Sunday, August 28, 2011

1799 Farthing Coin

We meet the most interesting people at the Museum. Visitors tell us the fascinating stories of their descendants who lived on the Island, and other specialists in fields relevant to our history openly share their knowledge. A few weeks ago we met Russell Stanley, a specialist in coins who writes articles for collector magazines. Russell was interested to see that there are very few coins from the early First Settlement in our collection and none on display. Answering the question as to why so few coins have been found in the archaeological digs, led to an interesting exchange of information and resulted in a wonderful donation from Russell to the museum.

When he visited Norfolk in the mid 1980s Russell found a very corroded 1799 farthing (1/4 of a penny) at Cascade. The road was gravel at that time and the coin was embedded in a bit of dirt at the side of the road. Due to its poor state, most likely only a coin specialist would have realised what it was (the photos shows what it would have looked like). Russell has now very generously donated the coin to us. He has told us that it is worth very little in a monetary sense because of its poor condition. However it is a valuable item to us because we know exactly where on Norfolk it was found and together with the other early coins we have, will form part of a display on coinage in the First and Second Settlements. This will fill an important gap in our displays.

In the first twenty years of the settlements in NSW and Norfolk Island there was very little coinage in circulation. A major problem with the little that did exist, was that it constantly moved offshore due to the purchase of supplies necessary to keep the settlements alive. As Governor of NSW, King tried to overcome this by increasing the value of the coinage, but this only resulted in inflating the cost of the imported goods – in other words the coins still ended up in the pockets of the traders! The next attempt to keep currency in the colonies was a defacing of Spanish dollars by cutting the central portion out of them to make the iconic ‘holey dollar’, with the small cut-out being a silver coin called the ‘dump’, and given the value of 15 pence.

Bruce Baskerville has told us that in the Second Settlement on Norfolk soldiers pay was only received as a lump sum on their return to Sydney or elsewhere. This meant there were simply not a lot of coins about. The resulting problems with payments to the soldiers resulted in a strong barter economy. Bruce makes the point that as there were a lot of whaling ships calling in for supplies, there must have been some trade even if a lot was still bartered. We also know of convicts making and trading hand made items such as decorative writing boxes and furniture with passing ships.

As Russell’s find of a farthing at Cascade shows, coins have been found here. Ruby Matthews told us that when the Pitcairners arrived they found coins and not knowing what they were for, used them as skimming stones at the waters edge! While there are no coins in the collection of items found during archaeological digs in KAVHA, it is likely that some have been found in Kingston as well as across the island and are in private hands. If you have any old coins found on Norfolk, we would love to know about them and would welcome the opportunity to photograph them and offer any conservation advice that we can. Please contact me or Janelle Blucher on 23788.

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