Next club meeting - Monday 4th. October 2004.
Meetings are held at the Abbey Baptist Church, Abbey Square, commencing at 7.00 p.m.
Twenty-six people came to the September meeting to hear Tim Millet speak on the subject of Convict tokens. To begin the talk Tim gave a brief history of transportation. In the 17th century the authorities and Government were obsessed with the protection of property. Consequently offences, that today we would consider quite minor, often carried the death penalty and executions were commonplace. Any crime associated with a value over 40/- almost certainly attracted a death sentence. Those lucky enough to have their sentences commuted were frequently transported to the USA in order to provide labour for the new colonies. However, such transportation was brought to an abrupt end with the onset of the War of Independence. Simultaneously society began to express concern over the application of a death sentence for minor offences, such extremes being considered totally unacceptable. However, as more clemency was dispensed the Government had a growing problem with where to house the unfortunates. Many were incarcerated on the convict hulks of old warships moored in the Thames and elsewhere (e.g. Portsmouth). Eventually in 1787 the Government reintroduced transportation, primarily to Australia. Between 1787 and the last batch in 1868 some 800+ ships transported over 160,000 persons, 10% being women.
In the second part of his talk Tim introduced the probable origin of convict tokens, namely the `Sailors Farewell'. These were engraved coins and discs given by sailors to their loved ones, presumably before a long spell away at sea, as a keepsake reminder of togetherness. They usually depicted a jolly jack tar sailor on one side and a poem or words of endearment on the other. They were either engraved or pin punched. The convict tokens, which mostly date to post 1820, are markedly similar and serve exactly the same purpose.
Tim then went on to display and talk about many the examples in his collection, referring to the personal details of the unfortunates from a recently published reference work, and a mid 18th century report by the then governor of Newgate prison. Many of the pieces emanated from said prison where life could be quite reasonable for the wealthy and very harsh for the less fortunate. Some tokens were probably made to order by engravers of sorts, while others are clearly self-made.
In relating some of the tragic stories of the persons transported there is more than a touch of pathos. In the changing times, especially after the Napoleonic wars, many people were thrown out of work and resorted to desperate measures in order to survive. Those caught felt the full weight of the law, the tragedy being that many were quite young. Also it should be remembered that for many young people from a rural background, being sent to Australia some 12,000 miles away must have felt like being sent to the moon.
The verses on the tokens often referred to a safe return and being together again. The reality was in fact very different. Most women did not wait around for the 7 or 14 years of the sentence and the likelihood of returning was very remote - in fact a later statute forbade the return of transportees. So the words of endearment were a complete paradox. Our thanks to Tim for a very interesting and thought provoking talk.
In our 40th year your committee has decided to resurrect an event once common in the past. The November meeting will be a member's evening. To make it a success we need you all to participate. The main feature will be a bourse (coin fair). We need as many members as possible to bring along those unwanted items to sell and for others to buy. Tables will be available at no charge. For those with just a few pieces there will be a collective members table.
The second feature is for each member to bring along one or two items that for some reason are considered special (e.g. recent acquisition, a long sought after piece, an unusual find, an oddity etc.). We will then be asking for a brief one-minute explanation (either written or verbal) as to why the piece is special to you. Display tables will be available.
The committee is also considering other features such as guess the number/ weight of coins in ajar and a picture quiz that can be done individually at your own during the evening
Any other ideas gratefully received - please contact a committee member.
Baldwins Coin Auctions - 4th October
Spinks Auctions 6th October
DNW Auction - 7th October
Coinex at the Marriot Hotel, Duke St. Grosvenor Square - 8/9th October
Birmingham Coin Fair. Sunday 10th October at Meriden