The shillings of 1814 …

A few days ago I posted the following to twitter:

Now really this is an exercise in geekery.

As far as I can work out (and I may be wrong here) there were no shilling coins issued in 1814 and those that might have been in circulation would have had the Roman emperor style head like this

George iii shilling 1787

And the reason was that after the Napoleonic wars the currency was in a shocking state. Silver was needed to pay subsidies to Britain’s allies, copper (as in copper bottomed) was needed by the navy, with the result there was a shortage of coins.

Various towns and merchants issued tokens, some of which look very much like real coins, to provide small change, and even the Bank of England issued tokens to help with paying out cheques.

Most of the high end coins would have been replaced with paper money, sometimes of doubtful validity as banks did fail suddenly and drastically in the Georgian era.

And of course sometimes foreign, often Spanish, silver coins circulated, sometimes overstruck with King George’s head.

Basically the money was a mess.

And in Tasmania, probably even more so.

There was a chronic shortage of coins, anything and everything circulated, be it coins brought by American whalers and silver rupees from the East India company, and even British coins brought in the pockets of the soldiers. In 1813 Governor Macquarie of NSW even imported Spanish dollars to be restruck as Holey Dollars.

Tasmania didn’t become a separate colony until 1825 meaning that Holey Dollars from NSW also circulated in Tasmania and were still legal tender as late as 1849.

So, while there may have been some early British silver coins in circulation in Tasmania there wouldn’t have been many.

In 1816, to bring some sense to this chaos, the British organised a recoinage, where they pulled all the old silver out of circulation and struck a whole lot of new shillings, sixpences and half crowns. And importantly they stayed in circulation well into the Victorian period, basically until they were too worn, along with the coins issued under George IV and William IV, so that in 1840 say, you would expect a mixture of coins from these four monarchs, including George III, principally because they struck so many – which is exactly what you see if you look at the image on the ABC site.

Given that Tasmania was very remote, that is of course why it was used as a prison colony, coins probably stayed in circulation until they were very worn, which is again what you see with the Queen Victoria ones being relatively unworn, while the earlier ones, with the exception of one 1819 George III coin and one George IV coin, are quite badly worn.

So, waving hands, I’d guess that the coin stash was put together in the 1840’s or 1850’s. While transportation ended in 1853, Port Arthur was still in use until the 1870’s. The fact the latest coin is said to date from 1844 suggests a date in the late 1840’s at the earliest.

The queen Victoria coins are not a lot of help to date the collection.

William Wyon’s ‘Young Victoria‘ head was used on most silver coins until the 1880’s, despite the head on the copper coins changing to a more mature head when they replaced the old copper pennies with bronze in the 1860’s. Consequently, the head style is not much use as a guide to when the stash was put together, as all the Queen Victoria shillings in circulation before the prison closed would have had the ‘Young Victoria‘ head …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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