Around the beginning of the eighteenth century, English thieves' cant came to be known as flash, which became the accepted name for the vocabulary during the convict period in New South Wales, from 1788 to 1850.

Flash Coves

The colonial flash language has had a long journey, affected by the complex socio-cultural changes in the penal settlement in the nineteenth-century arising from increasing economic prosperity, gradual shifts in demographic composition and attitudes, and major events and disruptions like the end of transportation and the gold rush provided constantly changing backdrops impacting its use and transformation.

From the sixteenth-century flash was referred to as ‘pedlars' French'. By the late eighteenth-century it was sometimes called the ‘kiddy language’, and by the early nineteenth-century as ‘St. Giles's Greek’.

James Hardy Vaux

Any essay relating to the evolution and subsequent use of flash language in colonial Australia will be incomplete without a reference to James Hardy Vaux, a professional thief transported three times for various offences (the first being in 1801), who put together this dictionary, regarded as one of the important references for the English slang of the times.

 Vaux was born at Guildford, Surrey, in the year 1782. Despite being from a respectable family and receiving a decent education which endowed him with his writing skills, he appears to have had almost a fatal attraction to crime which he discusses in quite an uninhibited manner in his Memoirs, written during his ‘solitary hours of cessation from hard labour’ while in the Newcastle prison, and published in London in 1819.

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