Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux

Firsts are always exciting. We are justifiably proud that we own a copy of Henry Savery’s Hermit of Van Dieman’s Land – the first novel published in Australia.

Recently we found that we also hold two other significant firsts – both in the same volume. First published in 1819, our first edition copy of the Memoirs of J H Vaux is not just a great read. It is officially Australia’s first autobiography and Australia’s first dictionary.

Arriving for the first time in Sydney in 1802 as a transported 18 year old convict Vaux passed himself off as a gentleman by talking up his association with grand families. He didn’t bother to mention this was a downstairs rather than an upstairs connection, as his father was the Butler and not the Master.

His book contains the first description of life in Sydney during this very early period.

He must have had a certain amount of charm and eloquence, as Governor King engaged him as his Private Secretary and had Vaux accompany him back to England in 1809. But back in England he was not long out of trouble. Transported for the second time in 1810 Vaux’s second sentence was for life. His second time was much harder than the first as he was flogged and sent to the Coal Mines. But there, in his free time, he was able to write his Memoirs.

His dictionary is of the language of the criminal classes and called a Dictionary of the Flash Language. It includes such gems as:

  • Needy-Mizzler: a poor ragged object of either sex
  • Cly-faker: a pickpocket
  • Double slangs: double irons
  • Fly the Mags: to gamble by tossing up halfpence

You can find copies of this book (in later editions) in the Hobart and Launceston reference collections.

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1 thought on “Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux”

  1. Many thanks for this blog post on James Hardy Vaux. His memoir, in two volumes, ‘written by himself,’ includes ‘A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language’ ‘compiled and written’ by JHV, beginning at p. 146, and is available online at https://archive.org/details/memoirsjameshar01vauxgoog . I’ve found it invaluable in compiling a critical edition of a mid-19thc novel.

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