Love at last sight

 

Two recently acquired love tokens give us a fascinating glimpse of the emotional experiences of convicts we otherwise know only through impersonal government records.

The convicts banished to the Australian colonies were torn away from everything they held dear, and many never saw their loved ones again. Two convicts who passed through the Hyde Park Barracks had left behind in England mementos in the form of love tokens – smoothed copper coins on which they engraved their names or initials to give to those they were leaving behind. While only a few hundred such tokens survive today, they are tangible evidence of the heartbreak caused by transportation.

Joseph and Mary Smith, 1817

In July 1817, locked up in London’s overcrowded Newgate Prison, Joseph Smith, a 33-year-old brickmaker and burglar, anxiously awaited his execution. As a final gesture of devotion to his beloved wife, Mary, Smith had this love token engraved with the words ‘JOSEPH SMYTH/CAST FOR DEATH/4th July 1817/AGED 33’, and on the other side, ‘Mary Ann Smyth/Aged 27’. But at the eleventh hour, Smith’s sentence was reduced to transportation for life. He set sail on the Batavia, and arrived in Sydney in April 1818. The new Prisoners’ Barracks at Hyde Park was still under construction, and he was most likely put to work making sandstock bricks for its walls.

In June 1819, however, Smith’s tragic story of lost love took another turn, when Mary, perhaps out of desperation to follow her husband, was also convicted, for pickpocketing, and sentenced to transportation for life. We don’t know if Mary and Joseph were ever reunited, but the facts suggest that true love didn’t prevail. By 1822 Joseph was still working as a government bricklayer, in 1825 he was ill at the Rum Hospital, and in 1832 he died in Bathurst. By then, Mary had met another Hyde Park Barracks bricklayer convict, John Percival, whom she married the same year Joseph died.

'JOSEPH SMYTH CAST FOR DEATH 4th July 1817 AGED 33'
Joseph Smith love token, 1817, engraved on a George III halfpenny, reverse. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums
'Mary Ann Smyth Aged 27'
Joseph Smith love token, 1817, engraved on a George III halfpenny, obverse. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

James Daws, 1826

This token, engraved with the words ‘JAMES/DAWS/AGED 20/1826’, can only refer to an African-English ‘shopboy’ from Liverpool, who stood just 4 feet 9 inches (146 centimetres) tall, and had tattoos including an anchor, a fish and his initials, JD. It was his fourth conviction, for stealing pennies, that saw Daws transported for seven years. He first waited on the Justitia hulk, where this token was most likely made. The token isn’t marked with any other name, keeping the recipient’s identity a secret. It was left behind in England, where it was located by the author in 2017.

Daws sailed to the colony on the England, one of 148 convicts on board. After landing in Sydney in September 1826, the men were marched to the Hyde Park Barracks and inspected by Governor Darling before being distributed for work. Daws appears to have been assigned to a settler at Patersons Plains, and by 1832 he had served his full sentence and was granted his Certificate of Freedom.

'JAMES DAWS AGED 20 1826'
James Daws love token, 1826, stipple engraved on a smoothed 1806 penny; reverse. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums
Head, stippled pattern.
James Daws love token, 1826, stipple engraved on a smoothed 1806 penny; obverse. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums

About the Author

Fiona seated in hammock in Hyde Park Barracks.
Dr Fiona Starr
Curator
The Mint and Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Fiona claims her love of Australian history, genealogy and world history is hereditary – passed on by her mother and grandmother.

This article originally appeared in Unlocked: The Sydney Living Museums Gazette, our quarterly Members’ magazine.

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