Menu toggle

National Museum of Australia

Where our stories come alive

Collection Explorer

4

Convict love token from William Kennedy, 1832

2008.0039.0129

Convict love token from William Kennedy, 1832

Object information

Description

William Kennedy, 19, was tried for murder at the Old Bailey on 6 September 1832, together with William Brown, also 19. While on the Thames on the night of 17 July, close to Vauxhall Bridge, Kennedy and Brown approached William Wilkinson's boat and stole both Wilkinson's coat and that of his friend, Mr Bodkin. In an attempt to retrieve the coats, Wilkinson fell into the river and, according to Bodkin, was hit several times on the head by Kennedy?s and Brown's oars. Despite five witnesses defending Kennedy's good character, he and Brown were both condemned to death. These convictions were later commuted to transportation for life. Kennedy sailed for Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) on the Surrey on 19 November 1832, arriving in Australia on 7 April 1833. This token appears to be engraved by the same hand as the tokens for J Riley and T King who were convicted in London at the same time.

Physical description

A convict love token, made up of a coin, engraved on both sides with stippled text. One side features the text 'September 6th / William Kennedy / Love / 1832' along with images of two birds, a love heart and sprigs of leaves. The other side features the text 'When / this you see / remember me and / bear me in your / mind let all the wo / rld say what they / will speak of / me as you / find'.

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