This Bank of New South Wales Twenty Spanish Dollars, hand signed by Oxley and Wollstonecraft and issued on 1 January 1824 is unique.
It survives today as evidence that Australia operated under a decimal currency system in the 1820s. Our first decimal banknote as such.
The surprising and intriguing aspect to most Australians is that the note was issued by the nation’s first private bank, the Bank of New South Wales, in Spanish Dollars.
By the late 18th century, the Spanish Silver Dollar was accepted as an international currency. Its powerful influence saw Sir Thomas Brisbane, in 1822, take the colony onto a dollar currency standard, rejecting the protocols of the British sterling standard.
Brisbane’s thinking was way ahead of its time. It was not until 1958 that our then Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies committed himself in an election promise to investigate the feasibility of decimal changeover.
That five radio stations, five newspapers and two television stations picked up the offering of this 1824 Bank of New South Wales Twenty Spanish Dollars affirms its historical significance and its importance to the nation.
Major General Sir Thomas Brisbane, 1st Baronet (1773 – 1860)
Sir Thomas Brisbane was preceded as Governor of the penal colony of New South Wales by Lachlan Macquarie and succeeded by Ralph Darling.
While Governor he tackled the problems associated with a rapidly growing colony, working to improve the land grants system and to reform currency. He set up the first Agricultural training college in NSW and was the first patron of the NSW Agricultural Society. He conducted experiments in growing tobacco, cotton, coffee and New Zealand flax in the colony.
He oversaw a time of increased prosperity in the colony through vigorous enterprise, pastoral expansion and capital imports. The population grew from 13,300 in 1815 to 33,500 in 1825 and land settlement spread out over wider areas of NSW, beyond Bathurst and Goulburn towards the Murrumbidgee and beyond the Hunter River to the North.
In 1823 Brisbane sent John Oxley to find a new site for convicts who were repeat offenders. The first settlement was established in 1824 at Redclifffe Point but several months later was re-located to where the Brisbane CBD is today. It was Oxley that suggested that the river and the settlement be named after Brisbane.
John Oxley (1785 - 1828)
John Oxley was born in England and joined the Royal Navy in 1799. He sailed the colony as master’s mate arriving in Sydney in 1802.
Oxley returned to England where he was commissioned lieutenant in 1807. He sought retirement from the navy in 1811 and sailed again to Sydney to commence his new duties as surveyor general.
He sailed South and North of Sydney and upon his recommendations, Moreton Bay in Queensland was settled.
Oxley had growing business interests in the colony and became a director of the Bank of New South Wales in 1817 and then in 1826 became a founder and director of the new rival bank, Bank of Australia.
He died bankrupt at the age of 42. While the British Government refused to sanction a pension to his widow, it agreed to a grant of 5000 acres to Oxley’s sons in recognition of their father’s services to the colony.
Edward Wollstonecraft (1783 – 1832)
Edward Wollstonecraft arrived in Sydney in 1819 and was granted 2000 acres of land of which 500 acres were located on the north side of Sydney.
He became a magistrate and a director of the Bank of New South Wales and later the Bank of Australia.
Wollstonecraft was considered chiefly responsible for maintaining the general financial liquidity of the colony’s economy in the 1820s.
In 1821 he and his business partner, Alexander Berry were rewarded with a grant of a further 10,000 acres on the Shoalhaven River on their undertaking to maintain 100 convicts.
Today a north shore suburb of Sydney keeps his name alive.
For further reading.
'Bank of New South Wales - A History 1817 – 1893' by R F Hodder .