Flash language

To the frustration of authorities, convicts were known to use their own slang, a secret language of colourful terms and expressions with its origins in London’s underworld. ‘Flash’, as it was known, was used to share information under the noses of overseers, officials and masters. In 1819, convict James Hardy Vaux published a list of convict slang in his ‘Vocabulary of the flash language’. Many terms, such as ‘grub’ (food), ‘mate’ (friend) and ‘kid’ (to deceive), remain in everyday use in Australia today. Convicts also spoke a bewildering number of dialects and native languages. A quarter of convicts were Irish, and many spoke Gaelic.

‘Flash’ terms

  • conk – nose
  • crabshells – shoes
  • darbies or slangs – leg-irons
  • fleshbag – shirt
  • gaffin’ – gambling
  • high toby – highway robbery
  • kickseys – trousers
  • knuckler – pickpocket
  • lagg’d – transported
  • lamps – eyes
  • nabb’d – arrested
  • nibbler – petty thief
  • patter’d – tried
  • steamer – tobacco pipe
  • weed – tobacco