Touching Convict Love Tokens

Posted November 2016

Editor’s note: The following article about convict love tokens is from an exhibit posted by the National Museum of Australia on its website, The messages recorded to loved ones are from those convicted of crimes and sentenced to death or transportation to serve their sentences in British colonies in the South Pacific.

Smoothing and engraving a coin with a message of affection was one of the few ways a convict could leave a memento behind with loved ones 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 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 pinpricks. They were crafted by professionals and amateurs.

The National Museum of Australia holds the world's largest collection of convict love tokens with 314, ranging in date from 1762 to 1856. The Museum purchased most of the tokens, 307, 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 books. In 1984, one of Baldwin’s valued customers offered to sell him 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.

In addition to seeking out and acquiring the tokens, Millett 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. 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.

The National Museum of Australia features many of the tokens on its website (, and just a few of them are shown below.

This token is engraved on the front with the image of a man in chains, arms outstretched. Around the border runs the text: “T C. CAST 17th JULY 1787.” On the back is engraved with the image of a woman holding a rose in her right hand. Around the border runs the text: “To M (Mrs.) Prestrage.”

“T.C.,” or Thomas Collins, 22, a laborer, was tried at the Old Bailey (the central criminal court in London) on 17 July 1787 for burgling John Hillman’s house at 5 Craven Street, Charing Cross. Collins was sentenced to death and executed at Newgate Prison on 30 August 1787.

This token has a fine crisscross border, and five lines of cursive text:

Dear Sarah
when this you see
Rembr me when In
Some foreign

On the back, it has a border of fine crosses and scallops at the top and leaves at the bottom. Two hearts crossed with arrows are engraved at the base. Four lines of cursive text say:

David Freeman
Born the year
1798 Banished 17th
June 1818

David Freeman, 19, was tried and convicted at the Middlesex Gaol (Jail) Delivery on 17 June 1818 for pick-pocketing a handkerchief worth five shillings near St. Clement’s Church in the Strand. Both he and his accomplice John Clark, 27, were sentenced to transportation for life. Freeman sailed for New South Wales on the Lord Sidmouth on 20 September 1818, arriving 11 March 1819. He received his pardon on 1 January 1841.

This token is engraved with a fine rope border and two crossed hearts above six lines of cursive text:

Dear Father Mother
A gift to you ~
From me a friend
Whose love for you
Shall never end

On the back is engraved a fine rope border and five lines of cursive text with a flourish at the base.

when this you
See Rembr me when
In som Foreign
Country John

This token may relate to John Camplin, 15, who was tried and convicted at Middlesex Gaol Delivery for stealing a silver watch. Initially sentenced to death, this was later commuted to transportation for life.

He sailed for Van Diemen’s Land (the island of Tasmania, now part of Australia) on the Surrey in September 1818. Camplin’s conduct record makes depressing reading. He was subjected to numerous official lashings and had his sentence extended by three years in 1833. His record shows that he was fined for drunkenness and theft on several occasions.

A pierced and silvered token engraved with a stippled, scalloped border and the image of a man shooting birds with his dog. Around the figures are stippled words:

D. Poultney
L. Cowley

The back is engraved with a stippled scalloped border and the image of a hat with two feathers and stippled cursive text:

this you see
Remember me
and bear me in
your mind let
all the World
say what they
will dont prove
to me Unkind

It is likely that this token relates to David Poultney, 20, weaver and laborer, who was tried and convicted at the Warwick Assizes in April 1829 for attempted murder. Poultney was one of a group of poachers known as the Newham Paddox poachers, who were involved in an incident on land belonging the Lord of Denbigh. The group shot at, and wounded, the gamekeeper. Poultney was initially sentenced to death, but this was commuted to 14 years transportation, possibly because of a petition for clemency from local inhabitants, who testified to Poultney’s previous good conduct and character.

Poultney sailed for Van Diemen’s Land on the Thames on 31 July 1829, arriving on 20 November. Records show that he was assigned to the police department shortly after his arrival in Hobart as a “field” police officer. He received his conditional pardon on 9 May 1836.

In 1837, he married Annie Watts, and they had 10 children. Poultney became a successful and respected landowner in the Hobart district, and died in 1884.

This token has a zigzag border and a crossed heart.

He Suffered
in this World, in
the hope of forgiveness
in the next and the
pleasing Blessed
…… hope of ……

On the back with a zigzag border and cursive text:

Wm Hy Stanford
Found Guilty of
April, 28th,

William Henry Stanford, 20, was tried and convicted in April 1820 for forging and circulating counterfeit banknotes. Having pleaded guilty, Stanford attempted to persuade the court of his genuine and misrepresented character. However, eyewitness accounts of his extravagant lifestyle over the previous months and a previous conviction were not in his favor. Despite his youth, he was sentenced to death.

Ornately engraved, it features the image of a three-masted ship on the water with a flag flying from the stern.

Accept this dear
Mother from your
unfortunate son
– Thos Alsop –
Transported July
25 Aged 21 1833

On the back, it is engraved with a neat cursive script and a number of decorative ornaments:

The rose
soon drupes
& dies. the brier
fades away. but
my fond heart
for you I love
shall never
go astray.

Thomas Alsop, 21, brick laborer, was convicted in 1833 at Staffordshire for stealing a sheep. Thomas Dexter, aged 27, and William Dexter, aged 77, were also tried for the same crime, but were acquitted. Alsop was sentenced to transportation for life, and sailed for Van Diemen’s Land on the Moffatt on 29 January 1834. As he could not write, he had someone else make at least two beautifully engraved keepsakes, one for his mother, the other to an unknown person.

Immediately on arrival in the colony, Alsop was assigned to a chain gang. When he tried to abscond in July 1835, Alsop was sentenced to 36 lashes. His record shows that between 1836 and 1847, he committed numerous offences including refusing to work, stealing cattle, representing himself as a constable and absconding.

Despite being sentenced to life and numerous additional punishments, Alsop was granted a conditional pardon on 7 November 1848, and a full pardon on 5 February 1850. Like many other convicts, he remained in the colony as he could not afford the fare to return to Great Britain.

Alsop married Irish-born Sarah Eliza Kirk, 15 years his junior. In 1854, they had a son, Thomas, and 16 months later they had a daughter, Sarah. At that time, Alsop was working as a fish hawker and lived in Hobart. He died in 1891.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

There are 63 tokens posted on the National Museum of Australia’s website (, and it shows both sides of the tokens and the information engraved on them. It is quite a collection and worth viewing.


Article courtesy of the National Museum of Australia. (Photos by Katie Green, Lannon Harley, Jason McCarthy, Dragi Markovic and George Serras, and courtesy of the National Museum of Australia.)




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