Despite their wealth and status, tragedy – spawned by some very strange decisions – would follow the Chirnside family.
Thomas went back to Scotland around 1845 and fell in love with his first cousin, Mary. He was so smitten with her that he almost immediately asked for her hand in marriage, but her parents refused. Desperate to be with her, the story goes that when Andrew returned to Scotland for a visit, Thomas begged him to bring Mary back to Australia any way he could.
Now, most loving brothers would plead Thomas’ case with Mary’s parents and try their damndest to convince them that his brother was the right choice for her. But no, in 1852 Andrew married her and brought her back to Werribee. Awks. Thomas and Andrew then went ahead and built the mansion for Mary and she and Andrew’s children. Thomas then also moved from Point Cook Homestead to live with them. Despite their enormous wealth, times grew tougher and the financial burden of such a massive estate and their business ventures took a toll on Thomas, and his health began to suffer.
Suffering from severe depression, Thomas had lunch with the family, grabbed a shotgun, then walked to the laundry of the Werribee Mansion and committed suicide. What caused Thomas to take his own life? Was it business pressure, mental health issues, or because he couldn’t bear the heartache of living with Andrew and Mary any longer? We’ll never know.
Andrew then fully inherited the property, but died three years later from heart disease, leaving the property to his sons George and John Percy on the condition that Mary could live out her days at the mansion. She lived there for another 12 years, and died in Colac on March 4, 1908 from burns after her hair caught fire by a candle. However, the Bacchus Marsh Express reported on 14 March 1908 that Mary’s cause of death was blood poisoning from a knee injury. Either way, it would have been a painful demise for poor Mary.
The paper reported that after she passed, Mary was placed in a lead-lined polished oak coffin with a silver plate on the top which said “At Rest” and another at the foot stating “Hope” with a silver anchor, and was transported from Colac by a special train, with hearse, to Werribee Park.
Her coffin was placed in the vestibule of the mansion at the foot of the stairs, surrounded by floral tributes and messages of condolence. After the funeral, Mary was taken to the Eastern Cemetery in Geelong where she was laid to rest in the family vault, beside her husband Andrew.
There’s also stories of farmhands drowning in mysterious circumstances in the adjoining Werribee River, illicit affairs and infanticide which all add to the tragic history surrounding one of the region’s pioneering families.