Letter from Scott Balson to the National Numismatic Society, Transvaal, South Africa
- May 2005

14th May 2005

Mr Chairman, Members of the National Numismatic Society and other honoured guests.

I am writing this letter to you through the Internet, a form of communication that I have found to be the greatest tool into my research into the truth and fallacies of my specific area of interest - the history and money of the Griqua people. I am writing because I believe that a talk will be presented on the Griqua Town coins of 1815 - 1816.

I have asked Brian Bowles from P&G Coins or your secretary to read this letter to your May meeting because I obviously cannot attend as I now reside in Queensland, Australia and more importantly because this is a subject which is so close to my heart.

In 1978 I delivered two papers to the Pietermaritzburg Numismatic Society covering the extraordinary history of two sets of little known trade tokens - the Strachan and Co and the F C Larkan (the only known woman in South Africa, according to Dr G P Theron, to have token coins minted).

In those days I worked as a bank clerk in Barclays Bank and it was indeed providence that my deep interest in numismatics, placement at Ixopo and the obscure Umzimkulu bank agency led to my research into South Africa's first widely circulating currency - the trade tokens of Strachan and Company. The result of my research was a book "Kence, the trade tokens of Strachan and Company" published in 1978 by Dr Clive Graham, a Professor at the University of Natal, and myself. Less than 200 copies of this original work exist today.

I left South Africa for Australia in 1986 but my interest has never waned and since this time I have been fortunate to accumulate over 50 books directly related to the history of the Griqua people and their coinage. These historic works include the relatively new works by Alexander Parsons (in 1927 for Spinks) and many subsequent numismatic books quoting Parsons as the source of their statement that the Griqua Town coins were actually circulated in Griqua Town in 1815/1816.

This is absolute rubbish - not only were the Griqua Town coins never used as coinage by the Griquas but they never even reached South African shores at this time in the first place.

Parsons himself states in his booklet that the London Missionary Society declined Campbell's request to mint the coins and Moffat's observations on the rudimentary lifestyle of the people but the researcher also fails to look beyond the romance of a single paragraph transcribing Campbell's fanciful journal published in 1815 for the London Missionary Society under the name of "Travels in South Africa". In this paragraph on page 256 Campbell refers to the introduction of coins among the people a Griqua Town.
"It was likewise resolved that as they (the Griquas) had no circulating medium amongst them by which they could purchase any small article, such as knives, scissars (sic) etc, etc. supposing a shop to be established amongst them - which they were anxious there should be - they should apply to the (London) Missionary Society to get silver pieces of different value coined for them in England, which the Missionaries would take for their allowance from the Society, having the name of Griqua town marked on them. It is probable that if this were adopted in a short time they would circulate amongst all the nations about, and be a great convenience".

Since these immortal words were penned fantasy became reality in the minds of many people who accepted as fact what Spinks had commissioned through Parsons.

On my web site at: http://www.tokencoins.com I have published the results of nearly thirty years of research into this subject. This research includes over fifty books related to the Griquas and their coinage and my personal collection includes three copies of Dower's original and extremely rare 1902 work "The Early Annals of Kokstad and East Griqualand" that I have acquired over this period - each contains a bound copy of the extraordinarily rare Griqua Pond bank note. Like the Griqua Town coins these bank notes were never put into circulation. The Griqua bank notes of 1868 are more valuable than the "earlier" Griqua Town pieces and I doubt that any of your members has one. I raise this because members should be aware that my well-researched viewpoint on this matter is not written in bias or ignorance but is being put to members from an informed perspective to counter any claims that the Griqua Town coins (1815/16) were ever circulated as currency amongst the Griquas at this time. This claim is false and misleading. Many others such as the South African Mint (see their web site) and J T Becklake in his book "From Real to Rand" have accepted without question Parson's misplaced claims.

In fact it was the renowned S African numismatist Dr Frank Mitchell who first questioned this fairytale when he said in a 1978 article in "Antiques in South Africa":

John Campbell's dream of a thriving commercial centre did not materialise. Indeed, the primitive Griquas must have been confused to know what to do with their new "coins". They had no real use for money and it seems doubtful if the coins ever circulated.

So what has thirty years of direct research resolved?

One has to go no further than the published works of William John Burchell, Rev John Campbell himself and Moffatt to discover the truth.

Burchell's book of his 1811 visit includes images of Klaar Water (renamed Griqua Town after Campbell's 1813 visit) while drawings and descriptions of the same village some twenty years later reflect the same reality. There was no shop in Griqua Town in which to trade and the fact that the lifestyle and education of the Hottentot people was worse than when the first settlers under van Riebeeck settled the Cape.

Burchell says in his book,
The only piece of masonry was the foundations of a large building, intended to comprise under one roof a meeting-house and the dwellings of the missionaries; but its only use is to prove that a plan of rendering the mission respectable in its appearance was once entertained. It was commenced, I believe, about seven years before my visit to Klaarwater, and was carried on with spirit by the united labor of the whole community, until the walls reached the height of five or six feet; and in this state it has remained ever since, and still continues, without any prospect of being completed. This neglect is attributed to the temper of the (Khoikhoi), who, like children pleased with a new toy, which is soon thrown aside, at first laboured readily at the work, and would not have deserted it if three or four months could have brought it to a conclusion; but finding, after the novelty of the job had worn off, that nothing was left but hard labor, their little stock of exertion and patience became exhausted, and the thing was given up as an undertaking of too great a magnitude. There was no want of materials; since their mortar was obtained close at hand, being merely mud, and the adjoining hill supplied the stone, which was formed by nature of shapes the best adapted for masonry: while timber might easily be procured from the banks of the Gariep, or even much nearer. The business of sawing planks has not yet been introduced here; but two or three people work as blacksmiths, although in a very bungling manner. The only means of rendering this mission permanent, is to induce these people to acquire property in immoveable buildings, and in gardens well stocked with fruit-trees. These they would be unwilling to desert, on account of the labor and time that would be required to procure the same advantages on another spot. To persuade them to erect such buildings, had been, as Mr Anderson informed me, his constant endeavour; and it was not without reason that he complained of the laziness of the people, and of their unwillingness to regulate their conduct by his instructions and advice. It is certainly not an easy task to change the customs and prejudices of any people; but still, however, it may in many cases be done; and, whenever improvements more conducive to their happiness can be substituted in the place of their own rude notions, the attempt may conscientiously be made, and, to a certain extent, persevered in".

Images of homes in Griqua Town as late as 1834 reflect the same reality - an impoverished struggling people whose main task was to survive by finding the very basics in living such as water and food - not some glorified nest of traders exchanging Campbell's coins for commodities like salt, sugar and brandy.

Let us consider the words of Griqua Town's resident missionary, Moffatt, who said in the 1820s some years after Campbell's coins were alleged to have circulated:
"they (the Griquas) showed but the slightest traces of civilisation, were unclothed and unhoused, wretched in appearance, disgusting in their habits, and with no moral or religious beliefs or conceptions".

Hardly sounds as a foundation for a western commodity such as coinage does it?

In my book "The Griquas of South Africa and their Money" (published in 2004) I raise a number of logical issues related to the successful use of coinage in a community.

Here is an extract:
In his booklet Parsons describes the difference between the two strikings thus: The slight difference lies mainly in the form of the olive branch held in the beak of the dove, and it also occurs on the farthing, the obverse die of which is the same as that of the five pence (sic).

The author refers to the use of pence as (sic) because the type of currency is the first mystery about this "coinage" with the "values" in Roman Numerals not referring to "d" for pence. The currency of pounds, shillings and pence was far too complex for a remote and uneducated people to grasp. In fact any form of currency, however noble in nature or formation, was doomed to failure among the Griqua people who had very few in their number who could count. In the best case scenario the values of ¼, ½, (in bronze) and the five and ten (in silver) reflect Campbell's attempt to ease the Griquas understanding of and use of money. But then why were so few "¼" and "½" coins struck - consider the number of these required to make up change for a single "5" or "10"? This imbalance is further accentuated when you consider the claim by Becklake and others that "the silver pieces were repatriated to England and melted down".

The book "From Barter to Barclays", compiled by Eric Rosenthal for Barclays National Bank refers to the Griqua Town coins and states that at this time "the entire commerce of the Griqua nation totalled just £50 per annum" while Campbell notes on page 256 of his book that there were only 291 men in Griqua Town (in 1813)!

The words of Robert Moffatt in the 1820s, repeated in the opening paragraph of Parson's own book produced for Spinks and Son in 1927, kills the very idea of the Griqua Town coins ever being used as currency by the Griquas.

"they (the Griquas) showed but the slightest traces of civilisation, were unclothed and unhoused, wretched in appearance, disgusting in their habits, and with no moral or religious beliefs or conceptions".

In his detailed records of this trip by Campbell "Travels in South Africa, A second journey" published in 1822 Campbell makes absolutely no reference to the Griqua Town coins. In fact on page 56 of vol. one he refers to a Griqua teacher, Jan Hendrik, going to the market at Beaufort to barter ivory for articles that he wanted. In vol. two he discusses the use of rix dollars by the Griquas (pages 231, 264).

Furthermore in Campbell's personally abridged book of his visit to South Africa in 1813 ("Journal of travels in South Africa" published in 1834) he omits any reference to the minting of coins being discussed with the Griquas - as transcribed and claimed in his journal (Travels in South Africa - 1815). Importantly Campbell states in this 1834 work that Regular trades cannot be said yet to exist in Griqualand.

On page 283 (of his book covering his second trip in 1819) Campbell suggests that it would take just a few pounds to establish a system of education for the Bushmen. Campbell is not alone as Moffat makes absolutely no mention of the existence or use of the Griqua Town coins either in his many journals and books!

The mystery that is the Griqua Town coins is not their origin but their history following their alleged striking by Halliday (did he actually do so?)

There is no record of the numbers of Griqua Town coins minted just the occasional coin being put on sale through auctions linked to the fallacy that they were South Africa's first coinage in circulation. According to well-known S African numismatist Dr Frank Mitchell only one Griqua Town coin has been reported as being "found in South Africa".

The collection of Richard J Ford auctioned by Spink and Sons in May 1985 lists several pattern Griqua Town coins struck in copper while Parsons refers to gold specimens of the five and ten and a ½ and ¼ in gilt metal. The variations referred to by Parsons only further support the author's view that the Campbell coins were never actually used by the Griqua population as general usage coinage. It is more likely that they became a novelty item after they were discarded by London Missionary Society and were never even sent to South Africa.

The assertion that the Griqua Town coins were never circulated is further supported by the small number of largely illiterate Bastard adults who at best, "displayed the slightest traces of civilisation" following their expulsion from the Cape by the white man. Furthermore how could Campbell's coins, like the doomed 1868 Griqua note, even with the most romantic of notions, be introduced as currency as there was no basis on which the first coins could have been circulated and there was no store or outlet for them to be used in.

We should therefore, not rely on Campbell's romantic ideals noted in his diary of his first trip in 1813 to jump to the conclusion that the Griqua Town coins were used as currency by the Griquas. The lack of reference to the Griqua Town coins by him and other Missionaries who stayed at Griqua Town reflect the futility of the ideal and the truth of the matter.

(Note: if you go to the web site referred to here search for Campbell's "Walks of Usefulness" and see how the renowned missionary exposes himself for writing fantasy in preference to fact). At this link you will see how Moffat, in his private letters, attacks Campbell as weak, regularly drunk, loudmouthed (when drunk) and "builds castles in the air".

In conclusion may I just say that the Griqua Town coins remain, without doubt, a fascinating numismatic item, but were never circulated among the people of Griqua Town as currency and I question whether they were minted at this time.

This prized position in South Africa's numismatic history of the first widely circulating currency was achieved by the trade tokens of Strachan and Company in 1874. These tokens were so successful that between to fifty to one hundred thousand were minted over a period of nearly sixty years with the earlier sets today commanding a very high price among a growing number of serious collectors.

Extraordinarily it was the Griquas, under Adam Kok, who first settled Nomansland south of Natal (latterly known as East Griqualand) who were the beneficiaries of this new coinage together with the first white settlers of the region. This fact is confirmed by the Standard Bank who released a 125 year anniversary brochure in 2003 which confirms that when they first opened in Kokstad in the late 1870s the coinage of Strachan and Company were circulating as currency.

My theory as to the source of the Griqua Town coins is quite simple.

The surviving specimens are either samples minted for Campbell on his return to England or, more likely, patterns created in 1890 at the same time an in similar quantities as the "Griqua pennies"

As said earlier in this paper what I have said here is fully supported in books and documents your members can acquire or borrow from their local library for themselves. These books and documents are linked to my research at: http://www.tokencoins.com

Scott Balson
Member of the Queensland Numismatic Society: http://www.qns.org.au

Balson debates this topic with senior numismatists in South Africa in 2008 ... they are unable refute his claims..

The Strachan and Co trade tokens now recognised as South Africa's first indigenous coinage.