the issue, Father Dunne’s handwriting was indecipherable.

After this enquiry at the archives, I again spoke to Siemon about the evidence to support a confession and she conceded that evidence does not exist. In March 2013, Siemon and I were interviewed by Steve Austin on radio about the Mayne Inheritance and again she conceded publically that there was no evidence of a confession.

These concessions mean that her allegations in the book that Mayne confessed are false. The suggestion that Mayne confessed to murdering Mayne can now, at last be buried once and for all. There is no evidence of a confession. In any event, if her assertion that Mayne was of unsound mind is correct his confession has absolutely no probative value.

In summary

Despite this book achieving legendary status, it cannot be used as an accurate portrayal of the history of the Mayne family. This book may have achieved this status because of the deep ingrained tall poppy syndrome. Another reason is its exaggerated and well written prose - it is a very interesting, captivating and easy to read tale. The refusal of the horses to pull the hearse at his funeral being evidence of guilt, the allegation that he was ostracized by the community (the evidence is overwhelming to the contrary), his mental health, the alleged agreement not to have children, other murder allegations and many other issues all make a great story.

In my view the book should be classified, not as a history book but a novel of murder and intrigue set in colonial Brisbane.

By Stephen Sheaffe

(not to be circulated)



[1] R. Siemon, The Mayne Inheritance, University of Queensland Press, first published in 1977. The page references referred to in this article are from the 2001 edition.

[2] Siemon, p 2.

[3] Witness Depositions, SRNSW 9/6345; SMH 8 June 1848, Notebook of Stephen J, p 37-48, MBC 1 April 1848, p 2: The author of each of the depositions referred to in this paper are not individually referenced but are all included in the bundle with this reference.

[4] Siemon, p 2.

[5] On page 2, Siemon says the body was found at the bottom of Rankins garden at the end of Main Street. The location is uncertain but probably a little further downstream from this juncture.

[6] Siemon incorrectly described the inquest as a grand jury.

[7] Smith used the expression “he did not have any money about him” and I have tried to explain this sentiment using modern language.

[8] SMH, 8 June 1848 p 3.

[9] Siemon refers to a deathbed confession on many occasions, including pgs, 1, 2,14, 28, 99-101and 104

[10] Siemon, p 100.

[11] Siemon, pgs 99- 101.


| | | | | |