A right royal medal - from 1897

On June 20, 1897, Queen Victoria visited West Maitland, as the town’s centre was then known, in celebration of her Diamond Jubilee.

The monarch’s program included a guest appearance at the Town Hall, for a Sunday school hymn session.

This week the history buffs of Maitland were gobsmacked to learn there was, in fact, a ‘West Maitland’ medal minted in the same year to commemorate the visit – setting the Maitland Historical Society on a journey of discovery.

The medal, measuring 31 millimetres in diameter, also bears what is believed to be the precursor to Maitland’s coat of arms. The historical keepsake at question belonged to former Maitland jeweller John Whitaker.

“I found it in a large Craven (cigarette) tin in 1962 when my father passed away,” he said.

Mr Whitaker’s father was Victor Henry Joseph Whitaker, who in 1939 bought out J Hart and Co jewellers at 418 High Street.

Mr Whitaker started work for his father as an errand boy in 1955.

In 1959 he was promoted to manager, a position he held in Maitland until 1965 when he and wife Claire sold 418 High Street and its Bulwer Street premises to set up shop in Kotara.

“I found the medal again five years ago and thought Maitland council might want it,” he said.

As he spoke he eyed the round, dark metal object, diminutive in his broad, gnarled fingers.

“When the person I spoke to said ‘things like that don’t interest us’ I put it in safe keeping.”

A few weeks ago Mr Whitaker had a chance meeting with Maitland Historical Society secretary Tom Skelding and mentioned the medal.

“It was pouring rain at Steamfest and I was caught under the arch at the station when I got talking to Tom,” he said. “He expressed a great deal of interest in the medal. It belongs to Maitland as far as I’m concerned and after consulting my son I decided to give it to the

Historical Society.”

On Wednesday Mercury photographer Stuart Scott, using a macro lens, discovered the small minted words Stokes and Sons.

Historical Society members conducted a quick internet search finding the medals were created in Melbourne for the various locations of the Queen’s visit.

“We’re thrilled that John saw fit to donate the medal to us,” he said. “We are custodians of these items that form Maitland’s identity.”

Mr Whitaker donated two more items to the Maitland Historical Society, vastly different from the medal and perhaps more telling of the town’s identity.

From what he can decipher the bound books are ledgers of the repairs J Hart jewellers undertook.

Entries were made to the first ledger between October 14, 1915, and May 14, 1920. The second contains entries from 1933 to 1939.

They list the names of Maitland people and their items, including such pocket watches, snuff boxes and perfume bottles.

“I think the people of Maitland would be interested to know if any of their family members are listed in those books,” Mr Whitaker said.

Among his personal collection are sovereign tins, silver match boxes and a pocket watch that belonged to J Hart and Co, which has those letters inscribed on its white face.

Mr Skelding said the Historical Society was hoping to host Mr Whitaker as a guest in the near future.

“We’re contemplating having John as a guest speaker at a date to be confirmed where he can share with the public some of his knowledge,” he said.

Mr Whitaker, a third generation jeweller, was a grandson of Muswellbrook jeweller Reginald Wilfred Whitaker, who also operated an outdoor movie theatre.

The Whitaker family are fourth generation jewellers, with John Whitaker junior operation a store on Darby Street Newcastle.

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