Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Famous Vagabond of ...Australia?

The Vagabond was such a famous person throughout Australia in the latter part of the 19th century he had a wide readership, worked for numerous papers, lauded by fellow journalists and was characterised in Christmas pantomimes - and yet none knew his real name until 16 years after his death.

John Stanley James, lawyer's clerk, was born in England in 1843 but after a disagreement with his pater he changed his name, career and country by becoming Julian Thomas, journalist, in America.

A short-lived marriage and unsuccessful employment in America saw Julian arrive in Sydney in 1875 and his first articles began appearing the Melbourne newspaper The Argus in 1876.
Signed by "A Vagabond", Thomas wrote on social life and institutions " not attainable to the majority". His articles were fuelled by him gaining employment in the likes of Pentridge Prison, the Benevolent Asylum, the Alfred Hospital, the lunatic asylum at Kew and his sharp observations of each place and person which he portrayed to his readers.
Also the mystery of A Vagabonds' true identity didn't hurt, either.

1877 and A Vagabond was off to Sydney to pen items for the Sydney Morning Herald and he managed to fit in a visit to Cooktown to report on the Chinese gold diggers for The Argus.
In New Caledonia in 1878 to report on the native uprising, readers were horrified at his reports of the French colonial administration's brutality, which were later published with other items in the book Cannibals and Convicts.

Moving from one newspaper to another, A Vagabond again travelled overseas for his news reports, published another collection of his stories, authored a successful play and became the secretary for the Victorian Royal Commission on charities, but continued writing articles until he gave up eating and drinking in 1896.

Somewhere in the Melbourne General Cemetery is a headstone simply stating -
"Julian Thomas - The Vagabond".

For more information on A Vagabond click HERE
a picture, click HERE


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