Menu toggle

National Museum of Australia

Where our stories come alive

Collection Explorer


Convict love token from John Harris, 1829


Convict love token from John Harris, 1829

Object information


John Harris, 22, was tried and convicted on 16 April 1829 for housebreaking and the theft of 36 yards (33 metres) of trimming, 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of worsted linen, 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of cotton and 32 pieces of ribbon from John Towers of Spitalfields. Although he was initially sentenced to death, seven witnesses gave Harris character references and his sentence was commuted to transportation.

Physical description

A convict love token, made up of a coin, engraved on both sides with stippled text. One side features the text 'John Harris to / Catherine Harris / Convicted on the / 16 of April / 1829'. The other side features the text 'When / This you se / Remember me / Until i gain my / Liberty. / A token from'.

Statement of significance

The Timothy Millett collection comprises 307 convict love tokens dating from 1762 to 1856, and seven contemporary documents relating to the criminal justice system including: recommendations to commute the death sentences of Hester Sampson and Thomas Hayes to life transportation; a calendar of prisoners awaiting trial in the goals of Durham, Newcastle and Northumberland; a request to the Middlesex assizes for rewards to be paid; a printed copy of George Skene's last speech prior to execution; a printed broadside listing prisoners in Dorchester jail awaiting transportation; and a 60 page handwritten account of the life of Thomas Jones, who was transported twice and finally hanged at Winchester Prison in 1856.

Convict love tokens, typically made from smoothed-down coins and engraved or stippled with a message, derive from traditional sailors' farewells. The production of these 'leaden hearts' rose as criminal indictments increased in Britain, with the majority produced during the 1820s and 1830s. As mementos made by or for convicts facing transportation (or death) to leave behind for their loved ones, the tokens provide a poignant, personal insight into the transportation system.

Object information

Back to top