Lot 114

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Missing from the Nicholson Collection & possibly unique

  • 396
  • Literature:
  • Collectibles
  • Medium:
  • Coins, Monies & Stamps
  • Circa:
  • Paper Money, Australia & New Zealand
  • Notes:
  • Australia's inauspicious beginnings as a penal colony meant that its population was inhabited with plenty of 'colourful characters' transported from England for 'rehabilitation' having been convicted of both petty and serious crimes. Not all convict arrivals served their time and then ventured forth on the straight and narrow path to self-righteousness. Many would turn out to be recidivists who revisited their old skills in the new land. One such convict was Thomas Saulsbury Wright, a London Banker, who was already in his 60s when he received a death sentence for forgery in 1799. Fortuitously for Tommy he escaped the hangman's noose and instead was transported for life to the penal colony of New South Wales where he was eventually granted his freedom. Wright was obviously a wheeler and dealer whose return to a life of crime is best described by Frank Clune in his book 'the Norfolk Island Story.' Clune writes that "the story of his decline and fall was told in the 'Australian' (newspaper) of 9th November 1839. On trial before Mr Justice Stephen and a jury was Thomas Wright. alias 'Tommy the Banker,' late of Parramatta, indicted under a statute of William IV, for feloniously having in his possession, without lawful excuse, certain forged notes purporting to be of the Austilin (sic) Bank, knowing them to be counterfeit." Naturally, Tommy the Banker pleaded not guilty and pointed out that his name was actually Thomas Sa(u)lsb(ur)y Wright and not the accused Thomas Wright. His Honour ordered the indictment altered accordingly to please the prisoner - not that it made any difference. The Attorney-General began his case, linking it to the last court session in which a co-partner of Wright's named Salt had been convicted of uttering one of these Austilin Bank notes, and pointed to Wright's involvement. "A search warrant was issued, and the constable found several notes on Wright's person and, in his house one hundred and ninety-one £10 notes, two hundred and fifty £5 notes, three hundred and seventy-six £2 notes, eighty-seven £1 notes, and one hundred and ninety-five £20 notes, amounting in all to £8,000,' - or enough to start a bank. Wright was also in possession of plates capable of producing banknotes for the (said) Austilin Bank, the Austilian Bank, the Sydney Bank, the Bank of Parramatta (sighted), the Parramatta Banking Company, the Parramatta Trading Bank and the Defiance Banking Company. Constable Alexander Brown, who conducted the search explained that the plates were 'engraved by a person named Wilson in York Street (Sydney)' who seemed to be the go-to-person for anyone wanting passable banknotes printed, as he had earlier provided plates and printed notes for another dubious venture 'The Bank of Newcastle.' The Attorney-General argued that the Austilin plates 'were so well executed that anyone would be likely to be deceived by their close resemblance to the notes of the Bank of Australia,' a legitimate enterprise. In unintentional support for Wright, Mr Edye Manning, a director of the Bank of Australia, testified quite haughtily that the notes in question 'could deceive none but the very ignorant persons' - but the judge thought otherwise, and asked the prisoner what explanation he had to offer. The 'Australian' newspaper in its report said that 'the prisoner, who is an aged man, said to be one hundred and two years of age (and on his own evidence) sixty-two years a banker, had undertaken to establish a Bank for a company at Parramatta, but that he got connected with a party of swindlers, who robbed him. He was able to take up all the notes signed by himself, but could not take up those he was robbed of - and (argued) he had as good a right to establish a bank as any other gentleman, and would undertake to conduct the management of one for any company of gentlemen who might choose to employ him, upon the best and most improved principles of banking.' 'Laughter in Court,' reported the Australian. After the judge directed the jury, 'they found the prisoner guilty, without leaving the box.' His Honour then inquired from the Attorney-General the circumstances under which the prisoner had arrived in the colony, and was told 'for the offence for which he has now been tried.' In summary Mr Justice Stephen said, 'it was lamentable to see an aged infirm old man, on the verge of the grave, persisting in the same career of crime which he had commenced in his youth, instead of amending his life, and preparing for the world to which he (would) soon be called.' Despite the age of the accused, his Honour committed Wright to 'fourteen years transportation to a penal settlement' on Norfolk Island. On the 14th December 1839, the Superintendent of Convicts records that 'I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to transmit for you a list of forty-four prisoners under sentence of transportation by the Governor Phillip sailing on Friday next.' The list included 'Thomas Sa(u)lsb(ur)y Wright.' Time puts an end to all enterprises, even the criminal, and an entry in the Norfolk Island Hospital records the 'death (of) Thomas Wright, 7th February 1843, aged 104.' In our auction we offer an Austilin Bank One Pound dated December 2, 1837. Hand-signed by Tho(mas) Saulsbury (Wright) it is the only known surviving example of the spurious issues passed by 'Tommy the Banker' or 'the Rogue Banker.' A remarkable piece of Australiana that certainly reinforces our convict past.

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May 15, 2022 12:00 PM AEST
Paddington, Sydney, Australia

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