The carte-de-visite vignettes and negative prints of Tasmanian prisoners taken as police identification photographs, many of which survive as originals, duplicates and copies in public collections bearing numbers from 1 to more than 300, and correctly attributed in the modern era to photographer Thomas J. Nevin in 1977, were registered at the Municipal Police Office, Town Hall and at the Supreme Court, Hobart Town Gaol where Nevin (with brother Constable John Nevin’s assistance) was contracted on commission as police photographer from the early 1870s to the early 1880s.
An examination of the criminal history of the individual prisoners whose photographs survive indicates that each photograph was selected, even salvaged by archivists because each man had been committed and sentenced at the Tasmanian Supreme Court for a lengthy term. If sentenced at the Supreme Court in Launceston, he was transferred to the Hobart Gaol where he was bathed, shaved, photographed and isolated for one month in silence after being received, along with those already sentenced in criminal sittings of the Hobart Supreme Court . The Mercury July 8, 1882 described these past practices in detail:
The “Supreme Court men”:
Mercury July 8, 1882
All such men were termed “Supreme Court men”. Their photographs survive because an archivist or historian compiled the collection on the basis of the notoreity of the offense years later, ca. 1900, writing the date “1874″ and “Taken at Port Arthur” on the versos, when clearly this was not the case. The prisoner’s Supreme Court photograph was used again if the offender committed further crimes, often reprinted and attached to warrants. The prisoner’s photograph was taken at least once, therefore, on three significant occasions:
(1) if for a Supreme Court conviction, after his transfer from a rural regional lock-up such as Oatlands, or Launceston, to the central city prison in Hobart and prior to transfer to Port Arthur if sent there AFTER trial and incarceration at the central Hobart Gaol;
(2) prior to discharge with a ticket-of-leave, issued at the Hobart Town Hall Municipal Police Office.
(3) immediately prior to execution.
This was the practice in the State of Victoria by 1873, and it was adopted in the State of Tasmania in the same year.
THE VICTORIAN EXAMPLE: Charles Nettleton’s vignettes of Ned Kelly
Below are the two photographs taken of Ned Kelly by Charles Nettleton which were pasted to his criminal record between 1873 and 1874. As the caption states, the photograph on the left was taken five months after Kelly was transferred to Pentridge in Melbourne from a country jail, dated to June 1873, and the second was taken a week before his release on 11th March, 1874. The photographs, attached to the prisoner’s record, were forwarded to the police for future reference. This was their intended purpose. Note that the Victorian prison photographer Charles Nettleton framed his final copy as an oval vignette for the official record.
From the Public Records Office, Victoria:
Website: Ned Online
This vignette of Kelly was taken prior to his execution:
Series VPRS 515/P0 Central Register of Male Prisoners
Description Edward (Ned) Kelly, age 25: detail from VPRS 515/P0 Central Register of Male Prisoners, prisoner no. 10926
Format photograph: 50 x 60 mm.
This photograph held at the Public Record Office, Victoria, and is now nominated by the Australian Memory of the World Register:
Register no. 19
Year of registration 2006
Name of the documentary heritage The Edward (Ned) Kelly and Related Papers as found in the Public Record Office Victoria
Location Public Record Office Victoria
Full nomination Coming soon
Image caption Ned Kelly aged 15, after being tried in Benalla for horse theft. This copy of the photograph, taken for Kelly’s prison record c. 1870, is attached to a brief description of Kelly that was prepared for a noted phrenologist in 1898. PROV, VPRS 8369/P Correspondence, Photographs and History Sheets of Certain Male Criminals
Edward Kelly’s Prison Records
VPRS 4966 Consignment P0 Unit 1 Item 1 Document: Police history, circa. 1873
Victorian prisons were quick to use the still-new technology of photography to create records of those who passed through their doors. The prison record featured here carries copies of two photographs of Ned Kelly, both probably taken by Charles Nettleton who worked on contract to Pentridge prison until the early 1880s. The first was taken in June 1873, five months after Kelly’s transfer to Pentridge from Beechworth prison, and half-way through his sentence for receiving a stolen horse. The second photograph was taken a week before Kelly’s release on 2 February 1874.
Documents like this were created by prisons to be forwarded to the police at the time of the prisoner’s release. The police referred to these pages for the person’s criminal history. This particular record was forwarded to the Penal and Gaols Branch of the Chief Secretary’s Department on 11 March 1874.
In 1880 the record was forwarded to the Prosecution for Kelly’s trial, with instructions that the photographs were to be returned to Chief Commissioner Nicolson.
SOME TASMANIAN EXAMPLES:
Thomas Nevin’s Supreme Court prisoner photographs:
Geary, James, arraigned and photographed at Supreme Court Hobart 1-3 December 1874
Fisher, George, arraigned and photographed at the Supreme Court Hobart by Nevin, 1-3 December 1874
Geary, Fisher: Supreme Court Hobart 1-3 December 1874
See these articles:
- The Supreme Court Mugshots taken by T.J Nevin from 1871 onwards
- From Thomas Bock to Thomas Nevin: Supreme Court prisoner portraits
and this Picasa album of mugshots with police records
|Supreme Court sittings: Nevin's mugshots|
These examples give a clear picture of the purpose which prison photography served in the States of Victoria and Tasmania in the 1870s. They show a generically consistent approach which both commercial photographers, Charles Nettleton and Thomas J. Nevin (snr) deployed in the 1870s at the request of their respective governments, specifically the use of an oval vignette small enough to be pasted to the criminal record sheet, showing the subject posed in a half body shot with eyelines to left or right of frame. The later photographs, taken after 1880 show the influence of the Bertillon method of posing the prisoner in two separate shots: one full frontal, and one in full profile.