Perched on a hill overlooking Coronation Drive and the river, Moorlands is possibly Brisbane’s most notorious and intriguing historical residence. Designed by architect Richard Gailey in 1892 at the behest of the infamous Mayne family to replace the earlier family home Moorlands Villa that originally stood on the spot, the foundation stone was laid by the widow of butcher Patrick Mayne and underneath it is understood to be a kind of time capsule containing the newspapers of the day and the reason for the house’s construction.
Since before this Moorlands was built on the site the family had long been the subject of speculation about the heinous crimes of Patrick Mayne including his alleged death bed confession to the killing and butchering a man and allowing another man to hang for the crime. Neighbourhood children had been forbidden to visit or even walk past the house, ensuring it became a kind of isolation tower for its residents including the four children of Patrick Mayne, three of whom continued to occupy the house on and off and until their childless deaths. The fourth, a girl, joined the Sisters of Mercy and spent the last years of her life frequently confined to a strait jacket.
Its next resident of renown was one of these children, son Dr James Mayne who was one time superintendant of the Brisbane General Hospital (later the Royal Brisbane Hospital) and who along with his sister Mary spent a lifetime trying to atone for the perceived sins of his father, donating to churches and eventually purchasing and donating the land for the University of Queensland.
Oddly, the magnificent internal staircase has Patrick Mayne’s initials carved into each balustrade panel and the stained glass window at the top reads ‘Sursum Corda’ a Latin cry of hope meaning ‘Lift up Your hearts’ and alluding to the release of Patrick’s soul.
In latter years brother Isaac was confined to a boarded up windowed room there, having gradually disintegrated into a state of madness and been linked with the savage death of a Japanese man in the vicinity of Milton Station. It was as if the legacy of their father was too much to bear, or, in the nature vs nurture debate, it may have been the madness they all feared being passed on.
During Word War II, as most grand Brisbane residences, it was occupied by the US Army and from the end of the war until 1971 provided accommodation for war widows and orphaned children, which is possibly the reason for the solitary wood and chain swing that remains on the front lawns.