The stained glass window and staircase in Moorlands House, Auchenflower (the home of the Mayne Family). Photo courtesy of the BCC.

Writer Watch

The Authors

Albert Street Literary Trail – exercise your mind and your feet

Brisbane has always had more than its fair share of storytellers throughout its history, but until the 1990s most Brisbane authors regarded the city as a place to leave in order to go to Sydney or overseas, given that they received little support in their home town.

That all changed when Brisbane authors such as Nick Earls and Venero Armanno set their novels in Brisbane and described real locations and landmarks. This approach resonated with both local and international readers who could now envisage themselves walking through a real and vibrant city. Brisbane was now well and truly on the literary map.

In September 1996, in recognition and celebration of the achievements of Queensland writers, the Brisbane City Council laid a literary trail of bronze plaques along Albert Street as part of the Albert Street refurbishment. These plaques featured quotes about Brisbane from the work of 32 writers and were illustrated by Brisbane artist Brona Keenan in collaboration with graphic designer Dot Dash and the Brisbane City Council. The trail traces the transformation of Brisbane from a small sleepy settlement to a cosmopolitan city of sky-scrapers and a lively culture.

All the writers featured on the trail are from Queensland and most are from Brisbane. They include Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Thomas Shapcott, Venero Armanno, Thea Astley, Steele Rudd, Hugh Lunn, Janette Turner Hospital, David Malouf and Sam Watson.

To walk it, start from King George Square, cross Adelaide Street and continue down Albert Street to Alice Street and the City Botanic Gardens. Turn at Alice Street and come back on the other side of Albert Street, cross Adelaide Street and finish at City Hall. The trail takes about an hour to complete.

You can check out the web version of the Albert Street Literary Trail booklet at the Queensland Historical Atlas at

A Brisbane Story

The Mayne Inheritance

Well-known historian, Rosamond Siemon, wrote the non-fiction book, The Mayne Inheritance, which was first published in 1997 by the University of Queensland Press when the author was aged 77.

It opened with a macabre mid-nineteenth century murder and played out like a gothic thriller, spanning nearly a century from Patrick Mayne’s arrival in Brisbane from an impoverished background in County Tyrone, Ireland in 1841, to the death of his last surviving child, Mary Emelia Mayne, who passed away in 1940 at the age of 81.

It seemed an unlikely best-seller, but the people of Brisbane went nuts. Rosamond Siemon could hardly keep up with the requests for talks and whole buses were chartered to take enthusiasts to the main sites where the dastardly deeds had been done.

Over the years the tale lost none of its fascination. A new edition with updated information was issued by the same publisher in 2003 and it won the Brisbane City Council’s One Book One Brisbane competition in 2003. The book was later adapted for the stage by Errol O’Neill and performed at Brisbane’s La Boite Theatre in 2004.

So what exactly happened? It was not a dark and stormy night (I wouldn’t dare), but it was a cold and misty morning early on Monday, 27 March 1848, when a boatman and his family rowing around Kangaroo Point spotted a pair of legs above the high water mark near Main Street, at the bottom of Rankin's Garden. This in itself was not strange – but these particular legs weren't attached to anyone. The rest of sawyer, Robert Cox, was found dotted around Kangaroo Point in various locations. 

Constable Murphy suspected everyone who had been present at the Bush Inn, where Cox had spent the previous evening getting sozzled. A great deal of money had supposedly gone missing.  Eventually the hotel cook, a man named Fyfe, was accused and taken to Sydney, where he was tried, convicted and hanged. 

Patrick Mayne was there that night but soon dropped out of sight. He had been working at Campbell's boiling down works and had experienced some difficulty in obtaining his wages from his cash-strapped employer, so one would not have expected him to be well off.

The year after the murder, however, on the 29 September 1849, the 25-year-old Mayne turned up in Brisbane Town with a wife and the equivalent of about six years’ wages, and promptly announced he was buying out James Newbould's butchery in Queen Street. 

Over the following years Patrick Mayne accumulated a great deal of land, property, wealth and five children – he even became an Aldermen on the first Brisbane Municipal Council in 1859. He contracted an unspecified illness and on his deathbed in August 1865, Patrick Mayne allegedly confessed to the murder of Robert Cox seventeen years earlier.

He left a widow and five children who were ostracised by society as the family of a confessed murderer. It was a dreadful legacy that haunted Mayne's wife and children for the rest of their lives. None of the children married and nothing they did made any difference to the way they were treated.

James O’Neill Mayne used his inheritance to become a philanthropist who, among other things, funded the purchase of 270 acres of land by the river at St Lucia on which to build the University of Queensland, and the site he donated still houses the main campus of the University.

In 2011 new research came to light which suggests that information on the ‘Kangaroo Point murder’ was first published during the 1920s. If, in fact, the main source of material for the book was derived from a magazine article of that time, it suggests that our understanding may have been informed by what is usually known as a ‘creative interpretation’ of the historical facts.

Maybe we’ll never know what really happened, but certainly the Mayne children should be remembered for the good they tried to do for their fellow citizens of Brisbane.



Another ‘creative interpretation’ of historical fact. Saving Captain Cook at Expo 88. Photo by L.J. May.