2003/40/1 Convict love token, H. Heald, 'Keep this dear Mary for my sake till the departure of thy life / The gift of a friend whose love for you will never end H Heald', copper, [convict made], Britain / Australia, 1825 - 1835
Convict Love tokens such as this one by H. Heald for 'Mary' have been described by Anne Schofield as the first Australian artwork. Even purely narrative tokens such as this example have their own distinctive style, but even more important is the fact that they exist at all. They were made from smoothed-down coins as mementos for wives, lovers friends and family members (including those of the same gender). Their purpose was to comfort the recipient, and perhaps subconsciously to keep alive the memory and relationships of a convict transported to the far side of the world. The tokens' very tangibility both as the voice and one-time personal belonging of a convict makes them unique as a record since most other associated material was produced by the system that caught, tried, jailed, and transported them. In the main these are paper documents - trial records, shipping manifestos, memos, pardons, musters, tickets of leave, but also uniforms, chains and the products of their labour - buildings such as Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney, and other civic projects including road cuttings and bridges all over New South Wales and Tasmania. It is a sad fact that Convict Love tokens remain one of the few classes of items convicts made, or had made, purely of their own volition and as such they are unique in their humanising of a class that the system did its best to dehumanise.
Convict Love tokens were made for the whole period of Transportation in New South Wales (1788-1840) and Tasmania (1788-1853), with their heyday in the 1830s - the time when Heald's example was engraved from a smoothed 1799 halfpenny. Clearly demonstrating such token's earlier origins is a First Fleet (1787/88) example in the Powerhouse Museum made by (or on behalf of), Thomas Tilley as a memento for his loved one. Convict love tokens are rightly renowned as rare examples of the convicts' own voices - albeit voices that borrowed popular phrases and rhymes of separation and lament that were symbolic of those times when most journeys equalled long periods of incommunicado between loved ones. There are approximately 350 known Convict Love tokens in existence, which are probably a small representation of the many more that were probably made, but subsequently lost or even destroyed in an effort to remove the ancestral 'convict stain' - an historical status that has only since the 1960s become a background to celebrate and remember.