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Holey dollar of New South Wales

Date: 1813
Overall: 39 mm
Medium: Silver
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from the Department of Transport and Communications
Object Name: Coin
Object No: V00015974
Place Manufactured:México

User Terms

    This Holey dollar and dump were found under the foundation stone of the original 'Macquarie Tower' lighthouse - the colony's first lighthouse - on Outer South Head, having been laid there for good luck. It is probable that both coins were put there by Governor Macquarie on 11 July 1816 during the foundation stone-laying ceremony.
    SignificanceThe Holey dollar and dump featured here are unique in their association with Governor Lachlan Macquarie who is believed to have placed them under the foundation stone of the Macquarie Light on 11 July 1816. They are also scarce and numismatically valuable.
    HistoryHoley dollars and dumps were produced in New South Wales in 1813 by order of Governor Macquarie to alleviate a shortage of British currency in the Colony. Spanish silver dollars, also known as a piece of eight or a pillar dollar, were used for this purpose. Almost all of the coins used to make Holey dollars bear the names of one of three Spanish monarchs: Charles III, Charles IV and Ferdinand VII. They carry various mintmarks (mainly of Spanish-American locations) and a date range between 1783 and 1810.

    Nearly 40,000 Spanish silver dollars were holed in 1813 by having their centre cut out. Subsequently referred to as a Holey dollar - for evident reason - its value was determined at five shillings. The small, round, punched-out centrepiece - which came to be known as a dump and was smoothed by filing down - was then stamped with the value of 15 pence on one side and the other side sporting a crown and the words New South Wales.

    Both coins were intended for use within the colony only; their release date was in mid-January 1814 and they subsequently circulated in colonial commerce until 1829 when Holey dollars and dumps lost their status as legal tender within the Colony. Approximately 27,000 Holey dollars and 10,000 dumps were recalled in 1829 and melted down.

    By striking these coins Macquarie had succeeded in solving several pressing financial problems the Colony was facing: at a stroke, the number of coins in circulation was doubled and the likelihood that they would be traded abroad was significantly reduced as overseas' merchants and traders would not be interested in accumulating a debased coin which nominally, but not intrinsically, was valued at five shillings. Thus, Macquarie's proclamation regarding the Holey dollar and its dump actually created Australia's first own coin. The job was carried out by a man called William Henshall who, ironically, had been transported to the Colony having been sentenced for coin forgery!

    Unlike the dump, the Holey dollar's surfaces were not filed smooth but over-stamped around the inner rim, one side bearing the words New South Wales and the year 1813; the reverse side displayed a spray of leaves with the words Five Shillings.

    This Holey dollar and dump were found under the foundation stone of the original 'Macquarie Tower on Outer South Head, the colony's first lighthouse, indicating that both coins were probably put there by Governor Macquarie on 11 July 1816 during the foundation stone-laying ceremony.

    In his diary Governor Macquarie did not specifically mention placing these coins under the foundation stone; his diary merely records that as far as the ceremony was concerned, a toast of cherry brandy was made by the assembled guests to the success of the building. However, elsewhere in his diary he does refer to placing a Holey dollar and a 15-penny silver piece during a foundation stone-laying ceremony he performed at St Matthew's Church in Windsor in 1817, and at a foundation ceremony for the female factory at Parramatta in 1813.

    Evidently then, the cultural practice of including coins among objects laid for good luck under a building's foundation stone was a tradition that also came to Australia with British colonisation. A similar ceremony was performed on 1 March 1880 by Sir Henry Parkes, who laid the foundation stone for the new Macquarie lighthouse at Outer South Head (the current structure) that replaced Macquarie Tower. Newspapers of the day listed the objects, including one of each coin of the realm, in one of four bottles placed as a time-capsule under the foundation stone.

    It is estimated that of the initial number of nearly 40,000 Holey dollars that came to NSW in 1813, less than 300 have survived; while approximately 1000 dumps remain.
    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Holey dollar of New South Wales

    Web title: Holey dollar of New South Wales

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