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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Mystery Coin

By Ian Hutton, Curator LHI Museum

Some years ago, Island resident Esven Fenton brought a very worn copper coin to the Museum. Esven had found this on the ground close to the site where Perry and Sarah Johnston had their cottage on the south side of Capella Hill. The text on the coin was not very legible. I had made various attempts to have it identified but without much success until last week when I found an online app called CoinSnap.

To use this, I placed the coin on the desk with a bright torchlight at a low angle to highlight the shadows on what little text there was; I then held my iPhone over the coin and photographed it on both sides, and the app identified it as a Brazilian 40 Reis, countermarked on 80 Reis 1823 to 1831. The text on the coin was Portuguese.

Brazil was “discovered” by a Portuguese expedition led by Pedro Álvares Cabral on April 22, 1500. It remained a Portuguese colony until September 7, 1822, when it declared its independence.

So, it is interesting to speculate as to how this coin travelled to Lord Howe Island. Given that whaling ships were travelling around the world, particularly during the first six decades of the 19th century, it is not perhaps so surprising that a coin such as this turned up on the Island. Esven has donated the coin to the Island Museum.

The official language of Brazil was Portuguese during the colonial period, and it was used on coins, government documents, and other official materials. After Brazil gained independence in 1822, the Portuguese language continued to be used on coins and other official documents until the Brazilian government made changes to reflect its independence.

There was a lot of deflation right after independence, in part because of rampant falsification and an extreme lack of gold/silver from the Portuguese emptying the country’s coffers as they returned home. The Brazilian Government passed a law in 1835, causing the copper coins to be counter-stamped (i.e., 80 Reis to be officially counter-stamped to the value of 40 Reis etc.). These are simple round counterstamps containing the numeric value.

Perry Johnson came to the Island in 1855, on the whaler Will o’ Wisp; he left the ship and lived at North Bay with Captain Stevens for a year. Then he went to Sydney where he met Sarah, a South African nurse and governess. On their return to the Island, they settled at the foot of Mount Lidgbird and farmed land adjacent to Soldiers Creek until Perry died in 1915 and Sarah in 1918.

Yet such warnings are required for other hazardous substances taken into the body, such as tobacco.

Ireland is leading the world with its alcohol labelling. From 2026, drinks containing alcohol will have to inform consumers about the specific risks of liver disease and fatal cancers.

Labels will also have to notify buyers of the alcohol risks to pregnancy, the calorie content of the beverage, and the number of grams of alcohol it contains.

The new labelling move demonstrates their government has prioritised reducing alcohol-related disease and has widespread support. A recent household survey in Ireland found that 81.9% of the more than 1,000 participants supported the introduction of health warning labels on alcohol.

Australia is currently considering introducing energy content (kilojoule) labelling on alcoholic beverages. This would be a positive step, but it’s as far as Australia seems willing to go for now. There are no plans to follow Ireland’s lead.

Alcohol causes more than 200 diseases, injuries, and other health conditions.

There is strong evidence that from the first drink, the risk of various cancers (of the breast, liver, colon, rectum, oropharynx, larynx, and oesophagus) increases. This is because:-

Ethanol (pure alcohol) and its toxic by-product acetaldehyde damage cells by binding with DNA, causing cells to replicate incorrectly.

Alcohol influences hormone levels, which can modify how cells grow and divide.

Direct tissue damage can occur, increasing the absorption of other cancer-causing substances.

Alcohol use kills more than four Australians a day (the highest rate in the past decade) and results in A$182 million of avoidable costs per day.

In 2020, in the face of intense pressure from industry groups, the Australian Government decided on new labelling requirements for alcoholic beverages. Australia previously opposed enhanced alcohol warning labels, but only to warn about the risks of drinking during pregnancy. From a public health point of view, this was a mediocre compromise.

Alcohol industry interests have so far succeeded in exempting alcoholic drinks from the usual consumer information requirements. Under the international labelling guidelines, all processed foods must have all ingredients listed on the label. But alcohol industry interests have so far succeeded in these rules not being applied to alcoholic beverages.

Australia should prioritise its public’s health over commercial interests and support Ireland’s Alcohol Warning Messages.

Studies have shown in a real-world setting, cancer warning labels get noticed, and increasing the knowledge that alcohol can cause cancer will only benefit our community’s health into the future.

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