British researchers find link between silver medal and colonial murderers

The title of this post is a complete reproduction of an article in the Australian newspaper today, one discussing the forthcoming auction of a rare and historic silver medal issued in the early days of colonial Australia. Rather dramatic and I'm sure it did the trick in getting plenty of people to read the article, however I don't know that the gents concerned are indeed "two of early 's most notorious characters" as the journo asserted.

A principal of one of Australia's first schools, one Mr Laurence Halloran, had a silver medal produced annually, specifically for presentation to the school's prize pupil for each year.

Medals and coins generally don't blend in collections too often here in Australia - people generally collect one or the other. These "Halloran medals" however are something of an exception for a number of reasons - they were undoubtedly struck from bullion obtained by silver coins being melted down, and are tanglible heirlooms of our colonial past, just as the NSW Holey Dollar and Dump are.

Although I've seen these medals depicted in Noble Numismatics auction catalogues over the years, the first time I learnt of them in detail was while researching the silver 1823 Shilling token struck by McIntosh and Degraves of Tasmania.

It was at that time that I became aware that these medals are in fact among the very earliest items of colonial silverware produced on Australian soil. As far was I'm aware, just one is (was!) known in private hands, it most recently sold in a  Noble auction last year. Another four are known to be held by various public institutions in Australia, the example offered by Moreton and Eden of London is apparently the sixth known example.

Just where do the murderers come into play do you say? Well, it seems that Mr Laurence Halloran (the gent that awarded the medal) was charged with murder in his younger years, however was acquitted. By all accounts he was indeed a controversial character, but a well-respected educator. The other murderer was one John Tawell, father of the young lad that received the medal (John Dawning Tawell), and a man described variously as a "forger, ex-convict, Sydney's first chemist, exporter of whalebone, zealous Quaker, and murderer..."

I feel obliged to the memory of John Dawning Tawell that I should note that the most important person related to the medal, that is the person that received it, was not a murderer at all! In addition to being an ace student, he in fact went on to study medicine in England, qualified as a surgeon and returned to Sydney in the hope of building up his father's business. John Dawning Tawell unfortunately died at the relatively young age of 27 after suffering a lung complaint.

Just how much of the titillating background adds to the history, appeal and provenance of this particular item of colonial Australian silverware I'm not sure, however I am clear that it has been exposed to a rather broad audience, both in Australia and the UK as a result. The last example to sell in Sydney made $26,000 hammer for $30,290 nett (around £17,000 at present), so it'll be interesting to see how the Tawell medal fares in relation to it.

Postscript: A follow up article in the Australian newspaper states that the Tawell example of the Halloran medal sold for £16,100 - it was in fact a £14,000 hammer price, with a 15% buyer's premium. My crude foreign exchange calculation on the day equated it to approximately A$28,976 nett - largely in line with the previous result here in Australia.

Category: Market News