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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.

Browse our collection

See both sides of hundreds of tokens in our collection, read transcripts and ask questions on our dedicated convict love tokens website.

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.

Love tokens collection

There are 314 convict love tokens in the National Museum's collection, ranging in date from 1762 to 1856. The Museum purchased 307 tokens from British dealer and collector Timothy Millett in 2008.

Millett's interest in convict love tokens began when he joined his family's firm, AH Baldwin & Sons, dealers in coins, medals, tokens and numismatic (coin collecting) books. Millett was fascinated by the tokens and acquired a large collection from a customer in 1984. He continued to build his collection and researched the people named on the tokens.

The National Museum held several tokens when it bought the Millett collection, and 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 continues to research the collection and identify more associations and links to particular individuals, including the three below.

James Godfrey

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'.

James Godfrey's token

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]'.

Thomas Lock's token

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'.

Abraham Lawley's token

In our collection

Convict love tokenA convict love token made from an engraved 1797 cartwheel penny. On the obverse is an engraved female or personification of hope with an anchor at her feet, farewelling a ship that sails in the distance. On the reverse it reads 'Let not / Absence Bannish / Love '.

Stories of sadness and loss

Collector Peter Lane and curators Laina Hall and Susannah Helman discuss three stories from the Australian Journeys gallery: the emotional drama of convict tokens, Alexander Mussen’s redemption on the goldfields and Muriel McPhee’s secret trousseau.
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Presenters: Susannah Helman, Laina Hall and Peter Lane
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