In the 1870s Melbourne was growing fast and experiencing the flow-on
effects of the wealth generated by the earlier goldrush. Impressive
buildings were replacing the previous neighbourhood character in large
sections of the city and Melbourne was shaping up to be one of the
must-visit cities of the Empire. [White Hat pauses to lift a glass of mildly
intoxicating liquor to our lips while paying homage to our queen ï¿½ Victoria
ï¿½ after all the colony was named in her honour.]
These were heady times and the signs of progress and civilisation were
everywhere. What a difference from the squalor of London and some of the
less civilised reaches of the Empire. [White Hat takes a second sip and
toasts QV once again.]
However, behind the scenes all was not as progressive as people liked to
believe. A writer who we believe can lay claim to be being Melbourneï¿½s first
major investigative journalist arrived on the scene. He submitted a piece
about people sleeping rough to the newspaper ï¿½The Argusï¿½. He signed the
piece ï¿½A Vagabondï¿½.
Tomb of The Vagabond
at Melbourne General Cemetery
Fairly soon he was submitting pieces about various institutions on the
outskirts of society. He went in ï¿½undercoverï¿½ to write pieces about places
such as lunatic asylums, the morgue and cemetery, prisons and other places
that the good readers of The Argus would presumably have had no first hand
experience. Fairly soon he had graduated from ï¿½A Vagabondï¿½ to ï¿½The
The writings of The Vagabond soon gained a following and a certain
mystique ï¿½ any writer who did not reveal their real name obviously has
something to hide and became a creature of almost sensuous intrigue. Ah,
those were the days. The Vagabondï¿½s pieces werenï¿½t just voyeurism for a
Victorian era public fascinated with the seedier side of life. Suggestions
made by The Vagabond about how the social services involved could be
improved often seemed based on a broader knowledge of how things were done
elsewhere in the world and led to action to change our local practices.
For a while The Vagabond wandered off to other parts of Australia and the
world but eventually returned to Victoria. He was now aging and in dubious
health and in need of income. He took on the project of heading by horseback
to the remoter parts of Victoria and writing a regular lengthy newspaper
column reporting on bush and town life in Victorian era Victoria. He
eventually died in poverty in Fitzroy.
Today he is remembered by a few through his collected investigative
writings republished under the name ï¿½The Vagabond Papersï¿½. However at White
Hat we quietly value his observations on country Victoria collected under
the title ï¿½Vagabond Countryï¿½. Here he managed to create a sort of ï¿½Lonely
Planet Guide to Victoriaï¿½ long before the Wheelers were to create their more
high profile product.
The Vagabond is buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery. His neglected
grave features a carving of a hand holding a pen. At the foot of the grave
is a carved urn, obviously contributed by some contemporary admirers.
It contains the simple inscription ï¿½VAGï¿½.
[White hat takes a final sip and toasts ï¿½The Vagï¿½.]