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The Note that ‘wowed’ the City of Brisbane

Coinworks took two industry heavyweights to the Brisbane Coin Show in late May. The first heavyweight, the Proof 1930 Penny, was a definite crowd magnet. Dubbed the King of Australian coin rarities, its regal status was re-affirmed in 2012 when the ‘Proof 1930’ became the very first Australian coin to crack the magic million dollar mark.

The second heavyweight taken to the Brisbane Show was the 1824 Bank of New South Wales 20 Spanish Dollars banknote.

1824 Spanish Dollar - The banknote that wowed Brisbane

While the Proof 1930 Penny certainly drew the attention of the media and those in attendance at the Show, the Bank of New South Wales was greeted with an almost equal level of enthusiasm and interest.

It was the banknote’s Brisbane connection that engaged the audience.

The city of Brisbane was named after Sir Thomas Brisbane. And it was Sir Thomas Brisbane, in his capacity as Governor of the penal colony of New South Wales (1821 – 1825) that set about reforming the currency system, taking the colony onto a dollar standard and in so doing introduce the nation’s first decimal currency system.

His thinking was way ahead of its time. It was not until 1958 that Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies committed himself in an election promise to investigate the feasibility of decimal changeover.

  • The rarity of this banknote is confirmed. Only two notes survive today as evidence that the nation embarked on, and used, a dollar standard between 1822 and 1825.
  • The note on display at the Brisbane Show (this note) is the only example privately held. The other example is held in Westpac archives.
  • Issued on 1 January 1824, hand signed by Directors of the Bank of New South Wales, Edward Wollstonecraft and John Oxley, the note is one of the earliest recorded private banknotes.
  • And technically it also is the nation’s very first decimal banknote.

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.

Further reading Bank of New South Wales - A History 1817 – 1893 by R F Hodder

Just two of the media highlights of our trip to Brisbane.


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