Griqua Coins South Africa Coinage

Old Coins

The London Missionary Society at an early date of its activities in South Africa had its attention drawn to a small group of hunters leading a nomadic life in the great plain south of the Orange River. They were the Griquas, known at the time as “Bastaards”. In 1805 the missionaries induced them to settle at Klaarwater, a short distance north of the Orange River. Under their guidance the Griquas adopted some customs of civilised life, but they did not acquire the habit of industry. They were mighty hunters and the chase was a mine of wealth. They traded with the colonists and could offer ivory, ostrich feathers, whips of hippopotamus and rhinoceros hide, and skins of lions, jackals and other animals. These provided the means to purchase wagons, ammunition, guns, English clothing, coffee, sugar and many other articles, the value of which they were capable of appreciating.

Thus, when Rev. John Campbell visited South Africa in 1812 and passed through Klaarwater, the Griquas had attained as great a degree of civilisation and prosperity as they have since shown themselves capable of. So impressed was the Rev. Campbell that he tried to introduce reforms in all directions. He induced them to substitute the name Griqua for Bastaards, and with his assistance they passed new laws. Further, he interested them in obtaining their own coins.

Campbell writes in his book travels in South Africa: "It was likewise resolved that, as they had no circulating medium amongst themselves, by which they could purchase any small article, such as knives, scissors, clothing, etc., supposing shop to be opened amongst them, which they were anxious that there should be, they should apply to the Mission 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 Griquatown marked on them. It is probable that, if this were adopted, in a short time they would circulate among all the nations round about and be a great connivence."

A special coinage was thus to be introduced for the benefit of the big Griqua "nation" which he himself found to consist of only.-

  • 291 men,
  • 399 women,
  • 310 boys and
  • 266 girls

thus 1,266 souls all told while the whole “Church or Christian Society” consisted of 26 men and 16 women. This important “nation” of his he found to possess entire 24 wagons, but most of them are nearly worn out by use. Trade can scarcely be said to exist in Griqualand. There are some who may be termed bamboos makers, or makers of vessels of wood for holding milk or water. Some can do a little smith work, in repairing wagons, and one man can construct a wagon. From the appearance of the new meeting house they are building, which stands unfinished, there must be tolerably good masons among them. The women make mats and rushes. Such then in his own words was the great “nation” whose currency was to circulate among all the nations round about. A simple credulous man, he was himself deceived.

We are not sure if Campbell ever did order these coins, but one thing is clear that the introduction of coinage at this stage was not really feasible. In a article Alexander Parson did for Spink & Son’s in 1927 about the Griqualand Coinage he states that upon Campbell's return to England "Campbell took early steps towards provision of the coins required by the inhabitants of Griqua Town. . . . He seems to have acted on his own initiative in the matter without consulting his fellow Directors of the London Missionary Society. . . Supplies of the coins were made by the well-known diesinker, Thomas Halliday, and sent out to South Africa in 1815 followed by a further consignment in 1816. The absence of the date on the coins indicates that the dies were, probably on the grounds of economy, intended to be used indefinitely until worn out. . . I can find no evidence that any further currency was made for use in Griqua Town after 1816." (Parson gives no references) There are many other references to the Griqua Town coins claiming that is was the first South African coinage but most are based on Parson’s work.

About January, 1863, the Griquas moved to their new destination, Mount Currie, near Kokstad. They were to have become British subjects, but were subsequently told that they had to protect themselves and that in effect they would be independent. They accordingly formed their own Government again, with a Kaptyn, Executive and Volksraad. They were supposed to have the control of the finances when there were any. The available assets were four footed-sheep, goats, cattle and some horses. The cash box was the pasturage of the Treasurers farm. The banker was a native herd boy. The Volksraad sat half-yearly and lasted as long as the commissariat held out, i.e. its length depended upon the size of the animal slaughtered. When the beef gave out the House rose. "No beef, no business, was the unwritten but standing rule of this Assembly.

At the time of their trek, the sight of the multitude of their stock was too great a strain on the goodwill of the Basutos. When therefore the Free State again waged war against the Basutos in 1865-1866. Adam Kock joyfully seized the opportunity of joining the former to retaliate upon the Basutos for their robberies. When at the end of the conflict the Free State Volksraad issued £100,000 paper money, presumably it appeared quite natural for the Griqua Volksraad to follow suit. Accordingly, on 5 November 1867, they resolved to issue Government "paper" to an amount of £10,000 against the security of all immovable Government property. These notes were to have a forced currency for ten years, and would thereafter be redeemed at the rate of £5,000 per annum. "The Government of New Griqualand" actually had the notes printed, and quite artistically too; but for some reason preferred not to issue them. A specimen is said to be in the SA Museum. Also originals in Dower’s book “The Early annals of Kokstad and Griqualand East(1902)”. Dower secured these from Donald Strachan who had kept them under lock and key after they were withdrawn. Soon after giving Dower a batch of less than 100 notes for his book the balance were burnt.


In addition to the coins referred to above, specimens are available of a "GriquaTown" coin dated 1890. GriquaTown, however, had been abandoned by the Griquas long before that date. These are called the "Mystery Coin” of 1890. As for the mystery coins of 1890, Parsons understands that they were struck in Berlin. Parsons concludes that the Griqua Coins “form one of the most interesting emissions in the numismatic history of the British Empire and they are unique in the sense of being the only missionary coinage of Christianity. Their designs are pleasing and appropriate.”

It must be noted that the dove of peace on the coins are the emblem of the London Missionary Society.