The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 14, Number 45, October 30, 2011, Article 19


Darrell Lewis submitted this question. Can anyone help? -Editor

I am writing from Canberra, Australia, and as the subject heading for this email indicates, I am seeking information about Maundy threepences - in particular the 1841 Maundy threepence. The background to my inquiry is as follows:

In 1938 a cattleman in the far north of South Australia came across what he took to be seven skeletons of white men arranged in a circle about 30 metres across. New of his discovery got back to the South Australian Government and led to an expedition to examine the bones on the chance they could be the remains of the lost explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt. Leichhardt set out from the Darling Downs in 1848, intending to cross the continent from east to west (about 2500 miles in a straight line).

He had six companions, 50 bullocks, 20 mules, seven horses and all the equipment needed for an expedition of two to four years. He never turned up and no trace of him or his expedition was ever found. Numerous expeditions went in search, lots of relics found (none of which could be linked to Leichhardt), many Aboriginal stories heard of white men dying or being killed beyond the frontier, but nothing could be pinned down.

When the Government team got to the place where the cattleman had seen the 'skeletons' they had been trampled into fragments by cattle, and examination of these fragments revealed that they were mostly calcified tree roots rather than bones. However, there were a few fragmented teeth mixed in so the next morning the team set about sieving the sand to see what might turn up.

What they found were highly corroded pieces of iron, including an old packsaddle ring, some small pieces of extremely desiccated leather, some more tooth fragments, some fragments of human bone, and two coins - one an 1817 half sovereign and the other a very worn 1841 threepence. Reports at the time said the threepence was identified by someone as a Maundy threepence. The report and subsequent stories about this coin said either that less than 2000 were minted, or almost 3000 were minted.

In 1841 Leichhardt was living in London and this coincidence has led various writers to suggest that he might have brought the coin out to Australia as a keepsake and had it with him on his last expedition. Either he lost it at the place where it was found or it was somehow obtained from him by Aborigines who lost it there.

I am at present writing a book on the history of the search for Leichhardt and as this coin is part of that story I'm checking the facts. From the internet I have found out the origin and history of Maundy coins, but I began to wonder,

1) Were 'ordinary' threepenny coins produced in 1841?

2) If they were, what, if anything, differentiates an 1841 Maundy threepence from an 'ordinary' 1841 threepence?

I have checked at the national Library of Australia and the only book they have is one written by Robinson (1977) and this doen't have the information I am after.

I have also checked with a local coin dealer who seemed to think that there was no difference in design between the two, but the Maundy coins may have been made with more highly polished dies so that the struck coins had a finer finish. If a Maundy coin entered general circulation it would soon be indistinguishable from the 'ordinary' coins.

A book the dealer showed me (Coins of England & the United Kingdom - Spink, 2008) said that there were 'ordinary' threepences issued in 1841, 'for Colonial use only'. If all this is correct, then the threepence found at the 'skeleton' site, being quite worn, could not reliably be identified as a Maundy threepence and all the speculation about a possible connection with Leichhardt is completely misplaced.

I would like to find an expert who can tell me whether in 1841:

A) ordinary threepences definitely were produced?

B) If they were, was the design of the Maundy and the ordinary threepence identical?

C) How many 1841 Maundy threepences were struck?

Everyone is very busy these days so I hope I am not asking too much of you. If you can answer any of my questions, I would appreciate references to cite in my book. If you cannot, perhaps you could put me in contact with someone who can help me.

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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