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Circa 1854 Port Phillip Kangaroo Coins.

The Kangaroo Office was a bold plan by English entrepreneurs to establish Australia’s first privately run Mint. It ended with all the hallmarks of a farce. But at the same time, it left an important legacy for today’s collectors and historians. Is it possible to lose money by making money? As odd as it sounds, that’s what three English entrepreneurs managed to do.

The Taylor Pattern coinage of 1855

Is it possible to lose money by making money? Odd as it sounds, that’s what three English entrepreneurs managed to do.

Inspired by the booming price of gold, Messrs Hodgkin, Taylor and Tyndall formed the Kangaroo Office with the plan of buying gold at greatly reduced prices from the gold fields and then releasing it at full value in the form of quarter-ounce, half-ounce, one ounce and two ounce gold coins.

These coins would be struck in Australia’s first private mint, to be located near Melbourne’s Flagstaff Gardens in what is now Franklin Street West. £13,000 was invested in the enterprise, involving the charter of a fully rigged 600 ton vessel (aptly named ‘The Kangaroo’), the delivery of machinery and dies, and the employment of manpower.

Taylor had the dies made in England, expanding on his original proposal of four denominations to include a sixpence and shilling as well. The dies were also used as a showcase to convince potential investors of the viability of the operation.

‘The Kangaroo’ duly 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 whole process took six months. By the time it was finally operational, the bird had flown. There was now a glut of English sovereigns in circulation. And gold, which had been £2/15/- per ounce when the plan was hatched, had moved up to £4/4/- an ounce. There was just one penny per ounce difference between the English sovereign and their sale price.

With all hope of a profit gone, the dispirited promoters in London issued instructions for the Kangaroo Office to be closed.

On departing from Melbourne, Rignold Scaife, the manager of the store, left strict instructions that “the dies should be taken out into the bay and sunk”.

However, back in London Taylor was unconvinced that his days as a coin designer and manufacturer were at an end. He pursued the issuing of silver and base metal coins, striking patterns of a sixpence and shilling in a variety of metals that included silver, aluminium and pewter.

Though the enterprise itself proved a failure, the Kangaroo Patterns and the Taylor Patterns that were produced are now viewed as rarities of the highest order, with genuine national and international significance.

In fairness to the three men behind the Kangaroo Office, they shouldn’t be remembered for losing money while trying to mint money, but rather for their valid attempt to harness the wealth of the nation and improve the circulation of currency.

And for adding an intriguing page to the history of Australia’s coinage.

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