Coins make great mementoes and keepers of history, touchstones and reminders of things past – this one comes from Revolutionary France 1792.
What are the chances of this actual coin having circulated in the early British settlements in Australia ?
Frankly, next to nil, or in the colourful Australian vernacular “Buckley’s”!
Still, there’s a miniscule possibility that coins of this type could have travelled a lot – it makes for an interesting account…
18th century France
Our journey begins at the Lille mint in 1792. It’s the second year of France under a constitutional monarchy and the portrait on the coin is that of the last French King, Louis XVI, who reigned sharing power with the National Assembly.
Since April 20 of that year, there was a war on with Austria which initially went badly for the French until General Dumouriez (later of Napoleonic fame) emerged victorious at the Battle of Valmy.
Two days later, on September 22, the First French Republic was proclaimed into being. Heady stuff. The royals had been imprisoned sometime in August, so as to get them out of the way I guess.
Heading for Paris,…
Wars need financing and the story goes that in 1792 the new authorities ordered the melting down of bells as a source of metal for coinage. ‘Bell Money’ is not unknown, indeed the French seem to have gone in for it on a semi-regular basis.
Anyway we can safely see this coin being made – perhaps sourced from a local church offering – and going into circulation in Lille and from there gradually moving into Paris, the great centre and focus of attention. It was likely used to buy bread.
… peace & tourism!
Ten years later, in 1802, something happened that could have altered its destiny – the signing of the Peace of Amiens on March 25.
Sounds a bit boring, but the cessation of hostilities with Great Britain opened up France to an influx of English tourists!
One estimate puts the number living in Paris at around 10,000 in September of 1803, still there even after the war began again which was in May. Incredible. (Incidentally the end of the Peace of Amiens also resulted in the occupation of Tasmania in 1803 to keep it out of the possession of the wily French.)
Perhaps this coin was traded to one or more of those high class visitors and their assorted hangers on – it could have quite easily ended up travelling overseas – as I’m sure many of them did…not heaps by any means, but more than a few.
Anyway, at that time, Great Britain was in the process of acquiring a global empire, although to be fair it was partly France’s to begin with.
With Holland and Spain allied to the French, the Royal Navy was able to justify its occupation of Cape Colony, Ceylon, Mauritius and India… all places on the long voyage down under.
So from 1802 our bell money could theoretically, at least, have hitched a ride out of France on a ship and made its way to quite a few different countries.
Britain had earlier lost the war with America, but that was still a more than viable destination.
New Orleans was pumping, doubling in size within a few years, some 16,0000 inhabitants including plenty of Gallic royalist emigres. The United States had just completed the Louisiana Purchase (April 30, 1803) and there was a boom on. Around a year later, Lewis and Clark would set out on their epic survey.
Even further afield, free settlers, primarily British, had begun arriving in New South Wales from sometime around 1793. I’m guessing that Cape Colony was in British hands by the time Merino sheep were first brought to Australia (1796), so by the early 1800s there was a regular trade in wool.
I don’t think 2 sous would have been of much use in Great Britain, but in the colonies and ex-colonies both, it would have been accepted. Probably quite eagerly because specie generally was in short supply and it’s a nice big copper piece. In some places it might even have been the same as what they were used to, I don’t know…
Certainly you’d have had no trouble at all in spending this type of coin in Sydney Town – rum was in use as currency and small change was hard to come by!
In the end it’s a pretty tall story.