Victorians are invited to learn more about the intriguing life of one of our most enigmatic chroniclers – John Stanley James - as the Royal Historical Society of Victoria’s presents their September lecture: The Vagabond in Virginia and New Caledonia.


To be held on Tuesday 20 September, historians Robert G. Flippen and Dr Willa McDonald will discuss the results of their new research into the Vagabond’s life.


“Australian life has never had a chronicler quite like the Vagabond,” reflected Dr McDonald.

“Renowned as a journalist and ‘eminently unconventional character’, the Vagabond repeatedly shocked newly respectable citizens with his lively reporting of scandalous situations – baby farming, harsh conditions in prisons and asylums, savage sporting events, the life of the demi-monde and pathetic pauper funerals.”


Before arriving in Australia in 1875, James spent time in the USA where he married the widow of a rich planter, used her money to build a delightful Southern mansion, became a leading light in society, took control of the local bank, and absconded when things went wrong.


“Our lecture will bring to life new details of the Vagabond’s earlier life in Virginia, and of his time in New Caledonia,” explained Dr McDonald and Flippen.


“We will also explore the Vagabond’s experience when he sailed to New Caledonia to report for the Sydney Morning Herald on the Great Revolt.” 


About the speakers

Robert G. Flippen was born in Frankfurt, Germany. He is a graduate of The George Washington University, and lives near the Vagabond’s old mansion in Virginia, USA. His interest in Virginia history has led to publication of six books and numerous newspaper features. ‘Bob’ is now Education Specialist for High Bridge Trail State Park, ranked as one of America’s Top 20 Destination Parks. He develops and implements educational programs for the Park’s nearly 200,000 annual visitors.

Dr Willa McDonald is Senior Lecturer in Media at Macquarie University where she teaches and researches creative non-fiction writing and literary journalism. A former journalist, she has worked in print, television and radio, including for the Sydney Morning Herald, the Times on Sunday, ABC TV and ABC Radio National. Willa’s books are Warrior for Peace: Dorothy Auchterlonie Green and The Writer’s Reader: Understanding Journalism and Non-fiction (with Susie Eisenhuth). She is currently researching the history of literary journalism in Australia.

About the event


Date:                            Tuesday 20 September

Time:                            5.45pm – 7pm; refreshments from 5.15pm

Address:                       Royal Historical Society of Victoria

239 A’Beckett Street


Cost:                            $10 non-members; free for members of the RHSV

Enquiries:                     t: (03) 9326 9288   e: [email protected]  w:



About the RHSV


Formed in 1909, the Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV) is committed to collecting, researching and sharing an understanding of the history of Victoria. Housing the most extensive single information resource on the history of Melbourne and Victoria, collections are open Monday to Friday, 10am – 4pm. The RHSV is a community organisation that relies on membership subscriptions. Join today and help promote and preserve the history of Victoria – You can also keep up to date with the past via the RHSV’s Twitter and Facebook page


September 20, 2016 at 5:45pm - 7pm
Royal Historical Society of Victoria
239 A'Beckett St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Google map and directions
Gerardine Horgan · · 93269288
$10.00 AUD · Purchase tickets

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