Queensland’s gay philanthropist Dr James Mayne


dr james mayne
Image: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Born into a wealthy Brisbane family, Dr. James Mayne worked at the Brisbane Hospital from 1891 until 1904, first as Resident Medical Officer and then as Medical Superintendent.

He donated his salary straight back to the hospital. Dr. Mayne also made further generous donations to both it and other local hospitals.

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He and his sister Mary Emilia donated the money to buy the land for the University of Queensland. On their deaths, they bequeathed their entire estates to benefit medical education in that institution.

The Mayne estate provides funds to the university to this day through the profits of various real estate holdings including Brisbane Arcade, built by James on the site of his childhood home in Queens Street.

Dr James Mayne
John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

None of the Mayne siblings married, leading to wild conjecture and a fabulous book, The Mayne Inheritance by Dr. Rosamond Siemon. Although a wonderful read, the book lacks sufficient factual information to justify its classification as non-fiction.

One sister became a nun, an older brother, also gay, suffered mental illness and committed suicide in an asylum.

A third brother may also have been gay. Mary Emilia, like James, never married and lived in the family home with him.

Clive Moore describes James in Sunshine and Rainbows as “always dressed fashionably. He wore a bowler hat, carried a silk paisley handkerchief in his breast pocket, and a sprig of flowers in his buttonhole, topped off on special occasions by a diamond stickpin in his lapel.”

Dr. Lilian Cooper and Miss Josephine Bedford

He was friends with Brisbane’s pioneer female medico Dr. Lilian Cooper and her lifetime partner Josephine Bedford.

They moved in the same circles and attended the same social events, but the friendship may have been closer.

James spent time in England shortly before Lilian and Jo moved from there to Australia. Within months of his return home and their immigration, they were attending the opera together.

James decided on the location of the University of Queensland in consultation with his young gay friend Dr. Fred Whitehouse, a geologist and keen rower — the riverside location ideal for the institution’s rowing teams.

Dr. James Mayne died in 1939 and is buried in the family crypt at Toowong cemetery.

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