When the colony of New South Wales was founded in 1788, it ran into the problem of a lack of coinage. Foreign coins – including British, Dutch, Indian and Portuguese - were common in the early years, but much of this coin left the colony by way of trade with visiting merchant ships.
To overcome this shortage of coins, Governor Lachlan Macquarie took the initiative of using £10,000 in Spanish dollars sent by the British government to produce suitable coins in a similar manner to that described above. These coins to the value of 40,000 Spanish dollars came on 26 November 1812 on HMS Samarang from Madras, via the East India Company.
Governor Macquarie had a convicted forger named William Henshall cut the centres out of the coins and counter stamp them. The central plug (known as a dump) was valued at 15 pence (i.e., 1 shilling, 3 pence, or 1s 3d), and was restruck with a new design (a crown on the obverse, the denomination on the reverse), whilst the holey dollar received an overstamp around the hole ("New South Wales 1813" on the obverse, "Five Shillings" on the reverse). This distinguished the coins as belonging to the colony of New South Wales, creating the first official currency produced specifically for circulation in NSW. The combined nominal value in NSW of the holey dollar and the dump was 6s 3d, or 25 percent more than the value of a Spanish dollar; this made it unprofitable to export the coins from the colony.
The project to convert the 40,000 Spanish coins took over a year to complete. Of the 40,000 Spanish dollars imported, 39,910 holey dollars and 39,910 dumps were made, with the balance assumed to have been spoiled during the conversion process. On 1 July 1813 Governor Macquarie issued a proclamation "that the said Silver Money shall be a legal Tender" and that set their value. The converted coins went into circulation in 1814.
From 1822 the government began to recall the coins and replace them with sterling coinage. By the time the holey dollar was finally demonetised in 1829, most of the 40,000 coins in circulation had been exchanged for legal tender and melted down into bullion. Experts estimate that only 350 Holey dollars and 1500 dumps remain. The rarity of the Australian holey dollar ensures that even those in relatively poor condition are valuable. There are many stories of holey dollars being found in unusual circumstances.