The Mysteries of Verbena House

Title page of the 2nd edition (1882).

The Mysteries of Verbena House; or, Miss Bellasis Birched for Thieving by Etonensis is a Victorian spanking novel in two volumes. The first volume was originally published in 1881, probably by William Lazenby in London. The second edition (1882) included both volumes in one book. Only 150 copies were privately printed, at the price of four guineas.


The pen name Etonensis refers to a person who has attended Eton College, a British school famous for their use of the birch. The novel is usually attributed to two authors: Volume I is attributed to George Augustus Henry Sala (1828-1895), a journalist. Volume II is credited to James Campbell Reddie (1807-1878), an author and collector of erotica.


Spoiler warning

The novel is about Verbena House, a boarding school for young ladies in Brighton, England. One day two gold coins are stolen from one of the students. The 'mystery' is the search and discovery of the thief, the 16-year-old Miss Catherine Bellasis. She tries to frame a younger student, Lucy Summerfield, aggravating to her crime and punishment. During the hunt for the thief, a number of other offenses among the students are detected. All culprits receive corporal punishment of one sort or another on their bottoms.

Miss Sinclair, the headmistress, is originally opposed to corporal punishment. In the course of the events she changes her position more and more, aided by the flogging-experienced Reverend Arthur Calvedon. The two become lovers and Miss Sinclair transforms into a resolute proponent of the birch. Her transformation is, in a way, another 'mystery'.

Verbena is a genus of herbaceous or semi-woody flowering plants.


  • Miss Sinclair, the headmistress of Verbena House
  • Teaching staff:
    • Miss Everard, head English teacher
    • Mademoiselle De la Tourelle, French teacher
    • Fraulein Schrobbs, German and music teacher
    • Miss Cope, junior English teacher
    • plus six external teachers
  • Servants:
    • Mrs. Cleaver, the cook
    • Mrs. Rumble, the housekeeper
    • Three housemaids (Dorothy,...)
    • Sarah, scullerymaid
    • boys: James, Stiggles
  • Advisors:
    • Rev. Arthur Philip Calvedon
    • Dr. Jossop, medical practitioner
  • Pupils (selection):
    • Miss Doloris Montis (Creole from Cuba, theft victim, 15)
    • Miss Waterhouse (bedwetter)
    • Miss Clayton (poor toilet hygiene, 12)
    • Miss Moleskin (poor personal hygiene)
    • Miss Gallick (physically aggressive, fighting)
    • Miss Blandford (practical joker)
    • Miss Mornington (sleepy head)
    • Miss Landor (crybaby, 12)
    • Miss Miriam Talbot (wilful, 16)
    • Miss Catherine Bellasis (thief, liar and buck passer, close upon 17)
    • Miss Haseltine (hidden bottle of gin, 14)
    • Miss Fanny Hatherton (hidden obscene book, 16)
    • Miss Lucy Summerfield (the falsely accused, 11)
    • Miss Marian Escott (toothache)


According to Henry Spencer Ashbee, the first edition was illustrated with "4 coloured lithographs, obscene and of vile execution."[1] It is unsure if this refers to the 1881 edition or the 1882 edition.

The following water color illustrations are from an edition dated 1882 but most likely published in the late 1880s or early 1890s:


Les Mystères de la Maison de la Verveine (1901), title page.

The novel was translated into French and published under the title Les Mystères de la Maison de la Verveine (1901) under the writer's pseudonym Jean de Villiot by Charles Carrington. This edition was illustrated by William Adolphe Lambrecht.

A translation into German appeared as G. A. Sala, Die Geheimnisse der Verbenen-Pension, and shortly after as Die Mysterien der Verben.-Pension. Miß Bellasis Züchtigung wegen Diebstahls., translated by A.P., Vienna, Schindler, 1908, in three volumes. Volume 2 and 3 of this edition are titled Die Geheimnisse der Verbenen Pension (in this spelling). The translator is suspected to be Richard Bröhmek.


A paperback reprint of The Mysteries of Verbena House was published in 2011 by Birchgrove Press. It was edited by Mark McDougal and contains two of the above water color illustrations reproduced in black and white. ISBN 9780987095602

In 2011, another edition was published as a Kindle e-book under the title Erotic Mysteries of a Horny Head Mistress by G. A. Sala and J. C. Reddie (publisher: Erotic Evolution - Illustrated Adult Romance Novels and Sex Stories). This edition is illustrated with vintage 20th century black-and-white adult erotica photographs.

See alsoEdit


  1. Catena Librorum Tacendorum, 1885: 260