British Museum collections, £12.99
Weight: 24.190 g
Gift of L.A. Lawrence
Room 68: Money
Great Britain, AD 1797
Engraved by a convict, Forget Me Not
Transportation of British convicts to the antipodean colonies, Australia and Tasmania, during the late eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century (1788-1868) caused much human loss and anguish. Convicts were separated from their loved ones, in most cases for life. Although sentences stated seven or fourteen years, most transportees never returned.
Prison conditions allowed convicts access to money and, in some cases, the tools of their trade. By engraving low denomination copper coins like this large cartwheel penny of 1797, they could write of their sorrow. 'When this you see remember me', was a common rhyme applied to these tokens. Convicts would also engrave images of themselves in chains, along with women or signs of their life in freedom (houses, bottles and masonic symbols). They then left the tokens with their loved ones as mementos.
It appears that workshop-like conditions may have existed in the prisons where the tokens were produced, since some tokens show signs of being made by the same hand. The convicts evidently also copied each other. Much of the imagery and many of the texts show signs of a shared cultural base in which they found the inspiration for their engravings.
M. Field and T. Millett, Convict love tokens (Wakefield, 1999)