The convict origins of ‘public servant’

by Amanda Laugesen

Tasmanian convict Bill Thompson in leg irons and convict uniform, 1870s. Image source: State Library of Tasmania

 

 

Following on from Mark Gwynn’s recent blog on pube, this week I will take a look at public servant. When I have talked about my work on Convict Words: the Language of Colonial Australia (OUP, 2002), it has always been a source of some amusement (especially for us Canberrans) that public servant was first used to refer to a convict assigned to public labour or work for the government. It was first recorded in 1797, and by 1812 was being used to refer to a (free) member of the public service (civil service). Continue reading

The Fatal Shore

The wreck of the Loch Ard in 1878 near Cape Otway, Victoria. Image source: State Library of Victoria

by Mark Gwynn

Last week on 6 August renowned art critic, historian, and man of letters Robert Hughes, AO, died in New York at the age of 74. Hughes, who left Australia in the 1960s to pursue opportunities overseas, is one of a group of expatriate Australian trailblazers and intellectuals that includes Clive James and Germaine Greer.  Hughes had a successful career as a writer and critic before undertaking his major historical work The Fatal Shore: A History of the Transportation of Convicts to Australia, 1787–1868. This international bestseller, published in the year before Australia’s 1988 bicentenary, sought to re-examine the foundation of modern Australia and the role that transported criminals from Britain had in this story.

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The earliest words in Australian English

by Julia Robinson

Dampier's illustration of a 'guano' (a goanna), in 'A new voyage round the world' (1699).

We posted a blog recently with an interactive graph (devised by Tim Sherratt) showing the first occurrences of Australian words in print, as they appear in the text of the Australian National Dictionary (AND). One blog-reader asked us about the words that predate the First Fleet’s arrival in Botany Bay in 1788. Continue reading

A long lost convict: Australia’s ‘C-word’?

The capture of Australia’s most wanted man last week made international headlines. Australian readers of an article in the Canadian publication Oye! Times* may have been startled to see the prisoner described as a ‘long lost convict’.

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