Auction 109 Highlights

Welcome to Smalls Auctions Sale 109. To start the New Year, we have included four contemporary commemorative medals relating to the early exploration of Australia.

The 1772 ‘Resolution and Adventure’ Medal issued in bronze for Captain Cook’s Second Voyage is one of only a couple known. Under the instructions of Sir Joseph Banks, the Soho Mint struck two medals in gold for himself and King George III, up to 142 in Silver which he distributed to his friends in the Royal Society and another 2,000 on a different die in Platina or Brass which were purposed for distribution to native peoples encountered by Cook on the voyage. The medals struck in bronze were not documented and it is likely they were trial strikes for the gold and silver issues struck on the same die which makes them exceedingly rare.

Also included in the sale is a ‘La Perouse’ Medal in bronze. The Compte de La Perouse was a French explorer who was inspired by the earlier voyages of Captain Cook. He had the personal backing of King Louis XVI and mimicked Cook’s 2nd and 3rd voyages for which the Resolution and Adventure medals were struck by the commissioning of an impressive commemorative medal. Like the British medals they bore a regal side-portrait of his king on its obverse. The reverse of the medal provided a written inscription detailing the departure of the two ships of the expedition, La Boussole and L’Astrolabe, from the Port of Brest on the 1st August 1785. Only 100 of the double-sided medals were struck which were split between silver and bronze and a further 600 uniface medals were made in bronze to be given away on the voyage. In our sale we have an about Uncirculated bronze medal with a suspension loop, the first we have encountered.

In a twist of fate, the La Perouse expedition sailed into Botany Bay just days after the arrival of the ‘First Fleet’ which would have certainly given a fright to the British who were still scouting for a suitable site to establish a Penal Colony. Despite recent rivalries it was reported that the French were cordially greeted and after taking shelter and replenishing supplies the two ships sailed off into the Pacific to a mysterious fate. The fate of the La Perouse Expedition troubled the French who were suspicious of possible British involvement and the deposed French King Louis XVI was said to have asked if La Perouse had been found just moments before he was executed in 1793. However, it was not until 1826 when the shipwrecks of the two ships  La Boussole and L’Astrolabe were found on the reefs of the island Vanikoro in the Solomon’s archipelago that the fate of La Perouse was solved. The discovery was commemorated by the striking of the ‘Voyage of the Corvette Astrolabe’ medal of which a high-grade specimen-strike appears in our sale.

Interestingly, the 16-year-old Napoleon Bonaparte was knocked back when he put his hand up to join the La Perouse expedition saving him from an early watery grave. The fickle hand of fate had intervened in his destiny and just 15 years later he had risen meteorically to be the dictator of France as First Consul of the French First Republic. The Roman Emperors had legitimised the breadth of their reigns by stamping their portraits on their coins and, so it was in keeping that the soon to be Emperor Napoleon’s Caesar-like portrait appeared on a medal struck in 1800 to commemorate the voyage of Captain Nicholas Baudin to the South Pacific. Napoleon had personally authorised the voyage and hand-picked Baudin who was tasked with mapping the West Coast of Australia and the largely uncharted Southern Coast, which is where in 1802 he ran into Matthew Flinders at Encounter Bay who was doing the same for the British. Despite the tetchy relationship between the French and British, Baudin was welcomed at Sydney Cove when he called in to replenish supplies. This gave Baudin and his crew a chance to have a good look around and recent research has revealed that Francis Peron the zoologist on Baudin’s voyage wrote a secret report on a strategy to capture Sydney for the French. It is highly likely the ambitious Napoleon had greater long-term plans than just conquering Europe but, if he had seriously contemplated invading far-flung Australia it was soon pushed to the backburner as he focused his attention on taking on all-comers in Europe. All that remains of Napoleon’s Pacific ambitions is the Baudin medal in our sale.

Our sale also includes a small selection of Australian and World coins many of which are from the Mark Freehill Collection. We hope you find something of interest.


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