1817 - 1845

Convict Love Tokens

National Museum of Australia

A rare collection of tokens engraved with poignant messages of affection for loved ones

'When this you see, remember me'

Smoothing and engraving a coin with a message of affection was one of the few ways a convict could leave a memento behind in England before being transported.

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 love tokens, with more than 310 in the collection. They range in date from 1762 to 1856. While the vast majority were made by convicts sent to Australia, a handful were produced by convicts sent elsewhere in the world prior to the commencement of transportation here in 1788.

This selection of tokens provides an introduction to the collection. The entire collection can be viewed on the award-winning Convict love tokens website.

'Cast of death'

The tokens often include the names of the convict 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.

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

The tokens bear messages of hope, love and fear. Perhaps the greatest of these fears was that of being forgotten once separated, either by distance or death.

At one time, a chain or thread may have passed through the hole at the top of the token, possibly enabling it to be worn close to someone's heart.

The tokens vary remarkably in design and quality. Inexpert hands have scratched out some while others bear the marks of being the product of an artisan.

While common phrases and pictorial elements are repeated, there is also remarkable individuality displayed in these tiny keepsakes.

'Remember me when far away'

View the National Museum's entire collection of more than 300 tokens on the Convict love tokens website.

Eighty of the tokens are on show in the gallery 'Journeys: Australia's connections with the world', at the National Museum in Canberra.

The National Museum of Australia
Credits: Story

The National Museum of Australia purchased most of the convict love tokens in its collection from British dealer and collector Timothy Millett in 2008.

The Museum acknowledges the significant work undertaken by collectors Timothy Millett and Peter Lane in uncovering the history of convict love tokens.

Their research has provided a basis for the Museum’s research into the histories of a number of the convicts associated with particular tokens in the collection.

Object photography by Katie Green, Lannon Harley, Jason McCarthy, Dragi Markovic and George Serras.

National Museum of Australia website

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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