Kingdom of Great Britain
St. Helena Island – 1821 Half Penny
This month we recognize the death of Napoleon Bonaparte in May of 1821. His second exile was to the island of St. Helena, 1150 miles to the west of Angola, in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The Portugese had discovered the uninhabited island in 1502, they didn’t do much with it except import animals and crops for future exploitation. Then Dutch occupied it for a few years (1645 – 1651). Representatives of the British East India Company established the first settled community there to serve the needs of the transport ships of the highly influential company.
The obverse features the blazon of the British East India Company with the abbreviated motto “AUSP: REGIS & SENAT ANGLIÆ” which stands for “AUSPICIO REGIS ET SENATUS ANGLIÆ.” This was the motto of the Company since 1698 and it means “By right of the King and Senate of England.”
The half penny is made of copper, it’s 29 mm x 2 mm, 9.4 g. with a plain edge and coin alignment. The following, by David Vice, who wrote “The Coinage of British West Africa & St Helena 1684-1958” will tell the rest of the story.
In 1815 the St. Helena economy was bolstered by the arrival of the exiled Napoleon. The Emperor’s entourage and the guarding force of British troops suddenly doubled the island’s population bringing great prosperity. In order to sustain this growth the Company sent out £50,000 in dollars in 1819. St. Helena was at the peak of its prosperity. Two years later, in 1821, wheels were set in motion for the supply of two copper coinages specifically struck for use on the island. The first issue was of an unofficial nature and originated from a local firm of merchants called Solomon, Dickson and Taylor. Instructions were sent to England for the manufacture of 70,560 halfpenny tokens. Responsibility for the second issue belonged to the Court of Directors of the Honorable East India Company based in England. They requested the Mint of Matthew Robinson Boulton, at Soho near Birmingham, to strike a copper coinage to the total value of £1,000. For this sum the Company received 702,704 halfpenny pieces.
Before either of the new copper coinages arrived in St. Helena, Napoleon died on 5th May 1821. Soon after, most of the troops, high military officers, civil servants and their families had left the island. Consequently the demand for the halfpenny pieces never reached the level originally conceived. In 1830 a large surplus stock of the East India Company copper coins in an unissued state was returned to England for melting. It would be easy to conclude from this event that the coinage was a failure. Far from it, the halfpennies remained in circulation on the island and proved an acceptable payment to all parties. These characteristics must have appeared very attractive to a Company which was still encountering difficulties in maintaining a regular supply of silver coin on St. Helena.