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Convict love tokens

Circular token inscribed with an image of a three masted sailing ship and the words 'Accept this dear Mother from your unforunate son - Thos Alsop - Transported July 25, Aged 21, 1833'
'Accept this dear Mother from your unfortunate son', a token from Thomas Alsop, transported in 1833.

At a glance

  • coins engraved with convict details and messages of affection
  • world's largest collection
  • created between 1762 and 1856
  • on show in the Journeys gallery

Rare personal convict mementos

Smoothing and engraving a coin with a message of affection was one of the few ways a convict transported to Australia could leave a memento behind with loved ones in England.

These small tokens are also known as 'leaden hearts'. They record personal and emotional responses from convicts whose lives are more often represented by official government records.

The National Museum of Australia holds the world's largest collection of convict tokens, with 314 in its collection.

View the entire collection online

View both sides of every token in the Museum's collection, read transcriptions, leave comments or ask questions on our dedicated Convict love tokens website.

Convict love tokens screen capture

The Convict love tokens website received the Judges' Special Award for multimedia and the level 2 multimedia award at the 2014 Museums Australia Publication Design Awards.

Tracing the lines

Convict love tokens often include the names of the prisoner and their loved one, the length of the convict's sentence and popular phrases and rhymes of separation. They were frequently engraved around the time of conviction for a prisoner's loved one or family.

Convict love tokens were engraved or stippled, which involves making marks with a series of small pin pricks. They were crafted by professionals and amateurs.

About the collection

There are 314 convict love tokens in the National Museum's collection, ranging in date from 1762 to 1856. The Museum purchased most of the tokens — 307 in all — from British dealer and collector, Timothy Millett.

Millett started his collection in 1984. His interest in convict love tokens began after he joined his family's firm AH Baldwin & Sons, dealers in coins, commemorative medals, tokens and numismatic (coin collecting) books. In 1984 one of Baldwin's customers offered to sell Millett the 70 tokens that formed the 'transportation' section of his numismatic collection.

Millett was fascinated by these poignant keepsakes and the tokens became the basis of his own collection. He tried to find out more information about the people named on the tokens, a task made only more difficult by the efforts of many families to cover up any evidence of a convict relation. He continued to build the collection until the Museum acquired the tokens in 2008, to add to its small pre-existing collection of love tokens.

The National Museum now holds the largest collection of convict love tokens in the world. Other institutions in Australia and overseas have collected tokens and a number also remain in private hands. Thanks to the efforts of Timothy Millett and other researchers, we know the identity of convicts associated with approximately 80 of the tokens in the collection.

The Museum has a continuing program of research into the collection, which aims to identify further associations and links to particular individuals, including the three below.

James Godfrey

Three coins smoothed down and engraved with words and images.
Convict tokens associated with, from top, James Godfrey, Thomas Lock and Abraham Lawley. Photos: Dragi Markovic.

Godfrey was a baker of Soho, London, who was sentenced to seven years transportation for larceny. He arrived in Australia in 1837 and was assigned to various masters.

Godfrey left Tasmania in 1846 a free man. He was bound for Port Phillip on the Shamrock. No further trace has been found.

TOKEN Front: 'James Godfrey, Hannah Jones'. Made by: 'T Boulton, S Stevens'. Reverse: 'When in captivity time goeth very slow, but free as air to roam, now quick the time doth go'.

View James Godfrey's entry on our Convict love tokens website

Thomas Lock

Lock was sentenced to 10 years transportation in 1845 for highway robbery and stealing. A groom by trade, he was one of five children. His family's names were tattooed on his body.

Lock constantly broke the conditions of his sentence in Australia and received lashings and time in solitary confinement. He stole two sheep and was given a life sentence, but received a conditional pardon in 1858.

It is not known if he ever returned to England.

TOKEN Front: 'Thomas Lock, Aged 22, Transped. 10 years'. Reverse: 'When this you see, remember me, when I am far from the [sic]'.

View Thomas Lock's entry on our Convict love tokens website

Abraham Lawley

Lawley was sent to Australia for stealing a handkerchief, after he had already served two years in prison for a previous conviction.

His convict record reveals he was a polisher, listed as single at the time of sentencing. Lawley was assigned to a master in Parramatta and later received his ticket of leave.

He was recorded as living in Goulburn for the 1841 census and later ran an inn at Araluen, near Braidwood. He was listed for insolvency and last recorded at Port Macquarie in 1871 where he was on trial for four counts of larceny.

TOKEN Front: 'AL, AP' either side of a balloon. Reverse: Abraham Lawley, In y(ears) 20, Transported Agakeep, Ann Pembuttom 1828'.

View Abraham Lawley's entry on our Convict love token website

On show in Journeys

These three tokens, along with numerous others are on show in the National Museum's Journeys gallery. Visitors can also use a multimedia interactive in the gallery to view and read transcriptions from both sides of all the tokens in the Museum's collection.