National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Trade Tokens and the Story of Jarvey the Pawnbroker

Trade Tokens

During the early colonial years, there was a shortage of official British currency within New Zealand.

Paper promissory notes and letters of credit circulated alongside a large variety of coinages brought in by passing ships, and when they weren’t available, the old barter system was implemented, which was often a highly dubious way of trying to conduct business.

This ‘uncertainty’ saw the introduction of Penny (Trade) Tokens, which were issued in New Zealand from 1857 to 1881 by various commercial houses. Forty-eight retailers such as merchants, grocers, drapers and milliners issued their own penny and half-penny tokens.

Tokens were profitable for the traders because the cost of producing them was well below their face value and many were never cashed in because they were easy to lose. They were a good source of advertising too, as each token carried the business’s name. Most of these tokens were made by T. Stokes in Melbourne.

W. A. Jarvey Pawnbroker

A copper One Penny Token, minted by an unknown British Mint (circa 1860). The token was issued by William Andrew Jarvey, a Pawnbroker based in Hobart.

William Jarvey arrived in HobartTown, Van Diemen’s Land (nowTasmania) on 8 April 1844, just two years after the settlement had been proclaimedAustralia’s second city. Little is known about William’s life prior to his arrival inAustralia, but it appears he came from a good family (received a generous £36 per year allowance from his parents) and it might have been his good connections that saw him appointed a Police Constable for the district.

In 1849, he obtained permission to marry Catherine Jane Shaw, a 25 year-old Irish convict (there was a shortage of ‘suitable’ ladies) and the following year he resigned his commission and became the Schoolmaster at the Cascades, outside Hobart. In 1854 he left the school and established himself as a Clothier and Pawnbroker in Murray Street, Hobart (good economic times). He kept this business until 1862 and then attempted farming at Wattle Grove in the Huon Valley, south of Hobart, but gave up his efforts by November of that year. He then convinced the owners of the steamerTitania that he was a suitable captain for their ship (he had been in the Water Police), which was supplying mining communities in New Zealand.

The gold rush in Otago saw Dunedin flourish as a port city and Jarvey, now based there, was earning good money. With his wife in Australia, he was seen in the company of a younger woman and in April 1864, Catherine Jarvey (realising he was not going to return) sold the farm and with their five children, followed William to New Zealand. In August, the relationship was not good, she accused him of adultery and he severely beat her unconscious. Things were about to get worse.

The following month he purchased some rat poison from a chemist (he said ‘to get rid of rats on his ship’), and according to the published versions of the trial, Catherine Jarvey was taken ill with ‘fits’ within a few days of the purchase. On the evening of 26 September, Jarvey administered a fatal dose of strychnine and his wife died of an epileptic fit. At the insistence of Catherine’s 18 year old daughter, the police investigated and after two trials, Jarvey was found guilty of his wife’s murder. He was hanged on 25 October 1865 and it is reported that Jarvey shook hands with his gaolers and then calmly walked onto the scaffold and that his last words to his executioner were “God bless you, Sir!”

He was the first criminal to be executed in the Province of Otago, New Zealand. The story of Jarvey along with many others is told in the NZ Wars display at the National Army Museum.