AN INTERNATIONAL celebrity repeatedly beat a man over the head with a parasol while yelling "I'll teach you not to slander my daughter", 150 years ago this week.
By the time Christine Zavistowski had finished the thrashing, her parasol lay in shards on the footpath outside the Shamrock Hotel in Bendigo.
The target of her wrath, a shell-shocked share broker named Charles Murphy, would later tell people it must have been a misunderstanding.
A key witness begged to disagree.
World famous act arrives in Bendigo
Zavistowski's decision to beat up a stranger on 18 November, 1871 captured the imagination of colonialists across the continent.
But then again, just about everything that America's "Zavistowski trio" did in 1871 attracted attention.
Zavistowski was an accomplished performer and writer.
Beneath her dark hair was a face that seemed ageless, according to promotional artwork made ahead of her shows.
Zavistowski was almost 40 but the artworks make her look as young as her daughters Alice and Emmeline, who were in their early 20s in 1871.
Australian audiences marvelled at her dancing prowess, which a Bendigo Advertiser theatre critic described as "exceedingly clever and much admired".
But it was Alice and Emmeline who stole the people of Victoria's hearts. The young ladies with heads of thick blonde curls had golden voices, famous songs and charisma that electrified the stage.
They performed variety shows that mixed music, comedy and dance into pantomime as well as burlesque - a style that was risqué by conservative 19th century standards but lacked the strip tease element it would come to be associated with 50 years later.
Getting these globetrotting headliners into one show would have been a coup. Bendigo's Lyceum Theatre had booked them for nine.
The performances would run through November and December, including a Christmas pantomime, the trio's best known acts and even a few new pieces based on familiar and beloved music and plays that were popular in Australia's colonies at the time.
Murphy himself had seen the Zavistowskis perform in Melbourne as well as in America, where he had lived before arriving in Australia in 1870.
He was underwhelmed by the trio.
Murphy was boarding in a Melbourne household at the time and on returning home told a group of people including his landlady what he thought in no uncertain terms.
What he said next would become hotly disputed two months later in a packed courtroom, 150 kilometres away in Bendigo.
'Has Miss Emmeline got over her spree?'
There were quite a few things that bugged the landlady, a Mrs Wooldridge, about Murphy's attitude towards the Zavistowskis.
She was herself a performer and counted herself as a friend to all three ladies.
Wooldridge had been particularly annoyed by a cutting remark Murphy had made back in Melbourne on that fateful night in September, as stories circulated about Emmeline taking ill and needing medical treatment.
He had marched into her dining room and asked "has Miss Emmeline got over her spree at Brighton yet?"
He suggested she had problems with alcohol and sex. That sort of speculation could destroy a respectable girl in prudish 19th century culture.
Wooldridge was deeply offended, especially because Murphy appeared to suggest that he himself had slept with Emmeline.
Things came to a head in mid-November.
In what was probably a coincidence, Wooldridge happened to see Murphy in Pall Mall while walking with none other than the Zavistowskis themselves.
She pointed him out.
Christine Zavistowski decided it was time to teach Murphy a lesson about trash talk.
"She rained on him a shower of blows with her parasol, which was soon broken all to pieces," the Advertiser reported.
Little legal sympathy for Murphy
Murphy was not badly injured but he was mortally embarrassed, according to the stories published in the Advertiser the day after the court case.
A lawyer argued that Murphy's reputation had taken a battering. He was being "twitted" by his acquaintances and turned into the butt of jokes every night at the theatre.
The courtroom had never been so crowded, the Advertiser reported.
The atmosphere was rowdy. People were hooting and laughing as if they were in a theatre.
At one point, police officers dragged a man out of the crowd for hissing at one of the lawyers.
The court held the man in contempt but released him without punishment later that day.
Murphy insisted that he had not said anything disparaging to Wooldridge, apart from that he felt he had seen better performances. He said he had never met any of the Zavistowskis.
Any comments he may have made about Emmeline would merely have been the sort of thing you tell a mutual acquaintance when you hear a vile rumour, Murphy said. Wasn't it his duty to warn Emmeline of such scandalous stories?
Wooldridge strongly disputed that version of events.
In any event, even the court appeared to be on Zavistowski's side.
The court fined her one shilling (valued at an estimated AU$12 today) after she declared her guilt.
The Zavistowskis returned to their run of shows, which ended early in the new year.
They left Bendigo with rapturous applause ringing in their ears, and little apparent thought for the man who had caused them so much trouble.
This story is the latest in the Bendigo Weekly's regular history series, entitled 'WHAT HAPPENED?'
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