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Bank of New South Wales - Banknotes

The Bank of New South Wales is Australia's oldest surviving bank. Founded in 1817, when Governor Lauchlan Macquarie granted a charter to give the priviledge of limited liability, it has a place in Australia's history as the first bank and first public company. For many years, it was also known as 'Macquarie's Bank' a reference to the Governor who was instrumental in its establishment. Initially, capital of £20,000 was raised, issued in £100 shares. The initial 7 year charter was extended by various amendments over the ensuing years.

Despite early setbacks when only half of the shares were sold and suitable accommodation in the heart of Sydney could not be found, the bank opened for business on 8th April, 1817, operating out of a house located in Macquarie Place, Sydney and owned by Mrs Mary Reiby, now featured on Australian $20 polymer notes.

The first recorded deposit was an amount of £50 by Jeremiah Murphy, a sergeant in the 46th Regiment. In the first year, deposits reached only £1,859. By 1920, this had slowly grown to £26,868. One share of the bank's Capital Stock, dated 1924, is shown below.

Between 1822 and 1853, the Bank's head office was relocated to a house previously owned by James Chisholm in George Street between current day Martin Place and Hunter Street. The early years of the bank were not easy. Governor Brisbane's experiment with a dollar monetary system in the early to mid-1920's resulted in the operation of dual accounting systems.

The strain almost reached breaking point when the experiment was ended by direction from the English authorities. Government backing of it's banknotes during the conversion back to sterling in 1826 saved the fledgling bank from an early demise. Since that time, the bank's growth was substantial.

Banknotes were issued at branches in Albury, Ararat, Ballarat, Bathurst, Beechworth, Brisbane, Castlemaine, Deniliquin, Geelong, Ipswich, Kyneton, Maitland, Melbourne, Mount Alexander, Newcastle, North Brisbane, Orange, Rockhampton, Sandhurst, Sydney, Tamworth and Toowoomba.

The financial strength of the bank was particularly evident during 1893 when it was one of only a handful of Australian banking institutions which did not suspend trading. With the bank's notes backed by New South Wales government legislation, their issue was instrumental in overcoming stagnant trade and commerce.

The bank's banknote ledgers are remarkable for their detail, with a recording for every note of the issue and return dates as well as the signatories on each note. After 1910, when a 10% tax made the issue of banknotes unprofitable, the bank redeemed its private issues for Commonwealth notes. By the early 1960's, a total of 80,872 pounds worth of notes remained unredeemed. Most of this is assumed to have been lost as only a small fraction can be accounted for in the hands of today's collectors.

The Bank of New South Wales is now the cornerstone of the Westpac Banking Group Limited with a turnover of hundreds of billions of dollars annually.

In 1911, the bank was one of 16 banks who supplied blank note forms to the Australian Government. These notes were superscribed as redeemable in gold and issued as the first Commonwealth notes.

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