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Sydney Mint

Following the discovery of gold in New South Wales in 1851, large quantities of unrefined gold began to be circulated as money. To control this “black market” and to protect the official currency the Government suggested to the British Colonial Secretary that a mint be established in Sydney. After some debate, the British Government gave approval in August 1853. This was to be the first branch of the Royal Mint outside England and twenty British staff were appointed to establish the Royal Mint Sydney.

Captain Edward W. Ward was appointed Deputy Master (Deputy to the Master of the Royal Mint) in 1853. Ward immediately began preparing designs for the Mint coining factory and ordered prefabricated iron building materials – cast iron columns, girders, roof trusses, roofing materials, windows and floor panels - and commissioned the supply of equipment and mint machinery. He also selected a team of skilled men to enable a fully functioning mint to be constructed and commence operations on the other side of the world. Joseph Trickett, appointed Superintendent of the Coining Department, was to act as Clerk of Works supervising the construction of the Mint in Sydney, while Ward completed arrangements for the supply of machinery and equipment in England.

After considering several sites in Sydney, in March 1854 Trickett suggested the use of the south building of Macquarie’s General Hospital as the site for the Mint. The hospital wing was to be adapted to provide offices and, at the southern end, a residence for the Deputy Master, while the coining factory was to be constructed on the land at the rear. Trickett adapted Ward’s plans to the site and construction of the buildings using the prefabricated components was undertaken by a contingent of Sappers and Miners (later the Royal Engineers) who had been trained in England to assemble the building as well as to operate the Mint machinery. The Mint commenced operation in 14 May 1855 and the first coins were struck on 23rd of June that year. The following October the Mint Assayer, W.S. Jevons wrote to his brother Herbert “The Mint is going at a rattling pace. 14,000 oz [ounces] last week’s receipts of gold”.

From the book, "The Sovereign" which is available from Token Publishing

The Sydney Mint, established in the south wing of Governor Maquarie's Rum Hospital. Built by contractors for the right to import 45,000 gallons of rum into the colony.
Gold was delivered to The Mint by banks, individuals and the Gold Escorts from the goldfields which arrived once a week. The gold was melted, refined, and formed into ingots which were then rolled and pressed into strips. Coin blanks were cut from these strips and then fed into the coining presses. The Mint produced gold sovereigns and half sovereigns from dies supplied by the Royal Mint, and engraved by James Wyon. The British Government required that these coins be different to those minted in England.
(See section on Early Australian Gold for more information)
Originally these coins were regarded as legal tender in New South Wales but in 1857 the British Treasury amended the ordinance to include "all the colonies of Australasia". This served to annoy both Melbourne and Adelaide which were petitoning for thier own mints, they reacted by spreading rumours that the Sydney coins were inferior to their British conterparts. A "snap" inspection by the home authorities revealed that since the coins where alloyed with silver as well as copper , they were in fact actually worth even more. By this time they were already circulating in Newfoundland and India and even unofficially in England itself. In Febuary 1866, the Sydney Mint Sovereigns and Half -Sovereigns were declared legal tender throughout the United Kingdom by Royal Proclamation.

The Sydney Mint Type I Gold sovereign.
Image Courtesy KJC Coins » Melbourne Mint started producing circulating coinage. The Sydney Mint contributed by striking bronze coins from 1919, and from 1920 some of our silver coinage. The Sydney Mint 1921 star shilling is one of the rarest and sought after of the shilling series.
( For further information on the dies used by Mints , See Jon Saxton's Commonwealth Coinage site )
From the late 19th century there was the growing perception of Macquarie Street as the seat of government and law. The 1909 Royal Commission for the Improvement of the City of Sydney recommended the remodelling of Queen’s Square to make room for new law courts and the demolition of the Mint. While this plan was not realized, consideration was given to re-locating the Mint and from 1911 there were constant plans to construct law courts on the site of the Mint. After Federation of the Australian states, the formation of the Commonwealth Mint resulted in the consolidation of the various mints and in 1926, with declining profits and inadequate machinery, the Sydney Branch of the Royal Mint was closed having suffered the irony of going broke making money.

The establishment of the Sydney branch of the Royal Mint coincided with the appointment of Sir William Denison as Governor of New South Wales. Denison was a former Royal Engineer with a strong interest in science and education. He arrived in Sydney in January 1855 and presided on 14 May 1855 at the official opening of the Mint. Shortly afterwards he took the initiative to create a Philosophical Society of New South Wales, with the object of providing a forum for “original papers on subjects of science, art, literature, and philosophy”. Captain E.W. Ward of the Mint was appointed an office bearer and when the first election of ordinary members took place in June 1856 their ranks included Charles Elouis, Superintendent of the Bullion Office, Joseph Trickett, Superintendent of the Coining Department, William Stanley Jevons, Assayer, and Robert Hunt, First Clerk of the Bullion Office. Elliott A Knife, Registrar and Accountant at the Mint, joined in September 1856. Henry Augustus Severn, clerk, joined in July 1859. Francis Bowyer Miller, assayer and Dr Adolph Leibius, assayer (and successor to William Stanley Jevons) both joined in November 1859.

One contemporary commentator observed that under Denison’s auspices science was becoming fashionable in New South Wales. The Sydney Mint was an important contributor to this development, at least in the 1850s and 1860sm through the training and talents of particular members of its staff and through the spirit of experimentation and enquiry cultivated within the Mint establishment. The mint played the role of government analytical laboratory. When two Sydney gentlemen exhibited a specimen of artificial stone at a meeting of the Philosophical Society in August 1857, the Governor directed Captain Ward to conduct, at the Mint, experiments as to its qualities. In March 1858 Ward devised a series of experiments on the strength and elasticity of “the ordinary timbers of New South Wales” and these were carried out at the Mint under Joseph Trickett’s supervision. Ward then presented a paper on his findings to a meeting of the Philosophical Society. There were other experiments on samples of combustible material from Tasmania and coal from Bellambi.

Mint employees made various individual contributions to the Philosophical Society. William Stanley Jevons presented a series of papers on a new sun gauge, on the formation of clouds and on earthquakes in New South Wales as well as a monthly meteorological report for Sydney. He also published on related topics in the Sydney press. Henry Augustus Severn presented a paper on the construction of specula for reflecting telescopes, Dr Leibius discussed the mundic quartz of the Adelong and Francis Boyer Miller spoke about the detection of spurious gold. Miller went on to invent a gold-refining process, patented in 1867, which was adopted in the English, American, Norwegian and other mints as well as in Australia