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Convict love token from Joseph Kelf, 1833

2008.0039.0148

Convict love token from Joseph Kelf, 1833

Object information

Description

Joseph Kelf, 20; Dennis Greenfield, 19, bookbinder; and Thomas Rant, 19, were tried and convicted at the Norfolk Assizes on 19 March 1833 for breaking into the house of Lennard and James Louden at Higham. They stole 23 silver spoons, a wine funnel, four silver castor tops, three coats, two guns, a silver watch, three hats, two pairs of boots and other articles. All were 'cast for death'. Their sentences appear, however, to have been commuted to transportation for life. All three sailed for New South Wales on the Aurora, arriving 3 November 1833. Also in the collection are two tokens relating to Dennis Greenfield, one engraved 'Dens Greenfield' and the other 'D Greenfield'.

Physical description

A convict love token, made up of a coin, engraved on both sides with stippled text. One side features the text 'JOSEPH / KELF / AGED 20 / 1833 [PK]'. The other side features the text 'HONESTY / IS THE / BEST / POLICY'.

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

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