The National Museum of Australia has the world’s largest collection of ‘love tokens’ made by convicts, dating from 1762 to 1856, and is displaying them online at http://love-tokens.nma.gov.au. The website has images of the collection of 314 tokens, organised by date, and showing biographical details of the individuals where they have been traced.
These tokens were made by convicts at around the time of sentencing, and given to their friends or relations as mementos. Many feared that they would never return from being transported, and so giving something of theirs to those left behind ensured that they would not be forgotten. Often, they were coins that were engraved by the convict, but they show the emotional ties a convict had to others, and bring these men and women to life.
Most of the tokens were bought by the National Museum of Australia from a British dealer. The identity of convicts associated with around 80 of its tokens is known; in some cases, a life story can be constructed by combining a variety of sources, as one case in particular shows.
One of the tokens on the website was inscribed by a 19 year old man named David Freeman. He engraved a coin for ‘Sarah’, marking it:
Dear Sarah, when this you see Rem[em]b[e]r me when In Some foreign Country.
And on the back, he recorded his own details:
David Freeman Born the year 1798 Banished 17th June 1818
Why did David feel that he was being ‘banished’ from his homeland, and his native London? To fid out, we go to the trial records on the Old Bailey Online. David, and his friend John Clark, had been tried at the Old Bailey on 17 June 1818, accused of pickpocketing. The charge was that on 24 May that year, at 9.30pm, they took a handkerchief from the pocket of merchant’s clerk John Baker while he was walking past St Clement’s Church on the Strand in London. Baker grabbed the men and gave them into the custody of a passing officer, William Bond.
The handkerchief was said to be worth five shillings – making it a case of grand larceny, subject to capital punishment (grand larceny was abolished in 1827, with grand and petty larceny being replaced by the offence of simple larceny). Transportation was an alternative to this for less ‘serious’ cases, though transportation for life was harsh enough (seven or ten years’ trasnsportation seem mild in comparison!). At their trial, Clark argued that he had never touched the handkerchief; Freeman’s defence was not the greatest – he argued that ‘it was thrown into my hand’. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both men – Clark, who was 27, and 19-year-old Freeman – were quickly found guilty and sentenced to transportation for life.
On 30 September 1818, David set off on the Lord Sidmouth convict ship, bound for New South Wales. He arrived there on 11 March 1819. The 1828 census recorded him as a labourer working for Captain Richard Brooks at his farm at Denham Court, Lower Minto (now a suburb of Sydney). David may not have forgotten ‘Sarah’, but he got on with his new life in Australia, knowing that he could never see her. In 1830, he applied to get married to Mary A Morrison, two years his junior, who was a free settler. His application was approved and the couple married at St Luke’s Church in Liverpool, New South Wales, on 16 June 1830.
He was pardoned nearly 22 years later, on 1 January 1841, but never returned to his home. In 1870, now aged 72, he was a prisoner in Goulburn Gaol in New South Wales. Although he was still not ‘free’, the gaol description and entrance books enable us to build a physical picture of this transported man. He was just half an inch over five feet tall; of ‘feeble’ build, grey eyes and hair, with a heart tattoo on his left arm and missing two teeth from his lower jaw. This builds a picture of a seasoned prisoner, a transported convict who, though small, had survived a long and eventful life.
But two years after this record detailing David’s looks and build were made, he died. A full half century after he engraved his Sarah a pitiful message on a coin, he died on the other side of the world – presumably having never seen her again.
There is a news item on these love tokens in the latest issue of Your Family History.