The Ghost of Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery

mayne-tomb-toowong-cemetery-brisbane (Image: Rocketroad1960, public domain)

Located in Australia’s third largest city, Toowong Cemetery in Brisbane was established in 1866, just over 100 years since Britain began transporting convicts to the newly acquired continent. Brisbane became a free settlement in 1842 which resulted in rapid growth and the cemetery at Toowong was established to cope with the growing population. Housing some of the city’s most influential and well-known residents, famous and infamous, it is a popular tourist destination.

jack-the-ripper-and-ghost (Images: Ames of Bristol/Sibly; Punch; public domain)

Rumoured to be haunted by a number of restless souls, it was even reported to be the last resting place of Jack the Ripper, believed by some to be Walter Thomas Porriott, although this has never been substantiated. Its most famous resident however is Patrick Mayne, wealthy landowner, influential public figure and suspected perpetrator of one of the city’s most gruesome murders.

The year was 1848 and in the new city of Brisbane a group of men were relaxing in the pub after a long day at the slaughterhouse. As they drank their beer and talked about the day’s events, George Platt, William Lynch and Patrick Mayne overheard another man, William Fyfe, talking about a large sum of money he received after selling some cedar wood.

toowong-cemetery-brisbane (Image: Commander Keane, public domain)

The next day, as a boatman rowed up the river, he came across the legs and loin of a man in the rushes. Later that day police discovered upper body parts on the shore and entrails in a well used to keep milk, butter and cheese cool. William Fyfe’s head was found propped in a shed facing whoever found it. The prime suspect at the time was Robert Cox who was accused of having a homosexual relationship with Fyfe. He was tried in Sydney and hanged while proclaiming his innocence.

Later that year, Patrick Mayne came into a large amount of money, almost the exact amount which Fyfe had been paid for the cedar wood. A shrewd businessman, he purchased a number of properties in the rapidly growing city and became a well-known and prominent figure, being elected to the council in 1859.

toowong-cemetery (Image: Commander Keane, public domain)

He donated large amounts of money to the building of the National School and was elected to the Board of National Education in 1860. Despite his humanitarian efforts, he was known to possess a fierce temper and was often provoked to violence resulting in questions being raised about his mental stability.

He married a fellow Catholic immigrant, Mary McIntosh in 1849 and they had six children. Prejudices abounded as to his background and although he occupied a prominent position in the city he was never fully accepted by Brisbane society. Patrick Mayne died on August 17, 1865. Rumour has it he confessed to murdering Fyfe on his deathbed.

toowong-cemetery-brisbane-australia (Image: Rocketrod1960, public domain)

His children never married. A mix of guilt, mental illness and prejudices of society led them to choose solitary lives. His last remaining children, Dr James O’Neil Mayne and Mary Emelia, financed the purchase of land for The University of Queensland and on their deaths left the income from their estates to the medical school.

Much has been written and speculated about Patrick Mayne and his involvement in the horrific murder of William Fyfe. Some believe he was never in the pub with Fyfe and couldn’t have overheard the initial conversation while others maintain he was a violent opportunist who used Fyfe’s good fortune to finance his own interests. Whatever the truth, it provides a fascinating glimpse into Australia’s early history, and the rumoured haunting of Brisbane’s Toowong Cemetery.

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