'Flash' language

Convicts of the early colony had their own ‘flash’ language, made up of slang words developed by criminals in London.

Outsiders couldn’t understand the language, so convicts were able to undermine the authorities with their words.

Convict James Hardy Vaux documented these words in 1812 in his A vocabulary of the flash language, published in 1819. The following is a selection of words from Vaux’s dictionary, and other words in use in the early colony, that relate to the lives of the 50 Hyde Park Barracks convicts in the ‘Lags & Swells’ interactive at the Hyde Park Barracks Museum.

bad
a convict who cooperates with police and officials
bellowser
a man transported for the term of his natural life
bit-faker
a coiner, maker of counterfeit money
bolter
one who runs away or leaves a place suddenly
boned
taken into custody
breech'd
flush with money, ‘in town’
brisket-beater
a Roman Catholic
bug
nickname given to Englishmen by the Irish
bush'd
poor, without money
buz cove
a pickpocket
buz covess
a female pickpocket
charley
a watchman
cly-faker
a pickpocket
cockatoo
a convict who served a sentence on Cockatoo Island
cracksman
a house-breaker
crap'd
hanged
croppy
a convict (originally an Irish convict)
darbie'd
fettered (wearing chains or irons)
done
convicted
file
a person who has had a long course of experience in the arts of fraud
floor'd
so drunk as to be incapable of standing
fly
vigilant, cunning, not easily duped
galloot
a soldier
grab'd
taken, apprehended
horney
a constable
in town
flush with money, ‘breech’d’
kid
a child, but particularly a boy who begins thieving at an early age
kinchen
a young lad
knuckler
a pickpocket
lifer
someone transported with a life sentence
lag
a convict under sentence of transportation
lagger
a sailor
lushy cove
a drunken man
lushy
drunk, intoxicated
mollisher
a woman
nibb'd
taken into custody
nibbler
a pilferer or petty thief
pall
a partner, companion, associate or accomplice
pebble
a convict whose behaviour is incorrigible
prig
a thief
pulled up
taken into custody, in confinement
queer gam'd
bandy legged, or having otherwise deformed legs
queer
bad, counterfeit, false, unwell in health
qock'd
forgetful, absent in mind
rump'd
flogged or scourged
sevener
a convict sentenced to a term of seven years’ transportation
scamp
a highwayman, man who commits robbery on the highway
scrag'd
hanged
scurf'd
taken into custody
shook
synonymous with ‘rock’d’
slang'd
fettered (wearing chains or irons)
sneaksman
a man or boy who ‘goes upon the sneak’ (robs houses or shops)
sharp
a gambler, cheat or swindler
swell
a gentleman or any well-dressed person
swish'd
married
swoddy
a soldier
tobyman
a highwayman
toddler
an infirm elderly person
top'd
hanged
ticketer
man or woman holding a ticket of leave
up in the stirrups
a man who is ‘in Swell Street’, that is, having plenty of money
vardo-gill
waggoner