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


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 →

Miss Verne knows how to be interviewed

As your attorney, I advise you…

Miss Priscilla Verne readily consented to be interviewed.

“Let me tell you how the trouble originated,” said the artiste to our reporter. “On Tuesday night I was singing a song called ‘He Sits in the Front Row,’ and, as I usually do, pointed to a person in the front row. Mr. M’Bride was there, and, looking at him, I sang—

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.

“To this,” resumed Miss Verne, “I distinctly heard a reply that made my blood boil, and I determined to do something. I consulted a solicitor, and he advised me to horsewhip the man.

“Very reluctantly I did so, but I considered that I had been grossly insulted, and only wanted to revenge myself.

“Accordingly, on Wednesday I penned a letter to Mr. M’Bride, and signed it ‘Alice Chalmers.’ I wrote that I was enraptured by his charms, and asked him to meet me at 1.45 p.m. on Thursday at the Town Hall corner. I added that he, perhaps, would not remember my name, but, doubtless, when he saw me he would remember me.

“I ascertained that he had received the letter, and, accompanied by several other Fayre artistes, I lay in wait for him at the appointed place. He arrived with a punctuality that did him credit, and forthwith I proceeded to interview him.

“I had a neat little, though strong, cane concealed in the folds of my dress, and as he saw me I called out, ‘Come here; I want to speak to you.’

“He began to run, and I followed, and lashed him as frequently as I could. I said ‘You cad; I’ll teach you not to insult another woman as you did me.’

“He broke away from me, and hastily proceeded across the street. I followed, and with each stroke I took good care to let him know what it was for.

“Soon a crowd collected, and I heard him appeal to a policeman. Messrs. Jones and Lawrence, however, put matters right.”

“Have you ever had any such experience before?” queried our reporter.

“Never,” replied Miss Verne. “It is entirely new for me, and I can assure you I was nervous for the time being. In all my years in the business I have always got on remarkably well with gentlemen. The remark, however, was as venom to me, and I plucked up courage and did it.”

“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


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”


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 entertainment value of dead babies


A churchyard and in it a tiny babe’s grave;
An early wrecked vessel on life’s cruel wave.

Yesterday’s post briefly mentioned one of the songs by serio-comic performer Priscilla Verne (who will figure quite prominently here over the coming days).

Since I guess that most people are unfamiliar with the sentimental tripe performed at variety shows in the late Victorian era, offered below for your delight is the final verse and chorus of ‘Their Heads Nestle Closer Together’. See if you can read it without wanting to throw up.

A churchyard and in it a tiny babe’s grave;
 An early wrecked vessel on life’s cruel wave.
Their twelve month old darling, their loved one their all,
 Now gone from this Earth at the Mighty One’s call,
A life of pure sunshine and joy has been theirs,
 With smiling face meeting all trivial cares,
Till all hope was shattered and sped in a breath,
 And life’s sun o’ershadowed by cloud of death.

Chorus: There, in that God’s acre, they stand, he and she,
 The sun veils its head as tho’ in sympathy,
And buried the light of their life seems to be.
 In that grave ‘neath the wild growing heather.
The mother’s tears fall o’er her babe now at rest,
 The man clasps her tight to his sorrow-torn breast;
‘Come, cheer up my darling, ’tis all for the best.’
 And their heads nestle closer together!

The gem of the evening


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.