What does it mean to fight coakum, to speel the drum or to christen a yack? Do you own a skin, a dummy, a waterman or a wedge feeder? Have you ever met a swag chovey bloak or perhaps been passed some shofel by a smasher?
Convicts used a complex slang called flash language which enabled them to talk together about their criminal activity, as well as to ridicule their jailers, without being understood.
In the back pages of the York Police Occurrence Book for 1860-62 a police officer compiled a list of slang used by convict and ex-convict prisoners. The York Police had daily contact with convicts on work parties and ticket of leave convicts who found themselves in trouble again. The flash language list helped local police and officials decipher prisoners’ chatter.
The following terms have been used in the Convict Cafe menu:
- a BEAKER HUNTER was a poultry stealer
- to BUZZ meant to pick someone’s pocket
- SMASHER referred to passing forged money
- to be LAGGED meant to be transported
A number of convict-era terms and names appear in the Convict Cafe menu:
- BROAD ARROW was the imperial symbol stamped on convict uniforms
- BOLTER referred to an escaped convict who became a bush ranger
- the FENIANS were an Irish nationalist organisation opposed to British rule in Ireland in the 1800s - many Fenians were transported to Fremantle Prison
- CATALPA was the name of the boat used in the escape of six Fenian convicts from Fremantle Prison in 1876
- MAGPIE was the slang term for the yellow and black uniform worn by convicts on work parties
- Henry WRAY was the captain of the Royal Engineers tasked with supervising the building of Fremantle Prison
- MOONDYNE Joe was Fremantle Prison’s most famous escape artist