One of the few remaining Sydney Cove medallions in private hands has sold for £36,000 (plus 26% buyer’s premium) at auction in Edinburgh.
The 2¼in (5.7cm) pottery roundel marking the beginning of European settlement in Australia was made at Wedgwood’s Etruria factory in 1789 using clay collected by the First Fleet. It came for sale at the Five Centuries sale at Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh on November 16 from a private UK collection with an estimate of £30,000-50,000.
It was in November 1788 that Captain Arthur Phillip, commander of the First Fleet and first Governor of New South Wales, had written to Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society, to inform him that he had found white clay “in great plenty, a few feet below the surface” in the Sydney Cove area.
Banks directed the samples of the clay to his friend and fellow Lunar Society member Josiah Wedgwood and by March 12, 1790, had received a package in return.
Wedgwood’s accompanying letter read: “I have the pleasure of acquainting you, that the clay from Sydney Cove, which you did me the honour of submitting to my examination, is an excellent material for pottery, and may certainly be made the basis of a valuable manufacture for our infant colony there. Of the species of ware which may be produced from it, you will have some idea from the medallions I have sent for your inspection.”
The medal lions were produced to a design drawn by Henry Webber and modelled by William Hackwood. The bas relief scene dated Etruria 1789 depicts Hope, encouraging Peace, Art and Labour, an allegory for the prosperity of the new settlement, while to the reverse is the impressed inscription Made by Iosiah Wedgwood of Clay from Sydney Cove.
Roundels from a first batch were sent on the ‘Second Fleet’ to Governor Phillip to be distributed at his discretion, with a second batch completed by November 1789.
It is unknown how many were produced although the total production has been estimated at around two dozen.
Survivors range in colour from pale biscuit to a dark brown.
The owner of the L&T medallion purchased it in 2019 as part of a group lot in a regional saleroom. Subsequent research led them to discover its historical importance. Bids came from the UK, Australia and US, with the medallion sell ing online to an international bidder.
Eleven others are known in UK and Australian museums: five in the Mitchell State Library, New South Wales and one each in the British Museum, the Lady Lever Art Gallery, the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, the National Museum of Austral ia, Canberra; the Sydney Living Museums Corporation and the Silent World Foundation.
Another, sold by an Australian dealer a decade ago, is understood to be in a private collection.