Nov 192015

The Great Exhibition, the world’s first ‘expo’, took place in 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London’s Hyde Park. Australia’s first expo opened 28 years later when the Sydney International Exhibition 1879-80 was held in the purpose-built Garden Palace. Among the million and more visitors who flocked through it’s gates were Europeans, Americans and Asians, all well aware of Australia’s emerging significance as a result of rich gold discoveries.

The Garden Palace was designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet, whose work included the Macquarie Lighthouse, a new wing for the Australian Museum, as well as countless government and civic projects. Dominated by a 210 feet high dome, it was constructed in only nine months, a feat made possible by night-shifts working under Australia’s first electric lights.


Hailed a triumph for New South Wales, the Exhibition ran for seven months from 17 September 1879 with the aim of promoting commerce, industry, science, art, education, and population growth. Unfortunately, the Garden Palace that housed many star exhibits, suffered the same fate as the Crystal Palace when it was destroyed by fire just two years after the event.

A portrayal of the building, however, lives forever on the Exhibition prize medals, including this bronze version which forms part of The Perth Mint’s historic coin collection. Struck in London from dies made by J.S. and A.B. Wyon to a design by Samuel Begg, the medal’s obverse displays the personification of New South Wales and the colony’s shield surrounded by exhibits. The cause of much dismay when it burnt to the ground, the Sydney International Exhibition Garden Palace’s grandeur is revealed in the background.


Jul 022015

Target shooting is one of the oldest organised sports in Australia with records showing that musketry was practiced from the very earliest days of colonization.

When Britain entered the Crimean War in 1854, settlers grew apprehensive that regular troops would be withdrawn. Later that year, some of the colonies authorized local volunteer corps, while informal rifle clubs were also initiated around this time.

In 1860 the first official rifle associations were formed in New South Wales and Victoria, quickly followed by South Australia and Queensland.

In the West, club shooting activities had been conducted from the 1850s, notably in the Goldfields and south-western timber region where target competitions became an important means of socializing for itinerant workers.


From The Perth Mint archive: example of the National Rifle Association of Western Australia competition medal, circa 1935.

Amid general concern about the readiness of Western Australia to defend itself, Premier John Forrest convinced the Department of Defence of the need to establish a basic defence strategy involving civilian rifle clubs working with the volunteers.

The National Rifle Association of Western Australia was eventually formed in 1901, holding its inaugural meeting on the 12th July that year.

The West Australian reported in September 1903 that the new Association’s second prize meeting would take place on the Karrakatta range later that year. “ ‘A’ Series matches were open to (a) Members of the Defence Forces of the British Empire; (b) members of the N.R.A. of Western Australia; (c) members of the Commonwealth Police Force”, it said.

The Association was renamed in 1965 to its current title of the West Australian Rifle Association.

Australian marksmen have forged on outstanding reputation in international competition since Donald MacKintosh’s success in the game shooting event at the 1900 Paris Olympic Games. Among a crop of modern day stars, dual Olympic champion Michael Diamond is one of the best known.


Dec 112014

Every summer the prospect of prolonged hot and dry weather creates the potential for destructive fires in Australia.

And each year firefighters put their lives on the line to protect people and property from the devastating consequences of fire.

As well as permanent and retained firefighters, there are also thousands of volunteer firemen and women who play a significant and vital role in defending communities all across Australia.

As the nation once again focuses attention on the bushfire season, we’re honoured to share an image of this numismatic tribute to the courage and dedication of Australian firefighters.

Do you know anything about this medallion?

Do you know anything about the medallion?

The medallion’s obverse portrays a fireman from an earlier era carrying a female occupant from a house fire.

Its reverse inscription reveals it was issued by the Australian Assembly of Volunteer Fire Brigade Associations on the occasion of its 1990 National Conference in Adelaide.

Although in the custody of The Perth Mint, we know nothing more about the provenance of this medallion and would be extremely pleased to hear from anyone with any information pertaining to its design and manufacture.


Aug 202014

Now part of The Perth Mint’s historical collection, this Prize Medal was issued by Australia’s oldest University.

Established in 1850, the University of Sydney was a trailblazer for higher education in colonial Australia.

Sydney University Prize Medal

University of Sydney Prize Medal

With the end of convict transportation to New South Wales in 1840 and the arrival of more and more free-settlers, many felt the need for a local university had become vital.

Influential colonist William Charles Wentworth, for example, believed that a university, secular and open to all, was essential for the growth of a self-governing Australian society. As a result of Wentworth’s efforts, a committee of the Legislative Assembly reported on the best means of instituting and maintaining at public expense a University in Sydney “for the promotion of literature and science”.

In an eloquent parliamentary speech, Wentworth stated his belief that it should enable “the child of every class to become great and useful in the destinies of his country”, and that “it would be the fountain of knowledge at whose springs all might drink, be they Christian, Mahomedan, Jew, or Heathen.”

Operating on the basis of these principles, the University of Sydney broke with the traditions of Britain’s ancient universities by admitting students on academic merit rather than on the basis of religion or social class. In 1881, it also became one of the earliest universities in the world to admit women.

By 1900 the University was developing rapidly as a result of generous public donation and increased government funding. The well-established medallion making service of the Sydney Mint would have been ideal for the production of prize medals formally recognizing academic excellence among its expanding student cohort.

About the Medal

Struck in bronze, the University of Sydney Prize Medal was engraved circa 1900 by Allan Wyon, a member of the celebrated dynasty of British coin and medal makers.

Its obverse portrays the original University crest of 1857 with the Latin motto SIDERE MENS EADEM MVTATO, most commonly translated as “the constellation is changed, the disposition is the same”.

Uninscribed, its reverse features an open olive wreath and the words PRIZE MEDAL.


Jul 132014

One of the beauties of coins and medallions is their ability to preserve fascinating moments in history forever and this one held in the Perth Mint’s historical collection is a prime example. It celebrates the investiture of 17 year-old Edward as Prince of Wales on 13 July 1911.

Since 1301, when King Edward I of England imposed his infant son on the Welsh as their new prince, the title ‘Prince of Wales’ has been given to the eldest son of the British monarch. The location for the investiture of the 19th Prince of Wales in 1911 was Caernarfon Castle, one of Edward I’s ‘iron ring’ of fortresses built to secure his annexation of Welsh territory 600 years earlier.

The investiture ceremony itself (watch British Pathé footage here) was without precedent. The young Prince was the first to address the Welsh people in their native tongue and among those to pay their respects that day was a group of Druids.

As we know, Edward was never crowned King. His reign lasted only 325 days. But the “wild enthusiasm” of the huge crowd that gathered outside the castle walls on that perfect summer’s day offered no portents of the later crisis.

For the medallion, prolific Welsh sculptor Sir William Goscombe John portrayed the Prince three-quarters left in his investiture robes with a coronet. The bust is surrounded by the inscription ‘Investiture of Edward Prince of Wales’.

The words are repeated in Welsh on the other side around a rugged depiction of the castle walls. Reflecting the warm conditions, strong beams of sunlight are seen in the background. Other design details include the Prince’s plumes and the Welsh dragon.

Less than 5,500 of these historically important medallions were made in London from silver and a very rare 129 gold versions are also reported to have been created.


Mar 252014

The Perth Mint has in its possession an undated Royal Society of Western Australia Kelvin medallion. The medallion features a portrait of The Right Honourable William Thomson, Lord Kelvin OM GCVO PC PRS PRSE, and the inscriptions ROYAL SOCIETY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA and KELVIN 1824 – 1907.

The Lord Kelvin medallion, or the Medal of the Royal Society of Western Australia as it is known today, was first awarded in 1924 and is now a biennial award which recognises a scientist or scientists who have made an outstanding contribution to science in the State.


Lord Kelvin (William Thomson) was a mathematical physicist and engineer born in Belfast in 1824, who began attending tertiary classes from the age of 10 at Glasgow University where his father was a Professor of Mathematics. He wrote his first scientific paper at the age of 16, and went on to attend Cambridge University before returning to Glasgow University as a Professor of Natural Philosophy, a post he held for 53 years.

Lord Kelvin is best known for his work on the laws of thermodynamics and the invention of navigational and electrical measuring instruments. In 1848, he proposed an absolute temperature scale now known as the ‘Kelvin scale’, which determined the exact value of absolute zero. He was also responsible for formulating the second law of thermodynamics, and had a career working as an electric telegraph engineer and inventor. He was appointed the Director of the Atlantic Telegraphy Company in 1856. In this role he succeeded in installing a telegraph cable under the Atlantic Ocean in 1866, and was knighted for his efforts by Queen Victoria on 10 November 1866.


“I have no satisfaction in formulas
unless I feel their arithmetical magnitude.”

William Thomson, October 1884

Kelvin was also an enthusiastic yachtsman and from 1870 he spent many summers aboard his yacht, the ‘Lalla Rookh’, inventing marine tools to improve navigation and safety, including the development of a machine to predict tide levels worldwide, and a mariner’s compass more accurate than any other in existence at the time.

Kelvin became a Lord in 1892, taking the name ‘Kelvin’ after the River Kelvin in his beloved Glasgow, and remained an international celebrity until his death in 1907. He was buried at Westminster Abbey not far from where Sir Isaac Newton lies at rest.