The frogs were having a good time of it


If you’ve not been keeping up, the story so far:

Henry Whittall Venn is a pompous oaf, and WA Commissioner of Railways, who has fallen in love with a young married actress, Eve. She doesn’t seem particularly keen on the old bugger, but who knows what might happen?

Venn has had Eve’s husband arrested on a trumped-up charge, so he can send a love letter, which he is convinced will forever win over his intended. Never mind that Venn also has a wife.

It is getting late in the evening, and Venn is coming towards the end of his letter.

Now read on:

Eve was travelling to Melbourne on the troopship Orient—the Boer War was still raging—and Venn was concerned she might mix with soldiers. He warned her that, as a man of the world, he understood these men, and she should not fall for their fake charms or she would suffer as a consequence.

Although inexperienced at courtship, Venn was no fool. He instructed her that letters were to be sent to the Weld Club, not his home or office. If they were sent to his home, his wife would find them; at the office, his secretary.

The letter repeatedly assured Eve that the stiff, pompous git she had met at the party was dead, and now he was but a man “who looked now and then into a pair of brown eyes and thought the frogs were having a good time of it, because they would sing on, and be near you while I was far away.”

Suddenly, Venn became anxious. Why was Eve keeping her Melbourne address from him? Was she just being careful? Or was she being untrue before their relationship had started?

No… he must not think like that. Instead, he decided to praise her brief note to him, describing it as being like “the fragrance of the roses.” What a charmer the old man was turning out to be.

With a final warning—Please destroy this letter after you have read it—Venn went to bed, ready to post the note in the morning.

To be continued

I think of you as a dear little thing


If you need a refresher on Mr Venn, it is here.

Henry Whittall Venn spent most of the rest of the evening on the back verandah praying that Eve would return. She did not.

They met on a few subsequent occasions, but each time Eve was surrounded by friends and Venn was unable to get her alone. How he hated those other women. If only she would consent to walk with him, he could kiss her and show her the real man behind the cold, sneering façade. She did not consent.

Yet, almost amazingly, his relentless (if gauche) pursuit of Eve finally brought success. Of a sort.

Eve and Mr Eve—for so it will be useful to call him—were due to set sail from Albany to Melbourne, before heading off to Europe for a long vacation.

From Albany, Eve sent a note to Venn which he took as a sign of her affection. We don’t have a copy of this letter, so it is unclear if it was merely polite, or she had genuinely fallen in love with him.

What we do know is that she invited him to write down his feelings for her.

It is telling, however, that she failed to include any contact details for her trip, and he had to plead for addresses. Could this have been a sign that she wasn’t that in to him?

Continue reading →

What cold hands you have, my dear

A quick refresher.

Henry Whittall Venn was a pompous, portly windbag with a huge moustache. After being sacked by Forrest, he passed his final years at Dardanup where he died of heart disease on 8 March 1908.

End of refresher.

Venn is remembered for two things: trebling the mileage of the government railways, and having been an aging lothario.

Guess which one Dodgy Perth is going to celebrate?

At some point, probably early 1901, Venn was at a party when he met a young, but married, actress. We don’t know her name, which is a pity, so I’m going to call her Eve. She needs to be called something.

Since he was 56 summers old, you would think that Venn would know better than to act like a giddy teenager and believe in love at first sight. But that’s precisely what he did.

However, it had been a long, long time since he had been courting young ladies—in fact, he had been married for nearly three decades.

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As the actress said to the Commissioner of Railways

To celebrate Movember, we present Henry Whittall Venn, Commissioner of Railways and Director of Public Works in Forrest’s ministry.

A bald, portly man, with a red face and heavy moustache, pompous, extremely conventional, and very, very longwinded, Venn clashed with Forrest over the purchase of rolling stock.

He accused Forrest in the press of disloyalty. When asked to resign from the ministry, Venn refused three times. On 8 March 1896, Forrest requested Governor Sir Gerard Smith to withdraw Venn’s commission. As Venn famously put it, he was “dismissed in his nightshirt”.

So who would have guessed that the awesome moustache was concealing a veritable Don Juan?

To be continued…