By Anne Gibson.
In November 1788 Captain Phillip wrote to Sir Joseph Banks, who was President of the Royal Society, to inform him that he had found minerals and white clay in the area of Sydney Cove, following the settlement of Port Jackson in January 1788. He sent samples of these to Banks at the end of 1788.
“Sunday 16th November 1788.
Phillip dated his eleventh despatch to Lord Sydney, and wrote to Nepean, Stephens and Sir Joseph Banks.
The letter to sir Joseph Banks was an inventory of the specimens being forwarded.”
‘Sydney Cove 1788’ by Dr. John Cobley
Banks directed the minerals to the relevant scientists, and he sent the clay directly to his friend and fellow Royal Society and Lunar Society member, Josiah Wedgwood, for him to investigate its potential for ceramic production. Wedgwood worked with the clay and was very pleased with its qualities.
As a result, Wedgwood decided to create a limited number of Medallions commemorating the settlement at Sydney Cove. Sometimes referred to by the Wedgwood family by the more manageable title of ‘the Botany Bay Medal’ or by some as the ‘Hope Medallion’.
The medallion was made at Wedgwood’s Etruria factory in 1789. It was designed by Henry Webber and modelled by Wedgwood’s principal modeller, William Hackwood. It is moulded in bas-relief with a classical scene depicting Hope, encouraging Peace, Art and Labour, to work for the prosperity of the new young settlement. The original medallions range in colour from pale biscuit to a dark brown.
The design is highly symbolic. It depicts Hope as a female figure dressed in Grecian style robes. The figure is depicted in front of an anchor, the symbol for hope. Peace holds an olive branch in her hand and has a horn of plenty spilling forth at her feet. Beside Peace, Art is shown as a female figure holding an artist’s palette and lastly Labour (the only male figure on the medallion) wears a loin cloth and has a sledge hammer across his shoulder. Behind the figures a ship sails into a bay and buildings rise on land in the background.
The reverse has been stamped: MADE BY IOSIAH WEDGWOOD OF CLAY FROM SYDNEY COVE. [I is used rather than J in order to comply with ‘classical’ style, no J is used in Roman inscriptions.]
Medallions from the first batch were to be sent to Sydney Cove, for the attention of Governor Phillip, on the ‘Second Fleet’ and they were to be distributed at his discretion. By November 1789, a second batch of medallions had been completed. Wedgwood’s friend, the physician and poet Erasmus Darwin, was the recipient of one. He wrote to Wedgwood:
“I have received great pleasure from your excellent medallion of Hope. The figures are all finely beautiful and speak for themselves.”
In November 1789, an account of ‘The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay’ was printed by the publisher John Stockdale. On the title page there is an engraving of the Sydney Cove Medallion and a description of it.
Despite having carried out thousands of ceramic experiments over many years, it appears that Wedgwood was proud of creating the Sydney Cove medallion, producing a special issue to commemorate the settlement at Sydney Cove. These medallions record the start of a new chapter of colonial history as well as symbolising Wedgwood’s skill and technical innovation, which was at its height at this time. The medallions are fine and fragile in nature. Surviving examples are rare and are seldom seen on the market.
It is unknown how many medallions of the original issue were produced. The whereabouts of 10 are currently known. It is thought Wedgwood would have made no more than was necessary for the publicity value. One for Erasmus Darwin; a few for Sir Joseph Banks as President of the Royal Society for his own distribution; perhaps fifteen or twenty for Governor Phillip’s distribution. The total production may have been somewhere around two dozen, probably no more.
An original medallion was auctioned in Edinburgh in November 2022 and sold for £45,200.00. Another, along with the papers of certification, was sold by auction in Australia in July 2014 for $250,000.00.
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