Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day Nineteen

The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the Coronavirus crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored…..

Bay Fever

Defined by the dictionary as “a term of ridicule applied to convicts who sham illness, to avoid being sent to Botany Bay”. I’m impressed by just how many people the British Government shipped out to Australia for breaking various laws, it totalled 162,000 convicts between 1788 and 1868. I’m moderately surprised that being able to fake an illness was a reason to avoid transportation, as ships at this time were riven with people who had cholera and typhoid.

Incidentally, the journey to Australia took four months and I can’t begin to imagine what a bloody hassle that must have been, sailing along with hundreds of seasick convicts who had cholera or typhoid. The rate of death on the transportation ships was usually relatively low, but in around 1800 the system changed to pay more to crews and masters who got convicts safely (well, alive) to Australia. Which means I imagine that they didn’t want ill convicts on board, and perhaps that’s why bay fever became a thing. Another nice phrase though.