Wellesley Pole’s departure and legacy
Wellesley-Pole leaving medal – by Pistrucci
The bold manner in which you devised, and… executed one of the most difficult works…during the present Reign, or possibly any former one, does honour to the name of Wellesley
Sir Joseph Banks – Letter to Wellesley-Pole 21st June 1817
In the summer of 2009 it came to light that the Royal Mint had made a terrible blunder with the redesign of the 20p piece, meaning that for the first time in over 300 years an undated British coin entered circulation. Any one lucky enough to find one of these ‘mistakes’ could reasonably be expected a windfall, since coin experts placed their value at £50
A error such as this is indeed a rarity for the Royal Mint, especially given the advances in technology since the days of Wellesley-Pole and Pistrucci. Moreover it brings sharply into focus the amazing logistical achievements of the Waterloo Medal and The Great Recoinage. In less than three years at the Mint Wellesley-Pole revolutionised the issue of war service medals, and then exchanged the entire silver currency of Great Britain without losing a single bag of coin from the 57 million issued and distributed the length and breath of these islands. By any standard this is a mind-boggling achievement, which occurred during years of civil strife – when there was no proper transport and communication system in place.
This 1818 satire has Wellesley-Pole is saying ‘I swallow £10,000 per annum and do very little for it.’
But what of the next five years, 1818-1823, I hear you ask. What did Wellesley-Pole do next? Well the answer is – not a lot. The problem was that Wellesley-Pole was up to any task set him, but after the new silver currency in 1817, save for the introduction of the gold sovereign, and a few changes after George IV came to the throne – Wellesley-Pole was not called upon to any great extent. This is not to say that the Royal Mint failed to develop and thrive under his command, more that it was really rather routine for a man of his administrative capabilities.
Wellesley-Pole was not vocal enough in support of Government repression
After 1818 Wellesley-Pole was angling for a new role in Government – His long-term ambition was to become First Lord of the Admiralty, something dear to his heart as a former naval officer and services as Secretary to the Admiralty (1805-1808). But he needed advancement to the peerage to make this possible. The only problem was that Lord Liverpool’s government had barely any Ministers sitting in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister really wanted to see Wellesley-Pole at his fiercest in the Commons alongside Lord Castlereagh – defending the crackdown on civil liberties. Instead Wellesley-Pole made repeated requests for advancement, so Liverpool became instead convinced that the time had come to get rid of him. In 1814 Wellesley-Pole had been an important pawn in the political rapprochement with the Duke of Wellington – but when the Iron Duke himself joined the Cabinet in 1818, Liverpool realised that one Wellesley was quite enough – and so the dye was cast for Wellesley-Pole’s removal
Ultimately it was events elsewhere which kept Wellesley-Pole in office until 1823. After the death of George III in 1820, the new King George IV was only to happy to ennoble his friend and confidante – and Wellesley-Pole became Baron Maryborough. But the trial of Queen Caroline, delayed the King’s coronation by two years, putting both Royal and Government business onto the back burner. Hence it was not until 1823 that Wellesley-Pole was ‘no longer Minted.’
Wellesley-Pole ennobled – and sacked at the same time
We have now seen Wellesley-Pole’s legacy – and also found out how and why he was removed from office. But what of the Mint? How did they feel about the loss of their Master after 9 tumultuous years? The answer to this can be found at the National Archives where a 300-page document details the full period of Wellesley-Pole’s tenure at the Mint. Most importantly of all it reveals how popular Wellesley-Pole was amongst his staff and colleagues. Sir Joseph Banks (quoted at the head of this post) was just one of many contemporaries who, at least privately, were fulsome in their admiration of his achievements. Luckily for us, and for the Royal Mint – it was Banks’ admiration for Wellesley-Pole that enabled the establishment of the Royal Mint Museum (1816). Both men had a sense of the importance of retaining examples of old currency for continuity of British culture.
Mint Book at the National Archives
After Wellesley-Pole resigned – the Royal Mint scrambled to lavish him with lasting thanks for what he had done to enhance their reputation. A copy of his bust by Nollekins was commissioned and placed in the Mint boardroom alongside Sir Isaac – reckoned to be the greatest of all Mint employees. He also had the honour to be elected by the Goldsmiths to their Livery, a rare token of esteem. Finally Pistrucci designed a special medal which was awarded to Wellesley-Pole with a Latin inscription, the translation of which follows:
The Officers of the Royal Mint have caused this Medal to be struck in the year of our Lord 1823 in honour of the Right Honourable William Wellesley-Pole, Baron Maryborough (nine year Master of the Mint) as a mark of their respect and esteem for his Lordship: who when the coin of the realm, from long wear had become much deteriorated, not only restored it to its pristine beauty but replaced it by an entirely new coinage, far more perfect both in design and execution, and who also in transmitting the new coinage to all parts of the Kingdom conducted the undertaking with so much Wisdom, Consideration, and Equity that the old money ceased, and the new began to obtain currency in every place, at nearly the same moment
For those Latin aficionados – here is the Latin version
Perhaps Wellesley-Pole’s greatest legacy of all was framed by his constant insistence that there should be ‘no impairment in the coins beauty or quality’. Because of this the designs remained in circulation until decimalisation in 1971. For over 150 years British citizens carried his handiwork in their pockets, surely the greatest testimony to what he achieved.
Bust of Wellesley-Pole by Nollekins – Placed in Mint Boardroom
I hope you have enjoyed ‘The Mint with a Pole’ and come back soon as there are more episodes from the Wellesley-Pole family with which I hope to entertain you.
Any comments or feedback would be gratefully received.
To find out where Wellesley-Pole went after the Mint, please follow him to Royal Ascot – or see why Wellesley-Pole fought to prevent prosecution of a vagrant. Alternatively you can help the Duke of Wellington choose which niece he liked the most.
- National Archives MINT 1/56
- Daily Mail June 29 2009
- Humphreys H., Gold, Silver and Copper Coins of England (6th Ed, London: Bohn, 1849)
- Craig J., The Royal Society and the Royal Mint in, Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, (London: The Royal Society, V19, No 2– Dec 1964)
- Mays J., The Splendid Shilling, (Hampshire: New Forest, 1982)