Tragedy at Werribee Mansion

26th March 2018. Reading Time: 3 minutes General, Paranormal Locations. 9522 page views. 11 comments.

A beautiful mansion, a forbidden love story, and two tragic deaths. This is the tragedy at Werribee mansion.

A beautiful historic mansion sits in the suburb of Werribee in Victoria. Its stunning architecture and rich history are also the home of not one, but 2 tragedies.

Thomas Chirnside

Thomas Chirnside left his hometown of Berwickshire in Scotland in 1838. He carried with him a few hundred pounds and a bible. After arriving in Australia in 1839, he started to invest in stock and land. His younger brother Andrew joined his projects in 1841 and between them built a pastoral empire. By the late 1840s, Thomas had occupied the Werribee district and by 1880, he owned 93000 acres.

Thomas returned to Scotland in 1845 where he fell in love with his first cousin Mary Begbie. He asked for her hand in marriage to her parents but was refused. His brother Andrew then travelled back to Scotland for a visit with an odd request from his brother. To bring back Mary any way he could. So in 1852, Andrew returned with Mary (Thomas’s love interest) as his wife. After travelling back and forward, in 1870 Thomas wanted Mary to live in peace and in a place of stature, so along with his brother Andrew, they built a 60-room mansion at their Werribee park property. It took 3 years to build and was occupied by Andrew and Mary and their 3 children where they moved in sometime between 1876-1877. Thomas lived nearby in Point Cook but later moved in with Andrew and Mary. Not awkward at all!

New laws and taxes were slowly introduced, causing financial issues with their venture. It wasn’t so easy to manage and this pressure weighed on Thomas significantly. His health began to take a turn for the worse as he became depressed. His depression was a recurring health condition that plagued him since the 1840s. Was it just the money issues getting him down or was it living with the woman he loved who was married to his brother? Thomas never married.

On a Saturday afternoon in June 1887, Thomas ended his life. While it was a shock, it was not a surprise due to his failing health over the previous months. A newspaper article stated

He was subjected to fits of melancholia during which he fretted over imaginary losses, and declared more than once his intention to put an end to himself’.

Sad Death of Mr. Thomas Chirnside - The Argus Newspaper Monday 27th June 1887

After lunch with his family on a Saturday afternoon, Thomas left the house and went into the laundry. He was found an hour later. It was noted that he had taken a gun from the house, loaded it, and removed one of his boots. He placed the butt of the gun on the ground and his toe on the trigger. He bent forward until his forehead rested on the muzzle. He pressed the trigger and ended his life.

Andrew passed away 3 years later of heart disease and left the property to his sons George and John Percy with the provision that his wife Mary could live there until the end of her days.

Mary Chirnside nee Bigbie

Mary Bigbie was the first cousin to Andrew and Thomas. After her parents refused to let her marry Thomas when he asked for her hand, she married his brother Andrew and came to Australia. They had 8 children together. Along with husband Andrew and 3 of their children. They settled at Werribee Park Mansion as, by this time, a lot of the children had grown up and went on to marry and have children of their own. In 1908, Mary met a tragic fate of her own in the mansion. One night she went to bed and her hair caught alight from a candle on her bedside. She did not survive the injuries.

Some people say that Thomas and Mary have finally come together as they wanted in the afterlife. Others say that Thomas is still roaming the halls of the mansion and the laundry where he took his own life. One can’t deny the impressive and beautiful architecture and the strange energy you feel walking around this mansion, almost like you are not alone.

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  • Reader786 2 years ago

    What is the source / reference of this beautiful story?!

    • LLIFS 2 years ago

      This is information gathered from attending historical tours at Werribee mansion

  • Lesley maree Gallagher 4 years ago

    hey , very interesting reading these comments as I have been to the Mansion a little while ago , it felt very heavy in energy whilst walking through the rooms and also I felt as if someone was behind me , you can really feel the sadness , but with so much that went on in this Mansion now it all makes sense to me as I really didn't know the actual history

  • Crity 5 years ago

    Do you know if the laundry today, that people can walk through, is the original laundry? My daughter walked though today and said ‘it’s kind of creepy in there Mum!’. Thanks for the history lesson, I have been busily googling some interesting info to pass onto my children after visiting today : )

    • Sharnee 5 years ago

      Yes u can and he killed himself where the rocking chair is. I have seen it move

      • Jennifer 9 months ago

        I've conducted a little research and he actually ended his life on the property - not in the Laundry - must have been the wind

    • Living life in full soectrum 5 years ago

      Yes this is the original laundry where MR Chirnside ended his life. That would be why it felt a bit creepy!

  • David Waterworth 5 years ago

    Hi Sarah
    I found this article very interesting.
    We live in Northern Ireland.
    My wife's mother was Australian, her name was Anne Catherine Ritchie.
    Anna as she was known was the daughter of Bettine Everard Browne nee Chirnside.
    Anna's Grandmother was Muffie Browne daughter of Andrew Chirnside.
    Muffie was married to Everard Browne .
    Everard was the son of Thomas Alexander Browne who wrote the book Robbery Under Arms.
    I just thought I'd get in touch we have no contact with Australia
    now as Anna died in 2011.
    I have been doing a little research on the family tree.
    I loved your article.
    Best Regards David Waterworth

    • Pat Davis 9 months ago

      Hi Sarah from Northern Ireland
      My early years were spent in Kircubbin, Co Down until we migrated to Australia over 60 years ago.

      • Pat Davis 9 months ago

        Hi Sarah from Northern Ireland
        My early years were spent in Kircubbin, Co Down until we migrated to Australia over 60 years ago.

        Firstly, Thomas Alexander Browne, who wrote the book Robbery Under Arms as ROLFE BOLDREWOOD, is buried in Brighton cemetery Victoria Australia. You might be able to find a photo on the Brighton General Cemetery website but I have a photo if you need it.

        Secondly, both Andrew & Mary Chirnside died at Colac, not at their home in Werribee mansion. Thomas Chirnside committed suicide in the laundry, which is a separate stone building behind the mansion.
        All the Chirnsides are buried in a family plot at Eastern Cemetery, Geelong, Victoria, Australia. I have photos of all their graves.

        Thirdly, I am not saying that there are no ghosts in the mansion, but a lot of the ghost stories originated from pranks I played on fellow student priests many decades ago. I wasn't a very conscientious student and spent a lot of time in the foundations of the mansion in the middle of the night creating every ghost noise possible. I had boots on sticks where I could create footsteps walking along the corridors. I had a sound system down there where I could play the sound of steam trains or galloping horses etc. The moaning & whispering through a microphone scared the daylights out of student priests in the infirmary. I never told anyone until many years later. Some had written books about the Werribee mansion ghost with its footsteps, moaning, galloping horses & steam trains etc.

        The Werribee mansion was a Catholic Seminary, Corpus Christi College, from 1923 to 1973. The Jesuit professors & students lived in the mansion. The hallway above the main stairs was called the "Lady Chapel" . Any real spooks in the mansion were in for a hard time with so many Jesuit exorcists living with them for 50 years. Some of the professors & student priests were a bit spooky though.

        Some distance behind the mansion is the origanal Chirnside homestead, some farm buildings and a very old building much older than anything else on the property. Nearby stands a bluestone enclosure near the 18th tee on the golf course. Here lies Chirnsides manager, Patrick Logan Edgar, who died in the old cottage on 15 May 1858, a few days after falling off his horse. Both the old cottage & nearby homestead are "SPOOK CENTRAL".
        I posted a video for the 100th anniversary of Corpus Christi College (Werribee Park) on my BUAILE BAWNS YouTube channel:

    • Living Life In Full Spectrum 5 years ago

      Hi David

      Thanks so much for your comment. It’s great to have a little connection and I am thrilled you came across the story. If you are ever out here, let us know and I can put you in contact with the lovely folks at the Werribee mansion who I’m sure would love to meet your family.