Sunday, September 12, 2010
Did the Brisbane butcher do it?
Contributor to this blog David Ellis has tracked down a mystery from Brisbane's past.
TWENTY-SIX million people a year wend their way along Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall, taking a break from the office, ogling, daydreaming, cuddling-up, taking lunch, or simply doing some serious shopping.
Yet few realise that a store they pass in the Mall’s Brisbane Arcade, or perhaps drop into for some of that shopping, is on the site of what was once home to Brisbane’s most-gruesome colonial murderer.
And not far away, guests indulging in a palatial Brisbane hotel little realise that they too are frolicking on the site of another property owned by that same killer.
Nor that the spectacular campus on which the University of Queensland now stands, is yet another of his legacies…
Irishman Patrick Mayne arrived in Brisbane in 1844 and soon landed himself a job as a slaughterman at Campbell’s Boiling Down Works at Kangaroo Point.
He bought cheap land on the outskirts of town at what is now fashionable Wickham Terrace, learned butchering skills to supplement his meager slaughterman’s wages, and after marrying Mary McIntosh in 1849, to the surprise of many invested in a prime block on Brisbane’s very smart Queen Street.
Here, on what is now the Brisbane Arcade, he built a butcher’s shop with a coach-house and an upstairs residence, worked his way onto the Municipal Council, and started buying-up some 400ha (1000 acres) or prime real estate.
But Patrick Mayne was also showing signs of madness, attacking some perceived-enemies with a riding-crop or stock-whip, and abusing others in fits of alcohol-fueled rage. Despite their wealth the Maynes were soon being quietly shunned by Brisbane’s more polite society.
And extraordinarily in 1865 on his deathbed above his Queen Street butcher’s shop, Patrick Mayne out-of-the-blue confessed to Brisbane’s most-grisly murder seventeen years previously, and for which a hapless cook had already been hanged.
Mayne said that after hearing that a drunken timber worker named Robert Cox was boasting in the primitive Bush Inn at Kangaroo Point of receiving a princely sum for a delivery of precious cedar, he and two others had gone to the Inn and ambushed the befuddled Cox after closing time.
The next morning a man in a rowing boat came upon the legs and loin of a man floating in the Brisbane River. Soon after police found the upper part of the body on the shore, while the head had been propped in a shed to face entering searchers.
And in a well behind the Bush Inn that was used to keep milk, butter and cheese cool, police now found more of Cox’s remains. A hapless cook at the Bush Inn was hanged for the murder, despite professing innocence until the trapdoors of the gallows dropped below him…
And to the surprise of many it was soon after the execution that Patrick Mayne bought the land in Queen Street and built his butcher’s shop (and two others nearby that he rented to a draper and a grocer)… paying the equivalent in cash of nearly five years’ slaughterman’s wages for all three properties.
After Mayne’s death in 1865 and that of his wife in 1889, their four children consolidated their parents’ properties and donated generously to churches and charities.
Amongst prime holding sold off was a house and land on which the Urban Hotel Brisbane on Wickham Terrace now overlooks the spectacular Roma Street Parklands, its 170 guest rooms and luxuries a far cry from the primitive Bush Inn at Kangaroo Point in which Patrick Mayne says he committed Queensland’s bloodiest murder 162-years ago.
In 1924 the surviving Mayne children, who had deliberately not married due to their father’s madness and the insanity of a brother, built the Edwardian-style Brisbane Arcade on the site of their parents’ butcher shop.
Three years later they bought land at St Lucia which they donated to the fledgling University of Queensland, with all profits from the trust they established to run the Brisbane Arcade, going to the University to this day.
When next you’re visiting Queen Street, pause at the Colorado Clothing Store in the Brisbane Arcade – it’s on the site of the original Mayne butchery, home and coachhouse.
And ponder that today, crime historians are now suggesting Mayne’s confession was another side of his madness – leaving the question, did he, or did he not do it?
Pictures are Adams cake shop, Brisbane Arcade 1938; Brisbane Arcade today and Patrick Mayne.