Monday, June 15, 2009

Dr James O'Neil Mayne and Miss Mary Emelia Mayne

(Photos: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #108322 & #94319)

Anyone with even a passing interest in the early days of Brisbane should read Rosamond Siemon's historical novel, The Mayne Inheritance. This author proves the prevailing viewpoint that only the youthful have anything of substance to offer the world to be a lie; she produced this, her first novel, at the age of 77, and has gone on to write another. The Mayne Inheritance is not some dusty tome either, for it is alive with the trials of living in a colonial outpost and the human costs endured by the relatives of one of Brisbane's early pioneers who hid a terrible secret for most of his adult life, only to then reveal it on his death bed.

Rather than uncover his secret here, I would encourage you to read the book. Let me confine this post to the legacy left by the generation that followed that pioneer, Mr Patrick Mayne, who, by the time of his death had risen from being a poor butcher to become one of Brisbane's wealthiest citizens by securing valuable land holdings in Brisbane and surrounding areas. Mayne and his wife Mary had six children, one of whom died in infancy. None of those who reached adulthood married or had children, and Mayne's last survivors, his youngest son James and youngest daughter Mary Emelia (both pictured above), died in 1939 and 1940 respectively. Yet the Mayne legacy lives on - this is why.
(Photo: State Library of Queensland and John Oxley Library; #193526)
In the background of the picture above, taken in 1968, is the University of Queensland, nestled in a pocket of the river at St Lucia opposite Highgate Hill, which is from where this photo was taken. Originally, the University was situated in the city on George St, but the space there eventually became inadequate, and there was no possibility of finding more land in the crowded city centre. A new site near the (Royal) Brisbane Hospital at Victoria Park had been proposed for the University, but there were problems with that site - levelling it would involve an astronomical cost. To the rescue of the city and the University came Dr James Mayne, who indicated that he and his sister wished to purchase a tract of land at St Lucia to be donated as the new site for the University. This altruism was no flash in the pan, for Dr Mayne had already donated his entire salary from his years as a surgeon at Brisbane Hospital back to the hospital for improvements that included the hospital's first X-Ray machine. With the support of Brisbane's Lord Mayor, William Jolly, the Maynes purchased the land at the then huge cost of £80,000, and handed it to the University Senate in December 1926. This magnificent gift was in addition to a previous gift of land at Moggill to be used for the University's Department of Agriculture.

Unfortunately, it then took several years for the University to commence building on the site, with the result that the Maynes didn't see their dream fulfilled. Not long after the laying of the foundation and the commencement of building, firstly James and then Mary Emelia passed away. Even though the University was desperate for room, Siemon's book explains that the delay in building, and the subsequent muted response to this outstanding bequest, were due to the stigma attached to the Mayne name as a result of the secret Patrick Mayne revealed to the world as he lay dying.

Despite these apparent snubs, the Maynes' generosity continued. After their death, their identically-framed wills bequeathed their entire estates, some £200,000 at that time (probably more than 6 million of today's dollars!), to the University's medical faculty. In addition, the site of the original Mayne family home in Queen St, which James Mayne had transformed into the beautiful Brisbane Arcade, was part of that legacy and continues to provide a substantial annual income to the University.
(Photo: © 2009 the foto fanatic)
Read the book - it's at your local library!

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Next: Tally-ho!

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