Free Settler or Felon?

James Hardy Vaux

 Newcastle Penal Settlement 1811


Returns of the Settlement at Newcastle reveal the number of people in March 1811 -  

Civil Department victualled - Assistant Surgeon - 1. Superintendent and Storekeeper - 1. Women of the Civil Department - 2. Children above 2 years - 3

Military Department Victualled - Lieutenant - 1. Serjeants and Corporals - 4. Privates - 25. Women - 7. Children above 2 years - 4. Children under 2 years - 3

Persons victualled from the Public Stores - Male 58; Females 11; Children above 2 years - 2; Children under 2 years - 2

Total number of souls in the Colony - 124 ¹  

Lieutenant Purcell remained Commandant at Newcastle until July 1811 and was therefore in command when James Hardy Vaux arrived in May 1811.

Lieutenant Thomas Skottowe of the 73rd regiment was appointed to the position following Lieutenant Purcell's recall to Headquarters.

William Evans held the position of assistant surgeon at the settlement until July 1811 when he was sent to Sydney. Richard Horner was appointed assistant surgeon in William Evans' absence until September when Evans returned to the settlement.

Thomas Watkins, ship carpenter who arrived on the Indian, was employed to build a boat at Newcastle for the use of Government in May 1811. He returned to Sydney in July 1811.

One of Australia's best known convicts James Hardy Vaux also arrived at Newcastle in May1811...  

James Hardy Vaux has the distinction of writing Australia's first Dictionary - The Vocabulary of the Flash Language which was compiled while he was serving his sentence at Newcastle penal settlement.


James Hardy Vaux was transported to Australia three times over a period of thirty years.

He first arrived in Australia on the convict ship Minorca in 1801, having been sentenced to 7 years transportation at the Old Bailey for stealing a handkerchief. He returned to England and was again sentenced to transportation after stealing from a jeweller's shop. He arrived on the convict ship Indian in 1810. He absconded once again and in 1830 was convicted in Ireland of passing forged bank notes. This time he was transported on the Waterloo in 1831.

Below is an extract from the Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux relating his experiences in 1811....

The court was now a second time cleared, and nearly an hour occupied in consultation; when (Edward) Edwards and myself were again called in, and the bench informed Edwards, that he, having confessed his guilt, the court had sentenced him to receive one hundred lashes at the cart’s tail, in the streets of Sydney, and to be kept to hard labour in the jail gang for twelve months. Then, addressing me, the bench observed that the evidence of Edwards not appearing to the court entitled to much credit, and being unsupported by other testimony, the court acquitted me of any share in the actual robbery of Mr. Bent; but were of opinion that I had been privy to the guilt of Edwards, and had received the money from him, knowing it to be stolen! And they had therefore sentenced to also to twelve months labour in the jail gang.

After receiving our sentence, the corporal part of which was severely inflicted on Edwards, I continued to labour in the jail gang for about three weeks, when by an order from the Governor, as I understood, both myself and Edwards were double ironed, put on board a government vessel, with several other prisoners, and transported to Newcastle, commonly called the “Coal river,” without any definite term being fixed for our exile; and as we were both prisoners for life, it was uncertain how long our banishment might be protracted……..

On arriving at Newcastle, I was first employed in wheeling coals out of the mines, a most laborious occupation indeed; but during my continuance at that settlement, I was put to all descriptions of work, and for the last three months, performed the duty of a constable or watchman.

Since the day on which the transaction at Colle’s took place, I never exchanged a word with the villain Edwards. He had been but a few weeks at Newcastle, before he committed a robbery, and absconded to the woods, from which he was brought back by some natives a naked and miserable object. His subsequent conduct at the coal river exhibited nothing but a succession of robberies, and every species of depravity; when detected in which, on several occasions, he betrayed his accomplices, and proved as perfidious as he was dishonest. He frequently escaped by land, amidst innumerable hardships, to Sydney; where, after the commission of some robbery, he was uniformly apprehended, and sent back to Newcastle. In fact, though scarce twenty years of age, nothing was wanting to fill up the measure of his wickedness, but the blackest of all crimes, - an act of murder! And, as is he laboured to attain the summit of human depravity, that act he soon afterwards virtually committed; for being at length, on one of these elopements from the coal river, apprehended and lodged in Sydney jail, at a period when many prisoners, of bad character, were about being embarked for the settlements on Van Dieman’s land, Edwards was included in the number.

He there renewed his iniquitous courses; associating with a band of ruffians, who escaped to the woods, and there subsisted by plundering the settlers, robbing on the highway etc. A party of these miscreants (eight in number) were one day attacked by some armed persons, who had assembled together, and gone in pursuit of them; a serious conflict ensured, the marauders, also, being well armed; and after several shots had been exchanged, the settlers were obliged to retreat, several of their number being severely wounded, and one killed on the spot by the fire of the free booters. The consequence of this outrage was, that the whole of the latter were immediately declared by proclamation to be in a state of outlawry, and a large reward offered for the apprehension of all or either of them. As parties of military, as well as the inhabitants, were detached in all directions, there is no doubt but the whole of these desperadoes have long since received the due reward of their villainy. This account I read in a Sydney Gazette a few months ago, and among the names of the bushrangers (as they are termed), who jointly committed the above outrage and murder, I was shocked, though not surprised, to see that of the young but depraved, Edwards!

Having continued nearly two years at the coal-river, the commanding officer was induced, in consideration of my uniform good behaviour, to permit my return to Sydney on my arrival at which place, I was once more disposed of in the town gang. Being advised to solicit the Governor for an appointment to some less laborious employment, I waited on His Excellency with a petition, in which I urged my exemplary behaviour for the last two years at Newcastle as a proof that whatever my former conduct might have been, I was now disposed to reform; and entreating His Excellency to divest himself of that prejudice which I feared had already operated against me too severely, humbly prayed that he would make trial of me in the only capacity in which I was capable of being useful, namely that of a clerk in one of the public offices…..The Governor very cooly answered that it was not merely my having behaved well for two years at the coal river, but I must conduct myself with propriety for a series of years before I could expect, or ought to apply for, any mark of indulgence.

The Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux, Edited by Noel McLachlan, William Heinemann Ltd., London, 1964. pp 212 –215.    

The Vocabulary of the Flash Language    

Notes & Links:

1). Newcastle History

2). Newcastle Through the Years......
1791   1797   1801   1802   1804   1805   1807   1808   1809   1810   1811   1812   1813  1814   1815   1816   1818   1820   1821   1822   1823   1824   1825   1826   1827   1828   1829   1831   1833   1836   1837   1838   1841   1844   1855   1857


(1) Historical Records of Australia, Series 1, volume VII, Governors' Despatches to and From England, January 1809 - June 1813, The Library committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1916. p. 421 - 422 


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