Opening with a macabre mid-nineteenth century murder, The Mayne Inheritance unfolds like a gothic thriller.Was it the murder victim’s money that founded patriarch Patrick Mayne’s Queen Street business empire? And were the whispered accusations of murder and genetic madness true? For 150 years scandal and mystery have surrounded the Maynes, a wealthy family who donated the magnificent site on which the University of Queensland now stands.
The Mayne Inheritance tells the story of Patrick Mayne, a young man who migrated to Australia from his impoverished background in County Tyrone, Ireland in 1841. He soon moved to the infant town of Brisbane where he found work as a slaughterman in an abattoir. In 1848 a sawyer, Robert Cox, was savagely murdered at Kangaroo Point and a considerable amount of money was presumed to have be stolen.
The next year, Patrick Mayne married and, despite being a poorly paid labourer, bought his own butcher’s shop in what is now Brisbane’s central business district. He then expanded his business empire through investing cleverly and soon became one of Brisbane’s richest men. Patrick became one of the aldermen on the first Brisbane Municipal Council in 1859.
He died in 1865 from an unspecified illness, and during his dying days confessed to the murder of Robert Cox. He left behind a widow and five children who had to survive in a hostile colonial environment which ostracised them for being the children of a confessed murderer. The second half of the book deals mainly with the lives of these children, none of whom married, and in particular James O’Neil Mayne who used the wealth inherited from his father to become a philanthropist. His most notable deed was funding the purchase of 270 acres (1.1 km2) of land at St Lucia for the University of Queensland. This spacious riverside site is still the main campus of the University.
The story of The Mayne Inheritance spans nearly a century, from Patrick’s arrival in Australia in the 1840s to the death of his last surviving child, Mary Emelia Mayne, in 1940, at the age of 81. The narrative takes place within the context of Brisbane’s history, and the reader is also taken on the journey of Brisbane’s transformation from an isolated colonial hamlet to a major Australian city.
New research (2011) has revealed that the basic story of the “Kangaroo Point murder” was first published in the 1920s, raising the possibility that the book was possibly derived from a previous magazine article.