Exploring Genre through the text “Chrissie Venn”

Today I worked with my class to explore genre using the harrowing true story of Chrissie Venn. I started by offering some background about the real life murder of the little 13 year old girl, Chrissie, in the Tasmanian town of North Motton, in 1921. The murder case was so poorly handled that nobody was ever convicted, and it remains an unsolved case to this day. A book was published in 2000 which explored elements of the case and told Chrissie’s story. That book only had a small print run, and my sister Fiona managed to get a copy through advertising in the paper, after her curiosity was piqued when hearing all about the tale. Indeed, there are many myths, legends, rumours and innuendos that have circulated throughout Tasmania about the death, the court case, and the suicide of the man who was originally accused but then acquitted. I read my students the following summary I wrote of the tale:

On Saturday the 26th February 1921, Chrissie Clare Venn was cruelly and brutally murdered at the once quiet and peaceful hamlet of North Motton.

The body was found on Allison Road, by the farm of John Hearps Sr. The appearance of the body showed unmistakable signs that a violent murder had been committed. The bodice of her white muslin dress had been ripped and shoved into her throat. Dr Ferris, who made the post-mortem, gave evidence that Chrissie suffocated from the gag in her mouth, placed there by her attacker, when she had uttered the piercing scream which was heard by the two young Hearps boys while ploughing in the farm some distance away. The scream not being repeated, no aid came to the unfortunate girl, who met with dishonour and then death after which the body was hauled into a gigantic hollowed out stump in the lonely and secluded site of the crime.

No one has ever been found guilty of the crime.

Hostility surrounds this murder and for over 80 years since the trial, nobody has spoken “on the record” of her murder.

Mr King, a pig farmer who had originally been convicted of the murder, was acquitted, but was said to have committed suicide some years later.

It turned out that one student in the class had actually been to the murder site, as it is customary for young people to engage in a ritual of visiting the site at night, t0 do a lap of the hollow stump in which she Chrissie’s dismembered body was buried. This has led, as the book attests, to “a fascinating mixture of legend, mythology, ghostly tales and eerie sightings”. My sister tells the tale of her own daughter who engaged in this practice, and how she was scared so much during the visit she became hysterical. My student said that her car stalled when she visited, and this is a common report by many. Others claim to have seen apparitions of axes appearing on the road. I think this story would make a fabulous movie!

So in small groups, I gave each person in the group a different character from the story and a few pieces of real information about the character. I explained that they had to write a recount of the day’s events as the police were collecting witness and testimony from all who were involved in sighting Chrissie on the day of her murder. This writing in role technique is one I use frequently, as giving them the role of “expert witness” provides both a motivation to write and also frames their language use in particular ways that can lead to elevated language use. We then spent time reflecting on structure and grammatical features typical of this kind of recount.

Next I gave the students the task, in their groups, to write a newspaper article about the event, for a range of differing purposes, using Wei Wang’s description of the micro genres of news commentary:

(Wang, 2007, based on Martin & Peters, 1985; Hoey, 1983; and White, 2002)

Again, we spent some time sharing and then reflecting on the way the language changes according to context and purpose.

Finally, since the story of Chriss Venn is the stuff of legends, I asked the students to create a poem, a nursery rhyme, a song lyric or cautionary tale about her. If I get permission, I’ll share some of the writing later, as it was amusing, clever, poignant, and “hair-on-your-neck-stand-up” spooky!

UPDATE:

Here is a poem by one of my very talented students:

The Lament of Chrissie Venn

The stump lies
Silent,
Shrieks unheard
Secrets untold
Ghosts unbound
A dress undone
Fabric unravelled
This is the dead
Eye stare of
A close knit
Community.

(c) Chris Rattray 2010

There is more to come!

47 thoughts on “Exploring Genre through the text “Chrissie Venn”

  1. How interesting! These texts of various genres themselves may be compiled together as a single text to make a very particular text like a dictionary or a story encyclopaedia. Somehow it may become a genre collage with the central plot and the main characters being approached differently.

  2. Hi Angela, Here is my haiku about the murder of Chrissie Venn-

    The screams heard but left
    pain and suffering torment
    consciences never lie still

    I sooooo enjoyed that lesson! see you Thursday.

  3. Hi Angela,
    I accidentally put an extra syllable in my haiku last line should read:
    consciences never still… (doh!)

  4. hey guys
    i live in burnie tasmania me and my brother heard about the myth from one of his friends so we went with him to check it out entering the place my car fogged up it was a summers night with the windows partly down we only stayed for like 2 mins no one would get out the adrelane was intense awesome feeling

  5. hi there ok in 2002 myself and my partner at the time and a friend went to the cemetary where chrissie venn lays,note i left out where chrissy venn lays “to rest” it was around 11pm on a winters night in 2002 that we went to the site where the groosem event took place,at the time we where driving a 1999 model car which at that time was fairly new,on approaching the site there is a slight hill and this is when the car started to shutter and splutter,so i chose to just gently roll back,i could feel chrissy venn and she didnt want us there that night so i obeyed her wishes,but i can tell u this much she is either at the cemetary or the site of the murder,she will never rest and the reason being is that the murderer was never found guilty as u know.im once again returning to the site with a group of 4 of us in october this year so once again il see if she lets my group actualy arrive at the site this time.
    feel free to email me with questions /thoughts etc commonclint@hotmail.com

  6. hi there me n my friend went out to allisons road but could not find where chrissie venn was buried could someone plz email me the location of where the grave is and the tree stump! I want to go check it out for my self and my mum and sister wants to camp out there for the night, crazy i know haha!

  7. I was up Alisons Road in North Motton a few months ago with a few mates and we parked the car and got out and had a walk around, by the time we got back to the car only a few minutes later the windows were all fogged up and there was writing on the inside of the windows! Creepy!

  8. Hello,

    my great, great, great Grandfather was John Hearps of Hearp’s farm. On the way to North Motton, is Hearps’s road which is named after the familly.

    He and his 2 sons who owned and worked on the farm adjacent to where Chrissie Venn was found murdered in the stump were questioned and interogated about the murder by the Police for some months.

    Also, one of John Hearp’s daughters whom was my great, great Grandmother was in the same grade and class as Chrisie Venn at school (North Motton Primary) when she went missing.

    Thought you all might be interested to know!

  9. Grade 8s at Parklands High go up there to Paton Park for camp and people had seen a ghost a grave yard and someone had actually been possesed by this ghost.

  10. hello all who read this,my name is pete. my family & i live in north motton opposite a large row of old pines & only three doors from her final resting place which is quite well cared for by locals. the church is now gone. the grave sites must have been hard work preparing as the ground is water logged,but in the spring is abundant with beautiful wild bulbs & fine roses.the road which the grave site is on is called church road but in the past has been known also as venns road . i know this because cris venn (male freind of mine) lived very close. it’s not spoke of much but i plan to gather more local history to add to our b&b,cheers pete.

  11. my family have quite alot of bush land up that way and i always go there along allisons road and, the axe on the road is there when i go but isnt when i come home, but i havent experinced my car having trouble or anything, but the story is so sad😦

  12. Hi There, I am of the firm belief that my great-great-uncle, Charles (Chick) Purton, murdered Chrissie Venn. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has connections to this awful crime, particularly George King’s family.

    Thanks

  13. A few years ago, eight of us drove to Allison’s Road in two cars. Although nothing was seen or heard, it was the most horrifying experience. Walking down the track towards the stump, we were all cheerful and it was a quiet Summer’s night. At the bottom of the hill, four of us felt our eyes water and without even saying a word to each other we felt the need to run back up the hill and leave the area. The other four continued along the road, and from the top of the hill we could hear them scream and come running back up the track. The warm Summer’s night became suddenly cold and the car windows had fogged. None of the last four would speak of what they saw, but confirmed they had made it as far as the tree stump.

  14. ^^ if anyone has been there it would be extremely hard to loose control on a straight long road. Oh one more thing a friend of mine was taking a video on her phone, a bit of smoke appeared on her screan and blowing noise started and it then disappeared, what’s down at pattson park? We walked all the way down to the scout hall and saw no grave yard?

  15. I have read the book Suffer Little children, due to the connection of my Grandfather Charles Purton, in the Court Case, i have copies of the court case,, but lent the book to a person who never returned it, I also lived in North Motton in 1982 and visited the grave, and my sons road their motor bikes past the area where Chrissi was murdered, they told stories of a shadow of a AXE falling across the road, there was a lot of gossip anout my grandfather, who went missing about 1945,and the family never heard from him again,

  16. The poems are great, and a lot of comments very interesting, My great Grandfather Charles Taylor was in the search party and was the first to look into the stump, which was about 12 feet high,he noticed shoe holes in the stump and in one was a spur, Chrissi Venn was not dismembered, she was head first in the stump, with lace material and a brooch stuffed in her mouth, she also had Hay band wire twisted tightly around her neck, Chrissi was also sexually assaulted, the place she was taken for the Post Mortem was SEA VIEW HOTEL (River Arms), my grandfather Charles (chick) Purton was also on the road on his horse the day Chrissi went missing ,about 1/2 a mile from Chrissis home. About the Book Suffer Little Children, the person who wrote that in my opinion -wrote it in a way to put the blame on Charles Purton, which upset some of the Purton children, especially my uncle and my mum. All through my life i have heard stories about Charles Purton, and my grandmother Minni Purton who i was very closed to, said many things to me , that i still think about today, George King was suspect due to scratches on his face and hands, and he did not join the search party the day Chrissi was found,

  17. In 1982 I visited the stump with a carload of people at night.”suffer little children” was painted on the road.It is a very spooky place.I thought the story was a myth until my grandfather told me it was a real murder.I was also told that a suspect was a Freemason and through this connection was able to move to the mainland and avoid conviction.

  18. I was bought up with the legend of CRISSY VEN my grandfather (who I lived with at the time) was Chics brother I was in Tasmania 2011 visited the property where the family lived and the remains of the stump I can remember the spot as it was pointed out to me many times over the years as we used to go to Purton Flat to visit the family I to am a family member and I remember Minnie Chic and many other members of the Purton family I have now passed the Legend along to my Daughter who will follow this through ,she and I are going home TASSY that is latter in 2012 and I shall take her to the site of the old home the flats and of course to Crissy Vens resting place may she be able to rest in peace

  19. have just read a comment about someone walking down a track to the stump sorry Mate you are the one who was led up the track NO TRACK WHERE SHE WAS LEFT IN THE STUMP FAMILY MEMBER

  20. Brenda I hope you check this site my daughter Christine McArthur (see above messages) would love to hear from you in regards to this matter

  21. Brenda you do not say if you live in Tasmania . The Ulverstone Historical Society may be able to help with the court copies at a small cost . by the way the man I knew as Abo was your Uncle or Great Uncle ? unfortunately they all had nick names that is the only name I remember him by . I seem to be jotting down bits and pieces , it is only as I think of them . if you live in Tassy we would love to meet with you p;ease get in touch before April 2012 MAUREEN

  22. Hi Maureen,
    I tried to contact Christine via Facebook the other night, but the new timeline version i couldnt see where to send her a message, OK!!i live in Devonport, my mum is Gwenella (GWEN) 4 left out of the 11 Purton Children. I do have the copies of the court case had them for many years, i also have tried to trace my Grandfather, and found their is no Death Certificate (name change?) my Uncle was Dallas(Appo) he passed away some tears ago in Vic. one of his daaughters also live in Tasmamia and is also involved tracing relatives. I would be happy to meet up with you all, Iam on Facebook, BRENDA Atobe(nee PERRY)

  23. dose anyone know where the stump is cause me and my friends tried to find it but no luck and where her grave is id like to pay my respect to her??

  24. Hi,

    Would like the location of the tree stump and would appreciate if someone cud email me. I have visited Allison Rd and the graveyard on Church Road.I have only recently discovered this horrific story.

    Tks

    Jayzeee@iprimus.com.au

  25. I am also a descendant of John Hearps Zac and am now very curious about this story.I have stumbled on this accidently researching the family name.Now I will be very interested in reading the book.

  26. No offence to the believers of Chrissie Venn haunting Allisons road, but i have been to that spot many times along with almost everyone i know who lives in Ulverstone and its vicinity, but no one i know has ever been haunted etc. I am psychic and have seen and spoken to spirits. In the case of crissie venn i think it is peoples active imaginations and in some cases to much alcohol

  27. Can someone please contact me regarding the location of the murder, is it private land or accessible to the public? I am part of a paranormal investigations group and we would love to investigate the area of Chrissies death. My email is piratepete@live.com.au
    I am also trying to get a copy of “suffer little children” book to buy or borrow please if anyone knows where I can get a copy. Am also interested in people’s experiences along Alison’s rd. I have been down there many times to Paton park as a child but have never experienced anything.

  28. Hi guys, my husband and I wrote the book that was published in about 2000. Came across this page when checking for anymore posts regarding Chrissie. I want to reiterate that Chrissie was not dismembered or mutilated. There was no axe involved at any stage. She was strangled/suffocated to death. An updated version of the book is coming out next year. We have added some new info, added some family trees and dealt with the fallout effects we received when the book came out. The biggest mystery is what happened to George William King. We have never been able to find out where he went or where and when he died.

  29. Re-reading the above comments I see that we are felt to have written the book to place the blame on Charles ‘Chic’ Purton. That was never our intent, and our thoughts regarding this murder were based purely upon the evidence. People posting above refer to having copies of the court documents, which makes me wonder whether they have the documents themselves, or copies of the newspaper clippings from the time. The newspaper reports were, at best, poor. We did actually source the Coronial Inquest and Trial documents, and have copies in our possession. Families will believe what they want of course, but we approached the story with no agenda. And to save trespassing charges, the stump is no longer there. It was burnt out decades ago. Chrissies grave in North Motton has been vandalised repeatedly. That is unacceptable behaviour. We hope visitors show respect to the site. Thank you.

  30. Hi Lucy, as a relative of Chic Purton, it is my (and my mother’s – his niece) belief that he was the one responsible for this hideous crime – as you can imagine it still sits uncomfortably with some family members. Sadly, the ones ‘in the know’ have passed away which is incredibly frustrating. I wish we had some solid proof so we could at least provide some comfort to the family of George King. Great to hear of the new edition and I look forward to reading it.

  31. re chrissie venn I for one enjoyed your book in my mind a true account taken as you say from documents I get quite annoyed when people get drunk and want to see something unreal as you may guess I was a Purton and lived in Gawler and was bought up with the story of her tragic death .every time I go across to Tasmania I always visit Chrissie!s resting place as for the person who lived next door what a lot of bull nothing but scrub .

  32. Hi Christine and Maureen. We get a bit tired of the “I’ve been to the stump”, the axe stories, and Quarry/Ghost tales. It is saddening that her grave is set apart from the others, but it was the way it was done back then. She obviously led a pretty awful and short life. We are not judging her mother at all, because regardless of the “golden age” legends, children were regularly born outside wedlock. After the book came out we were threatened with legal action by one of Chic Purtons sons. As this happened after he had visited a clairvoyant, we were dubious. Nothing came of it. The reason the book is coming out again is purely due to harassment from the State Library. They want copies. The story never goes away, does it? We are prepared to take our lumps. My email address is lucy.smith1@live.com.au if anyone wants to query/complain. Spent hours yesterday re-sorting all the court documents we have. It’s a frustrating case. If it hadnt been bungled from the start…

  33. Hey, i have gone down Alisons road a few times and get scared every time. Nothing has happened when i’ve been down there but i would not dare get out of the car because i’m too afraid. I realise i shouldn’t be scared of the young girl because she isn’t the monster, she was an innocent beautiful little teenager that sadly was approached by a monster and a pathetic excuse for a human being. I feel a lot for things like this, and it breaks my heart that someone had to experience it. I hope she rests in peace now and it really upsets and scares me to think her spirit might still be stuck wondering that road because i want her to not hurt anymore and i wish i could help her to cross over if she hasn’t already. But i’d be too scared if i actually saw her, but i just wish i would have helped. I hope the murderer gets what he deserves because it makes me sick that someone could do that to someone or something. I wish nothing like this happened in reality.

    May you rest in peace Christie Venn, i plan to visit your grave with flowers to pay my respects and even though i don’t know you i care for you and your family and anyone emotionally affected. I send my love, protection and strength to you darling Christie and i’m so sorry that this happened but you don’t need to be afraid anymore, it’s over and i hope you feel safe again. You were taken too soon but never forgotten. Xxo

  34. Looking forward to reading this book. Searched for sometime to locate a copy but gave up in the end as it just too difficult. Hope this time is easier to obtain.

  35. My late uncles girlfriend pat was chrissies younger sister she had no license and my aunty Thelma drove her on a number of occasions to the north motton cemetery to leave flowers at Chrissie gravesite

  36. hi lucy,,,mi was also brought up with the legend of crissy as elsie maney was my nana,,,,when your new version ? of the book is published could u please let me know as I did have the original but only came across it by sheer accident,,,cheers ,,wendy Thompson….jinxedgenie@yahoo.com.au

  37. Interesting comments since last visiting this page. i will be very interested to read the new book…my mum has just passed and i felt the full brunt of reading Suffer Little children…i know of my uncle becoming upset …but he has passed …yes i did think the book told me what i had heard all my life…because i was always a curious child who had close relationships with people who told me horrible things about my grand father which i never knew he went missing…..maybe what i was told led me to my comment about the story leaning towards Charles Purton…..i make it clear no ill feelings towards Mr & Mrs Smith …..the Purton children like so many of their time never talked

  38. In brief, our updated book is delayed. We discovered that our work had been used elsewhere without proper citations. Researching this showed us that we were not the only authors used and abused. The forensic analysis of someone elses work takes time. Its easier to write than locate every source someone else has used. We are well into it however, but as we intend to make public our beliefs regarding the plagiarism, we have had to delay the updated version. We will let people know when it will be out.

  39. Hi Lucy Smith can you contact me when book is available, as I want a copy, been waiting years to read it.

  40. Hi Lucy Smith
    I too would love to have copy of your book when you get it finished. Like a lot of people who grew up around Ulverstone this story has always fascinated us.
    Jude Smythe nee Tongs

  41. We are now into 2015 and I was wondering is there anymore talk on the book and when it may be out. Hope it won’t be to much longer.

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