Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Murderous Maynes: Patrick surely did...or maybe didn't...hmmm...

Kangaroo Point, 1860's - from the John Oxley Library Collection.
The Murderous Maynes...Part II - following last week's article, surrounding the murder of Robert Cox. To briefly recap, there is no doubt that an horrendous murder took place on the banks of the Brisbane River all those years ago.  However, we'll travel through a little more actual history to give some more grounding on the event, an undertaking that has been fairly lacking in other published sources to date, before we jump back to examine the fiction that's been peddled recently in Brisbane...

The evidence on which William Fyfe was convicted was considered so circumstantial by all official parties involved, that all passed comment during the Criminal Trial in Sydney - from reports at the time, the Solicitor-General (prosecuting), opened that, "The evidence which he should present in their [the jurors'] notice to bring the charge home to the prisoner was entirely circumstantial," afterwards concluding the list of evidence by stating, "That a clear case must be made out for the prosecution before the Jury could convict on circumstantial evidence; and if the facts which he should prove raised a doubt in their minds, the prisoner would be entitled to an acquittal."  Similarly, Fyfe's legal defendant Mr Holroyd, also stated, "The case before the Court was one deserving their most serious attention inasmuch as the whole case depended, as opened by the learned Solicitor-General, on circumstantial evidence.  No one of the facts stated by the numerous witnesses who had been called on the part of the Crown would be sufficient to convict the prisoner of murder; and before they could find him guilty upon the information upon which he had been arraigned they must find, not only that every fact that had been proved was sufficient to fix the prisoner with guilt, but that they must arrive at the irresistible conclusion that those facts were inconsistent with the guilt of any other party."  Furthermore, Holroyd concluded, "by urging the jury not to be led away by one or two trifling circumstances, but to consider well all the facts proved; and if those facts were reconcilable with fixing the guilt on any other party, it would be their duty to acquit the prisoner.  In this case there was no middle course; the offence was either murder or nothing - they could not reduce it to the crime of manslaughter."

Amazingly, the Judge presiding over the trial took a similar stance, almost attempting to coerce the Jury into acquitting Fyfe - "His Honor the Chief Justice then summed up with great minuteness.   He said, this was a case of the very greatest importance: for, as had been observed by the learned counsel for the prisoner, the jury must either find the prisoner guilty of murder or acquit him altogether; and if they did find the prisoner guilty of murder, he would most undoubtedly be executed.  The evidence was very remarkable - it was purely circumstantial; but were those circumstances sufficient to lead them to the irresistible conclusion that the prisoner, and no one else, could have been the murderer?"  Additionally, the Judge heavily reprimanded the Queensland Constabulary for essentially compromising the case - evidence had apparently been "overlooked," being discovered days later, the crime scene had not been locked down, & potential suspects & witnesses had not been arrested or questioned.  Sadly, the Jury adjourned for 30 short minutes before returning a unanimous guilty verdict, dooming Fyfe to the Hangman's noose.

Stories persist that a 4-page statement Fyfe had hoped to read on the scaffold had been confiscated by the authorities, & he had been refused access to broadcast his final message - in truth, William Ritchie, who had attended Fyfe on a spiritual basis at Darlinghurst Gaol wrote a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald after the execution in the hope of its being published - in the letter, he stated that whilst the document had been confiscated from Fyfe, it had been done so surreptitiously through no less than common pick-pocketing between the cell & gallows, a dastardly act authorised by no less than Cornelius Prout, the presiding Under Sheriff...Fyfe had not realised his last statement to this world was missing until he mounted the scaffold & reached into his pocket...finding nothing.  Upon asking if he could still address the gathered crowd, the cap was immediately pulled over his head & the lever pulled - however in the haste, the quick despatch went horribly wrong...Fyfe struck the side of the scaffold floor heavily in the fall, severely grazing his hand & thigh, & shattering three ribs.  Over the next horrifying nine minutes it took Fyfe to expire, a steady stream of blood trickled from the legs of his trousers to the ground, a sight "which sickened even those most habituated to such scenes."  Fyfe was finally dead...having likely paid the ultimate price for another man's crime.

So...how's Patrick Mayne tied up in all this, I hear you ask??  Well, according to The Ghosts of Toowong Cemetery: Brisbane's Necropolis, "One night, at a local pub, Mayne overheard a conversation that would change his life.  A drunken man mentioned that he had a large sum of money in his possession."  This statement, similar to those in Part I of this article published last week, is simply not true.  At approximately 12:30am, after the Inn had been closed for the night at 11:00pm, & Fyfe (& presumably Cox) had gone to bed according to the Publican William Sutton, John Connell (a servant at the Bush Inn) & 3 butchers arrived on the doorstep looking to drink...the butchers were George Platt, William Lynch & Patrick Mayne.  Not one of these men (Sutton, Connell, Platt, Lynch or Mayne) claim to have seen either Fyfe or Cox whilst drinking that night...furthermore, Fyfe provided testimony that Cox had already left the establishment prior to the butchers' arrival.

Before we examine Patrick's "deathbed confession" any further, let's first jump forward 160 years to present-day Brisbane in order to pull apart the two unfounded ghost stories attached to the Mayne family. 



The first involves the Mayne Monument located on 12th Avenue in Toowong Cemetery.  The Ghosts of Toowong Cemetery: Brisbane's Necropolis refers to the structure as the "family vault" - similarly, Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City refers to the structure as the "family crypt."  The associated story, which can now be found blindly regurgitated on numerous pages across the Internet, is to the effect that, "At the bottom of the Mayne family crypt are air vents, which allow liquids and gases from decomposition to escape the vault. At various times, thick red liquid is seen oozing from the vents and down into the gutter on 12th Avenue…"  According to Ghost Tours' night walking tours through the Cemetery, this "crimson red liquid" is supposedly, "the blood on the hands of the Mayne family pouring from the crypt until it is all washed away..."  What Ghost Tours don't tell you, is that the story is completely fabricated, & very poorly at that - the structure is not a vault, it is not a crypt, & the vents in its base are not there to allow the gas created by decomposition to escape...after all, could you imagine the horrendous stench wafting down 12th Avenue if the products of decomposition were allowed to freely vent out into the roadway??

In truth, the Mayne Monument is just that - a monument.  Mary Mayne, Patrick's wife, was the first to be buried on the site after passing away on the 4th of September 1889.  3 weeks later at the family's request, on the 24th of September, the remains of Patrick Mayne, Evelina Selina Mayne (Patrick & Mary's infant daughter), & Mary McIntosh Kelly (Mary Mayne's mother) were exhumed from their original plots in Paddington Cemetery, & were reinterred in the family plot at Toowong - all 4 were buried, below natural ground level, likely with headstones to mark their graves.  However, in the early weeks of 1891, 18 months after the above burials, stonemasons John Petrie & Son arrived on site to erect what would become known as the finest marble monument in the colony.   Carved from the finest Canal Bianco Italian marble by renowned Italian sculptor Primo Fontana, the centrepiece was set atop a raised construction of Breakfast Creek sandstone.  Over the following 50 years, as the remaining six Mayne family members passed away, this monument would have been reopened to allow for the subsequent ground burials to be carried out - well below the overlying monument.  Hence, any insinuation that coffins exist aboveground within the confines of the structure, are simply untrue - & the stories of blood-like liquid running from the vents of the non-existent vault/crypt is complete rot, fabricated solely to create sensationalism on Ghost Tours' overpriced jaunts through Toowong Cemetery.




To examine the second story, we must journey back across town to the CBD - to the site of Brisbane Arcade, to be precise.  Now, the ghost of Brisbane Arcade is a well-known entity, & has been for the past few decades - I was told of the apparition that walks the mezzanine level of the Arcade back in the mid-1990's...& the story had been doing the rounds well before then.  According to folklore, the apparition of a woman dressed in black has been seen on numerous occasions on the upper floor of the Arcade - whilst some of the shopkeepers in the Arcade have caught a glimpse of this woman, she is most commonly seen by the security guards that patrol the building after dark.  According to legend, the ghost is said to be that of a millinery store owner...however two variations of the story exist.  One version claims that the woman regularly worked back into the early hours of the morning in the store's back room, sewing dresses in an attempt to meet her deadlines...late one night, whilst slaving over her sewing machine, the unfortunate soul suffered a heart attack/stroke & passed away alone, only to be discovered the next morning when the Arcade reopened.  The second version, not nearly as explicit, states the woman merely returned after her death elsewhere to look over her store & the Arcade.

So, how do the Maynes fit in??  Well, the construction of Brisbane Arcade was funded by James O'Neil Mayne & his sister Mary Emelia Mayne - built on the original site of Patrick Mayne's butcher's shop & residence fronting Queen Street (in the days when Queen Street was still a thoroughfare & not a Mall as it exists today).  That is where the Mayne association ends...although not if you've spoken to "Jack" Sim or taken one of his CBD ghost tours in the past 5 years.  Prior to about 2007, Ghost Tours' CBD walking tours took in Brisbane Arcade & told the story of the millinery store owner's ghost...however this ghost has mysteriously changed identities in more recent years, courtesy of "Jack" Sim.  In September 2008, a segment was run on the local TV program The Great South East, interviewing the "dark historian" about the ghost of Brisbane Arcade.  In the segment, it was stated by "Jack" that, "Some say she is Patrick Mayne’s wife [Mary], who will forever walk the building as eternal punishment for her family’s sins."  By 2009, we see the same published in the Courier Mail on the 29th of March 2009 as if it were gospel truth, reinforcing the damage to Brisbane's true heritage that Ghost Tours perpetuate - "some" don't say the ghost is possibly that of Mary Mayne...only Ghost Tours' guides do...

Ironically, this is not the first time Ghost Tours have purposefully modified the identity of a ghost to suit their tours, & history in general - I encourage you all to read the article, "The Woman in Black: Solving the mystery of a vanishing ghost," a very poignant investigation of Ghost Tours' penchant for modifying ghost stories & history to boost ticket sales & add sensationalism.

So, taking all of the above into account, where do we sit at the conclusion??  Was Patrick really guilty of the crime??  Did he indeed admit to slaughtering Cox, 17 years previously, when prostrate on his deathbed??  Not really.  The entire story is no more than crafty guesswork.  What we do know from history comes from two memoirs, written in the years prior to 1900.  The first comes from Henry Stuart Russell's The Genesis of Queensland (1888), in which he stated about Cox's murder, "Some years afterwards another, in the horror of a death-bed upbraiding, confessed that he had been the guilty one, and had looked on at the execution of his innocent locum tenens! Let his name perish!"  This claim was again published in John James Knight's work, In the Early Days (1895), yet neither primary or secondary account saw fit to print the perpetrator's name.  Similarly, if the "deathbed confession" of Patrick Mayne is to be believed at all, it was to the effect that he had killed a man for which another had been sent to the gallows - Patrick did not divulge the name of his apparent victim in his confession.  Whilst we can all speculate as to who murdered Robert Cox, the depth of Patrick's involvement will always remain speculative.

For those of you have have made it this far, I congratulate you - you are now far more knowledgeable than most on the story of Patrick Mayne & his connection with the murder that led to his family's apparent "bad reputation".  However, in closing, a very recent sensational claim must be critically questioned, in light of what you've already read.  In Bloody Brisbane: Crime & Murder in the River City, Vol. 1, "Jack" Sim states categorically, "Today, sadly, it is only Patrick Mayne who gets the bad rap.  The crime is now called the "Mayne Murder" and people proudly boast of reading about how a founding father of our town was a vicious murderer as though it was fact.  In my opinion Patrick Mayne did not kill Robert Cox.Seriously, "Jack" - the public proudly boast of reading about the "Murderous Maynes" in your two trashy books, Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City & The Ghosts of Toowong Cemetery: Brisbane's Necropolis, which pegs you as nothing more than a massive hypocrite.

In parting, you, "Jack" Sim, appeared on Brisbane morning radio (on Channel 4BC) in 2009 [scroll down to the "Patrick Mayne" photo to listen], to discuss your "major historic breakthrough" in absolving Patrick Mayne of any wrongdoing in the murder of Robert Cox.  You state that Patrick's "deathbed confession" is hearsay, you claim again that Cox was "dispersed all over the place," you claim that Patrick was questioned on the night of the murder (which he was not)...& then boast that you are in possession of a written confession, penned 20 years after Robert Cox's murder, and 3 years after Patrick Mayne's death??  Apparently, according to the interview, this amazing fact was due to hard research and diligence...two terms I would never use to describe your "historian" status.  So...two questions, "Jack" - if you truly have this written confession, why have you never published this in the past three years, especially since you promised in the interview that it would be published in the 2010 reprint of Bloody Brisbane: Crime & Murder in the River City?  Secondly, if you're so sure that Patrick Mayne was innocent of the crime, why do you continue to tarnish his family's name with your fabricated ghost stories & your "Murderous Maynes" slogan?


I await your reply, as do the residents of Brisbane...

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Murderous Maynes: Patrick did, um didn't, yeah did...ummm...

Overlooking Kangaroo Point (current CBD in background), from Bowen Terrace, in 1851
The Murderous Maynes...the respectful catch phrase coined by "Jack" Sim of Brisbane Ghost Tours infamy, referring to one of Brisbane's founding families in his book The Ghosts of Toowong Cemetery: Brisbane's Necropolis.  The Haunts of Brisbane visited this book & the fiction it contains previously, in the article "O' 13th Avenue, Where Art Thou??."  In honesty, the "Murderous Maynes" catchphrase has always concerned & confused me since its inception 5 years ago, as it seems to infer the entire Mayne family were a legion of murderous gangsters - in actual fact, the family's patriarch Patrick was the only family member suspected of a gruesome murder...a topic that has been hotly debated within professional historian circles for over a decade, after it was alleged Patrick had admitted to a murder on his deathbed in Rosamond Siemon's book, The Mayne Inheritance.  This week, we pay The Ghosts of Toowong Cemetery: Brisbane's Necropolis a revisit with the addition of two equally ridiculous books, Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City, & Bloody Brisbane: Crime & Murder in the River City, Vol.1Over this week & next, we will endeavour to set straight many of the outlandish claims published about the Maynes by correcting the multitude of historic errors contained in all three books, culminating next week in an examination of what ghostly history actually exists about the Maynes, if any.

For those who are unaware of the story, in September 1849 a recently married Irish immigrant name Patrick Mayne purchased a butchery fronting Queen Street. Having arrived in New South Wales penniless in 1841, he moved north shortly after given the opening of Brisbane Town for free settlement. At the time, Brisbane was no more than a frontier town, ripe for the picking for immigrants willing to apply themselves - by 1846, Patrick had secured employment as a butcher at Kangaroo Point. However, on the night of the 25th of March 1848 (or very early hours of the next morning), it is postulated that Patrick horrifically murdered & dismembered a cedar-cutter named Robert Cox at Kangaroo Point's Bush Inn for the sum of £350. Cox's body was spread across a number of sites on the Kangaroo Point peninsula, police taking hours to locate the grisly pieces - ultimately, the Bush Inn's cook William Fyfe was arrested, tried for the crime amidst his protests of innocence & hanged.  A year later, Cox's missing money was supposedly used to buy Mayne's butcher's business on Queen Street, in turn funding the massive real estate empire that Patrick accrued over the next 15 years.  It is further supposed, that days before his death on the 17th August 1865, Patrick had admitted to the prior murder on his deathbed.

What do we know about the murder??  In The Ghosts of Toowong Cemetery: Brisbane's Necropolis, it is inferred the murder took place "in the early 1840's," when in fact it had taken place on the night of Saturday the 25th of March 1848 - furthermore, "fingers were found in a gutter; legs in a street next to a gutted torso; human entrails were found down a well in a bucket; a severed head, on a rafter in a hotel, positioned to stare macabrely down at those who entered. Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City states, however, "severed fingers in a gutter; legs on the riverbank; a gutted torso and genitals in the street; entrails down a well on top of a bucket of butter and the victim's severed head found on a rafter in the very same hotel he had been drinking the night before, positioned so when the owner of the pub opened the door the very next day, its cold eyes stared down at him."

Finally, Bloody Brisbane: Crime & Murder in the River City states,"On the evening of Sunday, 26 March 1848, Robert Cox, a timber cutter, was drinking heavily at the Inn in the company of other men."  Once again, "Jack" Sim has the date incorrect - Cox's body was discovered early in the morning on Sunday the 26th of March, making it impossible for him to be drinking later that evening!  The book goes on to state, "Cox's legs were found on the river bank, his torso found lying gutless nearby in a garden, his entrails discovered by a house-wife down a well at the back of the Bush Inn.  They were pulled up in a bucket of butter which had been lowered into the well to keep it cool.  One account (untrue) has the victim's head being discovered by the owner of the Bush Inn the next day sitting up on a beam, its eyes open, looking down at him when he opened the door.  In reality the victim's severed head was discovered by a dog in a building under construction in the grounds of a nearby rendering works."

So, dark historian "Jack" Sim...what would you have us believe??  You have body parts laying all over Kangaroo Point, in different places depending on which of your books we read - & most ironically, in Bloody Brisbane: Crime & Murder in the River City you clearly state that the accounts in your other two books, regarding the severed head placed on a rafter of the Bush Inn, are completely & utterly fictitious!

For the record, at about 7:00am on Sunday the 26th of March, George Cumming & his family were travelling down the river in their boat when they spied the lower part of a human body in the mud on the riverbank...the upper portion of the body, minus the head, could also be seen laying a few metres away, also on the riverbank.  George immediately sought the assistance of Constable Murphy stationed nearby, who in turn sent for Chief Constable Fitzpatrick - the body was removed from the mudflats a few hours later & the grisly search began for the head.  James Coulston, a bystander hoping to help in the search, noticed a dog coming from an unfinished building across the road from the Bush Inn.  On investigation, he finally discovered Cox's severed head just inside the front door between the exposed floor joists.  Meanwhile, quantities of blood had been discovered in the back yard of the Inn, especially around the fence & the well.  After finding the water within to be bloody, a ladder was procured & the contents of the well were examined - from its depths, a portion of intestine (suspected to be human) was recovered, along with a white-handled knife, a towel & three shirts - one shirt was found to be missing a sleeve...this sleeve had already been recovered, still clinging to the headless upper body portion recovered from the riverbank a few hours before.  Gruesomely, two bottles of this bloodied well water were tendered as evidence in the ensuing trial.

Now we've gone over the actual events proceeding Robert Cox's terrible murder all those years ago on the banks of the Brisbane River, I must raise what is easily the most startling statement I have ever read on the event, straight from the pages of Bloody Brisbane: Crime & Murder in the River City - "The crime suggests great anger on behalf of the killer towards his victim, something more likely between people involved in a relationship.  Police at the time suspected that Cox & Fyfe were more than just room mates - a scenario in keeping with the nature of the crime."  Needless to say, insinuating that Robert Cox & William Fyfe were in a homosexual relationship, & that the murder was a result of a lovers' quarrel, would have to be the most ludicrous, offensive & disrespectful attempt at rewriting sensationalist history in Brisbane by "Jack" Sim yet.  For a start, Robert Cox had only arrived in Brisbane on Wednesday the 22nd of March, 3 nights prior to being murdered.  Furthermore, Cox & Fyfe had never been room mates - on the night of the murder, Fyfe had moved bedrooms from the second storey of the Inn to a room off the kitchen - Cox had fallen asleep in this bed after drinking heavily hours before being murdered, but at no stage had shared a room with Fyfe.

So...after having attempted to set straight the historic record regarding the death of Robert Cox at the Bush Inn in 1848, we are now in a position to adequately tackle Patrick Mayne's alleged involvement in the affair & the multiple ghost stories pitched about the family ever since...in next week's instalment, right here on the Haunts of Brisbane!

**POSTSCRIPT** - Jump to Part II of this article.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

In the bowels of the Bridge: a Brisbane haunting lost to progress...

Story Bridge plan in the Courier Mail, published on the 3rd May 1935, p.14.

Last week we visited Brisbane's iconic Story Bridge, inspired by an incredibly poor rendition of its history published in Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City.  In the article, we exposed numerous historic inaccuracies printed in the book, a fair critique given the self-professed "historian" status proclaimed by the author...however, we were very light on information about the ghostly heritage of the site overall.   During the week, we realised we had an opportunity to give a little factual supernatural heritage back to the residents of Brisbane, when Sean, a fan of the Haunts of Brisbane, commented on the article via our Facebook page.  Sean posed a very valid question regarding the early construction period of the Bridge - "Does anyone have any info on the houses that were moved to make way for the Story Bridge?  I live in one and it has alot of activity here."  Being aware of a known haunting in the vicinity, & with the Story Bridge's construction still in mind, I decided to dig a little deeper...

At the earliest point of European settlement, during Moreton Bay Penal Settlement's absolute infancy, the entire peninsula back past current Vulture Street was a mix of heavily forested highland surrounded by swampy lowland draining into the Brisbane River.  Suitable land was quickly cleared in the area on which the Story Bridge now rests for maize & wheat crops to feed the incarcerated souls & their overseers, increasing the yield of similar fields which sat across the river where QUT's Garden Point Campus now resides (hence the name Garden Point).  At the same time, the Kangaroo Point cliffs (which are also iconic in Brisbane) were quarried for stone, in order to build the fledgling colony.  Quickly after the Colony was opened for free settlement, huts sprang up around Kangaroo Point - the murder of cedar getter Robert Cox, which has taken on folkloric status in the history of Brisbane, occurred where the Story Bridge now resides in 1848 - a story which will play a cameo in next week's Haunts of Brisbane article.

By the 1880's, Kangaroo Point was littered with stately homes, the preceding 20 years having seen massive economic expansion in Brisbane due to the influx of immigrants from England & Sydney with money to burn - those of political power & social note took advantage of the land placed on offer, & constructed what literally would have been mansions to the many less fortunate residents across the river in the steadily growing city.  Gilbert Elliott, first Speaker of the Queensland Legislative Assembly, had owned a house here....in time, ownership of the property passed to Captain John Mackay, the explorer who discovered the area on which the city of Mackay now stands.  Next door stood the house of Robert Porter, Brisbane alderman & one-time Mayor,  responsible for the construction of the original Victoria Bridge sadly destroyed in the floods of 1893.  James Warner had also lived here, the colonial surveyor who mapped Brisbane & its surrounds - early in Brisbane's history, he had cleared a mountain on Brisbane's outskirts of all but one tree for a trigonometrical station...that mountain became known as One Tree Hill, & in turn Mt Coot-tha.  Nearby lived Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior (Member of the Upper House & Queensland Postmaster-General), William Thornton (Member of the Queensland Legislative Council & Collector of Customs), William Henry George Marshall (long-standing Brisbane Town Clerk)...the list goes on.

However, by the 1930's, many of these stately homes had already been demolished in the name of progress - those that still stood had been enveloped by cottages & boarding houses as the population of Brisbane expanded rapidly.   In the early stages of the Story Bridge's planning, it was apparent that property resumptions would be required along the Kangaroo Point peninsula - by May 1935, properties standing in the way of the bridge had been resumed, & all were placed under the control of the Bureau of Industry who held the responsibility of considering compensation claims.  In addition, the Bureau also held the task of auctioning the resumed properties for removal or demolition & salvage - these auctions took place in batches between the 8th & the 29th of June.  Most residences, given their nature of construction (stone, brick & concrete), were demolished on-site & salvaged for materials...however a few were removed for relocation.  On the 27th of June, a crowd gathered along Main Street to watch a large weatherboard house being towed up the street for relocation - the spectacle was reported in the Courier Mail the next morning, noting that many of the Chestnut & Bauhinia trees lining the road required considerable lopping in order to let the house pass.  This may well be Sean's current house, although without further in-depth research it is difficult to say.

However, another important event took place in Main Street the day before on the 26th of June -  the auction of the mansion Nunnington.  Built in the early 1850's by Frederick Orme Darvall, who went on to become the Registrar-General of the Supreme Court of Queensland, the residence was named after Nunnington Hall in his wife's home town of North Yorkshire in England.  In the late 1870's the mansion changed hands, bought by renowned pastoralist William Barker for his family...25 years later, the building would be sold again to Arthur John Carter, Member of the Queensland Legislative Council & Consular Agent to France & Norway - by the early 1930's, Arthur's son Major Hubert Reginald Carter, Boer War & Gallipoli veteran & also Consular Agent to France like his father, shared the property with his wife & family...& one other house guest that was a little less tangiable.  By the 1930's, three members of the family, including Major Carter, claimed to have witnessed an apparition they called the 'Grey Lady' within Nunnington.  Furthermore, the Carters also claimed to be in possession of a family photo taken on the front lawn, in which a spectral figure was plainly visible that had not been seen at the time the photo was taken...incredibly sadly, both mansion & photograph have since been lost to the progression of time, but we can still examine the likely origin of the Nunnington spectre.

In it's day, Nunnington was a social hub in Brisbane - it played host to parties frequented by Brisbane's elite, it played host to foreign dignitaries, it witnessed its fair share of births & especially marriages...however it also witnessed a number of deaths:  Ernest White on the 10th of December 1884, William Barker on the 22nd of December 1886, Arthur John Carter on the 4th of November 1917, & Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert Reginald Carter on the 14th of July 1934...however, only 1 woman is recorded as having passed away in the house.  On the 5th of July 1900, Elizabeth Barker & wife of Nunnington's second owner, passed away after a short malady surrounded by her sons in the same house her husband had breathed his last 14 years earlier.  Whilst it is always folly guessing at the true identity of a ghost, especially given the number of people both resident & visitor that crossed the threshold of Nunnington during its existence, Elizabeth is a candidate...unfortunately, we will never know.  However, one big question still remains, regardless of the ghost's identity...does the Nunnington spectre still inhabit the area below the Story Bridge where its residence once stood on Main Street, or did the apparition climb aboard one of the houses moving past on their way to greener pastures, in turn dodging the demolisher's hammer??

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Brisbane's Story Bridge: There's far more to the actual "storey"...


Recently, whilst flicking through the book, "Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City," the final chapter immediately caught my eye.  Chapter 13, entitled "THE STOREY BRIDGE,"  stood out like a sore thumb for one very glaring reason - the name of one of Brisbane's most iconic landmarks is spelt incorrectly!  After some further flipping, most ironically given the chapter number, I discovered that the Story Bridge's name had been misspelt not once, but 13 times throughout the book...not once had the correct spelling been used.  Most surprisingly, the error was located in the 3rd Reprint Edition of the book, meaning this error has been perpetuated for 6 years since first published in 2005, through 3 separate print runs - obviously, given that the self-professed "historian" author could not even get the landmark's name correct, I was very keen to read over the chapter to see what other historic facts had been horribly bungled.

Firstly though, a little actual history...throughout its construction, the Story Bridge was atually known as the Jubilee Bridge, in honour of George V...it was not until the opening of the bridge on the 6th of July 1940 that the name Story Bridge was bestowed, after Public Service Commissioner and member of the Bridge Board, John Douglas Story.  At the time, a further bridge across the Brisbane River was little required, however the project was championed on the grounds of generating employement at a time of interwar depression. Designed to emulate the Jacques Cartier Bridge across the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal, Canada, the contract fell to Evans Deakin-Hornibrook Constructions Pty Ltd to undertake the mammoth task - construction began on the 24th of May 1935.

Now, back to the book...

Hoping the bridge's repeatedly misspelt name would be the only error in the chapter, I was quickly disappointed as further ridiculously basic errors arose.  Barely into the chapter (which only manages 2 pages), the first glaring error arose - a detail any resident of Brisbane, familiar with the Story Bridge, could deduce after a little thought.  According to the book, "Boxing for the concrete foundations of the bridge had to be laid on the bottom of the Brisbane River.  Special pressurised chambers were built deep under the water in which men worked."  As anyone looking out over the Brisbane River can easily observe, the Story Bridge rests upon three pillars - one at the northern Fortitude Valley approach, & two at the southern Kangaroo Point approach...not one of these pillars are sunk into the bottom of the Brisbane River.  The northern pillar is built on dry land adjacent to the old Water Police Barracks, with the bridge anchored to the overlying cliff, while the southern pillar is also built on dry land in Captain Burke Park with the anchor pillar further up the slope adjacent to the Story Bridge Hotel - anyone who has taken an "adventure climb" on the Story Bridge will know this.

The only truth in this statement lies in the use of pneumatic, pressurised chambers during the initial stages of the bridge's construction.  The piers for the bridge were constructed first, through the closing months of 1935 into the middle of 1936.  In order to support the massive 12,000 tonnes of steel framework that would eventually rest atop them, it was necessary to set the foundations for the southern piers 40 metres below ground level - which clearly posed a major dilemma especially where the Captain Burke Park pier was concerned.  Given the portion of land on which the pier would sit was not far above water level, the Brisbane River running only a stone's throw away, digging down 40 metres through alluvium & well below water level would only end in a flooded pit.  So, a sealed, pneumatic chamber called a caisson, an engineering feat utilised for building piers below water at depth, was constructed - men dressed in deep-dive suits worked at pressures 4 times that of normal surface pressure, & dozens of bends cases required treatment in an on-site decompression hospital...as a diver who has suffered from decompression sickness, I can only appreciate the hardships these men faced every day!

We now move on to the next remarkable statement in the chapter - "Legend persists to this day that the victims of several unsolved Brisbane murders were disposed of in the building of the Storey Bridge.  The most famous of these was the mysterious disappearance of Majorie Norval, personal assistant to the Premier of Queensland, who vanished in sensational circumstances in 1938.  Her body has never been found; local legend maintains her corpse was cemented into the foundations of the bridge by her killer or killers so it would never be found."

So...let's pull this statement apart, without going into too much detail on the Marjorie Norval case - for those interested in further reading, Murder & Misadventure: Terrifying True Tales from Australia's Past will give you a far better rendition of the case than "Jack" Sim's Bloody Brisbane Crime & Murder Tour ever will.  For a start, similarly to our 13 "Storey Bridge" spelling errors, Marjorie Norval's name is spelt incorrectly (spelt Majorie in the "extensively researched" book, as per the direct quote above).  Secondly, Marjorie Norval was not the personal assistant to Queensland Premier William Forgan Smith, but was in actual fact the social secretary to William's wife Euphemia.  Thirdly, all pier work had been completed on the Story Bridge by mid 1936...the approaches on both the northern & southern sides had been completed by late 1937, & the steel superstructure for the bridge was well underway by mid 1938.  Marjorie Norval disappeared on the 11th of November 1938 from Central Station in Brisbane...if "Jack" Sim's "local legend" is to be believed, whereby she was interred within the bridge's construction, her body could only have been sealed into the deck of the bridge which was not laid until the steel framework had been completed in October 1939...almost 12 months after Marjorie had disappeared.

Finally, we reach the ghostly section of the chapter, which contains a very vague reference to a grey apparition apparently seen atop the bridge & a very generic mention of the Water Police who served in the quarters below the bridge.  In nearly 14 years of researching ghosts throughout South-east Queensland, I admit that I have never come across a single story of ghosts on the Story Bridge...which is not to say folklore doesn't exist.  That being said, I have spoken to many Water Police during my lifetime who served below the Story Bridge - their stories tell of suicides, bodies in the river & other countless tragedies that were relayed to me in confidence & should not be publicised for some time coming - thus is the respect any historian should show when publishing their research.  That said, not one of them believed in ghosts or ever experienced ghost phenomena from the Story Bridge as a result of their occupation.

As a final note, I discovered an amazingly ironic statement in the introduction to Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City, signed off by no other than "Jack" Sim the "dark historian" himself - "The stories and tales in this book do not come from Google, internet searches or from imagination."  Imagination aside, it's an absolute shame you didn't utilise Google or internet searches when writing your book, "Jack"...if you had, then perhaps your tale of the Stor[e]y Bridge would have been accurate, & you could have saved yourself further embarrassment by ensuring your poor research & bogus history didn't need to be corrected yet again...