The Kangaroo Office was a bold plan by English entrepreneurs to establish Australia’s first privately run Mint. The planning phase began in London, in 1853. Coining operations commenced in Melbourne in May 1854. Three years on, after substantial losses, the mint was closed.
While the plan had all the hallmarks of a farce, it left an important legacy for today’s collectors and historians.
William Joseph Taylor was an Englishman, and by trade an engraver and die sinker, active in the numismatic industry producing both coins and medals. He was an entrepreneur. And a shrewd businessman.
Towards the end of 1852 Taylor became aware that gold could be bought from diggers on the Ballarat fields at greatly reduced prices. His plan was to establish a private mint in Melbourne, strike gold coins and release them at their full value in London.
Taylor formed a syndicate with two colleagues, Messrs Hodgkin and Tyndall: the three investing £13,000 in the enterprise. They chartered a fully rigged 600-ton vessel to transport the coining press, the dies and two employees, Reginald Scaife (manager) and William Morgan Brown (assistant).
The vessel was aptly named ‘The Kangaroo’, then, as now, a symbol of Australia. Taylor’s mint was known as the Kangaroo Office and was situated near Melbourne’s Flagstaff Gardens in what is now Franklin Street West.
‘The Kangaroo’ arrived at Hobsons Bay on 23rd October 1853, and the huge coining press was deposited on the wharf. And there it sat. Unfortunately, it was too heavy to transport. The only option was to take it apart and move it, piece-by-piece, to the Kangaroo Office, where it was reassembled and put into working order.
The Kangaroo Office eventually commenced operations in May 1854, striking gold coins. To thwart currency laws, the designs were made to look more like weights than coins. Taylor himself cut the dies for a 2oz, 1oz, 1/2oz and ¼oz gold piece, each dated 1853.
The Kangaroo Office operated for three years striking examples from the original dies, although how many of each is unknown.
The Kangaroo Office was under financial pressure right from the outset. By the time the mint was operational gold, which had been £2/15/- per ounce when the plan was hatched, had moved up to £4/4/- an ounce. And there was a glut of English sovereigns in circulation.
Despite the financial challenges of the operation Taylor was unconvinced that his days as a coin designer and manufacturer were at an end. In 1855 he produced dies for the striking of a sixpence and shilling in gold, silver and copper. This was his first attempt at producing a piece depicting a value rather than a weight.
The coins display the same broad engine-turned rim, the obverse featuring a superb portrait of Queen Victoria with VICTORIA and AUSTRALIA embedded in the rim. The reverse features the denomination in figures at the centre and in letters embedded in the rim above.
William Taylor also produced patterns for a fourpence and twopence struck in copper; the former featuring Britannia on the obverse and the figure ‘4’ on an engine turned background. The twopence features the kangaroo with Melbourne above it: the obverse similar in style to the fourpence.
Taylor operated his Kangaroo Office for three years during which time he sustained substantial losses. With all hope of a profit gone, the dispirited promoters in London issued instructions for the Kangaroo Office to be closed.
Now while it is true that Taylor never achieved his ambitions, the Port Phillip Kangaroo Office Patterns are revered by collectors and investors in Australia. And right across the globe.