As your attorney…

Ye Olde Englishe Fayre was a fairground which included a freak show where you could see the monkey boy and a two-headed pig. It also had a variety show with the top acts of the day, in between local performers of varying quality.

By 1896 the Fayre had relocated to the site now occupied by His Majesty’s Theatre where you could see renowned singer Priscilla Verne do her best known routine, a song called ‘He Sits in the Front Row’:

He sits in the front row; he is blushing like a maid,
I love you, darling; be my hub; now, don’t be afraid.
Don’t turn away in anger, dear; I always will be true,
Accept this kiss, and give me one; for I love you.

At this point she would lean forwards and beckon to a male patron in the front row to act out the final line. This particular Friday, she turned to Gus McBride, who fancied himself a bit of a ladies’ man. Priscilla invited him on stage to kiss her.

For reasons which are not clear, Gussie declined this generous offer and retorted with an insult which made Priscilla’s blood boil. “You contemptible little cad,” she snarled from the stage. The next day she consulted a lawyer, who advised her she should have her abuser horsewhipped in public.

So Priscilla sent a letter, signed ‘Alice Chambers’, claiming she had fallen in love with Gus and would like to meet him outside the Town Hall on Barrack Street that very afternoon. Together with other members of the show, she lay in wait with a cane hidden in her dress.

When Gussie arrived to meet with ‘Alice’ he was shocked to be greeted by the assembled Fayre employees. “Come here! I want to speak to you!” said Priscilla. Gus began to run along Barrack Street, followed by Priscilla who kept lashing out at him with the cane.

“You cad,” she shouted, “I’ll teach you not to insult another woman as you did me.”

By this time a large crowd was enjoying every moment of the scene, and Gus had to plead with two burly police officers to defend him. Soon afterwards he left Perth and we never heard from him again.

There’s probably a moral in all this, but we have no idea what it is.

All of the dramas

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This is the famous English music hall singer, Marie Lloyd. She has nothing to do with this story, but I quite like the picture.

Dramatis personae

Priscilla Verne: serio-comic singer, with a lusty singing voice, sparkling personality, golden hair and a shapely form

Gus McBride: civil servant, variety show patron, front row seat occupier

Alice Chalmers: Miss Verne’s nom de guerre

George A. Jones: co-manager of the Olde Englishe Fayre, co-conspirator with Miss Verne

George B. Lawrence: co-manager of the Fayre, co-conspirator

Mrs Jones: lady with no first name, wife of George A., co-conspirator

Madge Stackpole: mezzo-soprano singer, apparently talented, co-conspirator

A Malacca cane: pliable weapon, first concealed in a parasol, subsequently in Miss Verne’s dress

PC Bailey: witness to the assault, apparently sympathised with Miss Verne

Chorus: 200 to 300 onlookers, none of whom apparently wished to assist Mr McBride Continue reading →

“He sits in the front row”

Accept this kiss and give me one.

The reporter’s version of events:

On Tuesday night, November 24, 1896, Miss Verne, as usual, took the leading part in the variety programme presented at the Olde Englishe Fayre.

In the second half she had occasion to sing a song bearing the title ‘He Sits in the Front Row,’ and in which occurs ‘Accept this kiss and give me one, for I love you.’ To emphasise the pleasing declaration the singer, it is stated, indicated one of the audience sitting in the front

Miss Verne it is understood, pointed to Mr. McBride, because he happened to sit in the front row, and because he was, she avers, the first person to attract her attention at the critical moment.

McBride, it is alleged, uttered a response in a tone of voice sufficiently loud to be heard by the singer, although she was several feet away, and by those around. If the words used are truthfully described, they were certainly insulting.

Miss Verne at once paused, and glaring down on the delinquent, she retorted, “You low cad,” and those who knew the circumstances applauded her.

When the show had terminated, Miss Verne reported the circumstances to Mr. George Jones, the manager of the Fayre, and at the same time made up her mind to resent the insult in her own fashion. In this determination she was heartily seconded by the other members of the company.

 Her version of events:

She said that in singing the humorous song, ‘He sits in the front row,’ she had to point to some person occupying a front position.

“On Tuesday night I pointed to Mr. Gus. McBride,” Miss Verne continued. “To my great surprise and indignation he made a most insulting remark to me as I stood on the stage. He spoke aloud, and others heard what he said.

“I don’t care to repeat the remark. I paused and called him a low cad, and made up my mind that I would punish him in such a way that he would not insult another woman.”

 His version of events:

Mr. McBride states that he was insulted by Miss Verne and held up to ridicule before a crowd of people at the Fayre.

He was sitting in the front row when Miss Verne sang one of her songs. At the end of a verse she pointed to him—singled him out, in fact—calling him by his name of ‘Gussie.’ She even said she would kiss him if he would go on the stage.

He did not care to be made so prominent before so many people, as they could not help knowing that he was pointed out and was being made a laughing stock of.

On the spur of the moment he retorted with the remark complained of. Perhaps it was a rude remark. He would not have said anything if she had not commenced it.

Caned by Miss Priscilla Verne

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The ladies of the company then met and decided that the man should be chastised.

If you’ve been following the posts here over the last few days, I am prepared to bet that you didn’t guess the direction in which this story would veer:

PERTH, Friday.—An extraordinary scene was witnessed in Howick Street, this afternoon, when Miss Priscilla Verne, the serio-comio singer, who is performing at the Olde Englishe Fayre, publicly chastised a well-known man about town.

It appears that while Miss Verne was singing a song, the man ejaculated an improper remark. Miss Verne took umbrage at this, and called him a “contemptible little cad.”

The ladies of the company then met and decided that the man should be chastised, and a plan to entrap him was arranged.

Miss Verne wrote a notice, signing herself as ‘Alice Chambers,’ saying that she had fallen in love with him, and asking him to meet her at an appointed hour.

He swallowed the bait, and strolled to the meeting place, where Miss Verne met him, and producing the cane, began to publicly chastise him.

A crowd quickly gathered, and hemmed the two in, and before he could escape the man was severely drubbed.

It is probable that the affair will be further ventilated in the police Court.

“I will never be old”

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With a lusty singing voice, sparkling personality, golden hair and a shapely form, Priscilla made a captivating Aladdin.

In 1951, the media remembered that Priscilla Verne was still alive:

This Australian stage star made her first theatrical appearance in 1887, but she has her own method of bridging the years, bringing down the curtain on the ‘eighties with this disarming statement:

“I don’t know how old I am. I don’t want to know. I will never be old, only in years.”

Still in love with life, she walk with a buoyant step and many a younger woman could envy her shapely figure. If variety provides the spice of life this stage career has been highly flavored.

Singing saucy verses set to lively rhythms, Priscilla Verne, at the turn of the century had become the pet of the public and “the Darling of the Gods” (a term applied to the patrons of the gallery).

To capture the big money, this variety artist was forced to forsake her own country. Gold and glamor awaited her in the East. In India she dashed into popularity as principal boy in pantomime, and played at Delhi during the Durbar celebrations arranged in honor of King Edward VII. With a lusty singing voice, sparkling personality, golden hair and a shapely form, Priscilla made a captivating Aladdin.

Then she bobbed up again as lively as ever in 1940 with the Tivoli circuit, a group of veterans presenting the singing and dancing numbers which kept them in the limelight in their younger days. The combined ages of these old timers reached 1000, and if Miss Verne had not been so hazy about her first birthday, the total might have been higher.

Young in mind and still vital, this ‘trouper’ is now toying with the idea of making another comeback in a fresh edition of Veterans in Variety.

The gem of the evening

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Miss Priscilla Verne’s serio-comic effusions were as excellent as of yore, this lady being a deservedly popular performer.

Last evening saw another large crowd at the popular open-air entertainment now being given by Messrs. Jones and Lawrence.

The star of the combination, beyond all question, is Ouda, who skywards, high up in the air, performs some of the most marvellous feats of daring. When it is said that Ouda has no superior, the famous Silbons notwithstanding, we say simply what is true. His flight through space must be seen to be believed.

Miss Priscilla Verne, always a big favourite in the Eastern colonies, has already established her claim to be considered one of the features of this show.

The first appearance of Miss Verne, a clever variety artist who has won considerable fame in other colonies, was greeted with enthusiastic applause, which increased as the singer gained grace in the audience.

The gem of the evening was her song ‘Waiting for the Verdict,’ in which she appeared in character, and her rendering of ‘Their Heads Nestle Closer Together,’ was very artistic, the last of a number of recalls being responded to by a speech, in which she expressed heartfelt gratitude for her splendid reception.


The sister of comedians Joe and Alf Verne, Melbourne-born soubrette Priscilla Verne married minstrel showman Charles Hugo (Hugo’s Buffalo Minstrels) in 1882.

After divorcing her husband in 1892 Verne spent much of the next 15 years overseas working as a solo artist and sometimes touring her own company. In 1909 she formed an act with Nat Phillips’ former partner, Tommy Armstrong.

Verne retired from full-time performing in 1912 following her marriage to politician George Black. She appeared in occasional ‘stars of the past’ shows until at least 1943.

A degenerating and damnable influence

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Truly the animal nature so uppermost in many men finds scope to become aroused at this place of amusement.

Sir,

Following up the letters that have appeared in your valuable paper during the past few days on the disgraceful and unseemly conduct of one of the principal artistes of the Fayre, as enacted in Howick Street, and subsequent upon the many who have expressed themselves as disgusted with the state of things that nightly take place at this carnival, I beg to enter my strong protest against such being carried on in one of our main thoroughfares, right at the very doors of some of the leading residents of our city.

Last evening, in company with a gentleman friend, I visited this place with the object of entering my protest on substantial evidence. I do not hesitate to affirm on the very strongest assumption that such a state of affairs should not be permitted.

No doubt the programme (or portions of it) would be appreciated in the common music halls in the East End of London. The coarse jests emanating during the progress of the songs, which are so suggestive, confirms my conviction that it is not a proper place for respectable men, much less women and girls to attend.

Surely the moral tone of the community is low enough without a ‘company’ inviting the public to participate in its degenerating and damnable influence. Truly the animal nature so uppermost in many men finds scope to become aroused at this place of amusement (?).

I should, indeed, be sorry to know that any acquaintance of mine should attend such a place for the purpose of entertainment or amusement. Amongst the audience were some whose characters would not bear very minute investigation, and the very fact of so many ‘cabs’ awaiting the close is significant.

What benefit, might I ask, accrues to the city from this place? It may fill the pockets of its promoters with unholy gain, but the city and its inhabitants indirectly pay the price.

Yours, J. T. Kevern.
150 Hay Street, December 1, 1896.