Is The Charlotte Medal The Most Desirable Item of Australiana?

The Noble Numismatics auction that's slated to take place in July 2008 contains what for many people is the most desirable item of Australiana ever - the Charlotte Medal.

This incredible silver medallion is so rare, I can find only two published references to it - the first is in Volume 9 of the NAA Journal (published by the Numismatic Association of Australia), the second is in the current edition of Collectables Trader magazine.

Publicity in the mainstream media the last time this item was offered for sale (November 1981) described the item as being "the first Australian colonial work of art", as well as being "an icon of the foundation of our nation."

This rather unassuming looking medal is not known beyond all doubt, however the most experienced persons in the field fave fairly firm beliefs about who actually produced the medal, and who commissioned that person to do so.

The name Thomas Barrett has been etched into the annals of Australian history as being the first "unfortunate" sod to have been hanged on Australian soil. Barrett was a mere 17 years of age when he arrived at Botany Bay, having been sent here for theft. Shortly after their arrival on Australia's fair shores, Barrett and three other convicts were caught in the act of stealing provisions from the Commissariat (while the provisions were being distributed no less), and the Governor saw fit to send a very clear message to the rest of Barrett's convict companions regarding the appropriateness of stealing what little food was available, and Barrett was hanged.

The argument about whether Barrett was right to steal when the provisions given to the convicts were so poor can be made elsewhere, but there is little debate that while sweating on board the Charlotte in Botany Bay, Barrett was tasked with the job of engraving a large silver medal to commemorate the arrival of the First Fleet by the Surgeon General of Convicts, John White. Fortunately for White, he was not hanged, and in fact wrote "A Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales", which described many Australian species for the first time. For some reason, White severely disliked Australia, describing it as: "a country and place so forbidding and so hateful as only to merit execration and curses." (I was not previously aware that execration is "hate coupled with disgust"!)

White's views of our fair nation would surely have been tainted by the heat, lack of fresh food and opressive living conditions that all those who travelled on the First Fleet endured, however anyone that has the opportunity to view the Charlotte Medal in the flesh will certainly be pleased that White had the foresight to record the moment of the First Fleet's arrival in one of his more reflective moments. To own a tangible item so closely related to the First Fleet, one that was intended to forever remain as a fond and esteemed memento of the occasion is truly something else.

This incredible medal has only ever changed hands perhaps four times (as far as I can see) in the past century, the last time being back in November 1981, when it was auction for a trifling $15,000. I say a "trifling" $15,000, because a number of Australian numismatic rarities in that sale made far, far more than that. Pre-sale estimates from Noble's have not yet been published, however given the auction result last year for the Collins Caster (itself an important item of Australian sivlerware), could see the value of the Charlotte Medal push into the high hundreds of thousands rather easily.

If you happen to be in Melbourne in July, don't miss the event!