KEY CHRONOLOGY 1842-1923
Thomas J. Nevin produced large numbers of stereographs and cartes-de-visite within his commercial practice, and prisoner ID photographs on government contract and in civil service. He was one of the first photographers to work with the police in Australia, along with Charles Nettleton (Victoria) and Frazer Crawford (South Australia). His Tasmanian prisoner vignettes (“mugshots”) are the earliest to survive in public collections (QVMAG,TMAG,AOT,NLA,SLNSW).
Thomas J. Nevin was a professional photographer, police photographer, civil servant, member of the Loyal United Brothers’ Lodge, special constable, and assistant bailiff. He was born near Belfast, Ireland on the 28th August 1842 and died in Hobart on March 12, 1923. He arrived in Hobart from Plymouth on board the convict transport Fairlie in July 1852 accompanied by his parents and three younger siblings, Mary Anne (b. 1845), Rebecca Jane (b. 1847) and William John (Jack, b. 1852). His mother, Mary Nevin (b. 1810) was born in England. His father John Nevin (b.1808) had served in the Royal Scots First Regiment at the Canadian Rebellions 1837-38, and pioneered journalism while in service. He worked their passage as a guard of the 294 adult convicts, and warden of the 32 exiled Parkhurst boys on board (AOT MB2/98). The family settled at Kangaroo Valley, Tasmania in the Glenorchy electoral district, where John Nevin built the family house on property which included orchards neighbouring the Franklin Museum, Ancanthe, the Wesleyan Chapel, the schoolhouse where their father taught children by day and adult males by night, and an acre of adjoining gardens leased from the Nairns (Hobart Town Gazettes 1873-1880).
In November 1865, Thomas Nevin’s sister Rebecca Jane Nevin, died aged 18yrs, at Kangaroo Valley. In April 1868, their father John Nevin published a poem in pamphlet form titled “My Cottage in the Wilderness” (SLNSW) celebrating his contentment at settling in Kangaroo Valley.
From the early 1860s until 1865 Thomas Nevin was apprenticed to photographer Alfred Bock whose residence and studio he leased from A. Biggs at 138-140 Elizabeth Street, Hobart Town on Alfred Bock’s departure for Victoria in 1865 (Hobart Town Gazettes 1870s). Nevin maintained the business name of the studio, The City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart Town. With partner Robert Smith, they formed the firm Nevin & Smith, producing stereographic views and hand-tinted studio portraits (TMAG and Private Collections). The firm Nevin & Smith was commissioned to take an album of Tasmanian children in 1868 to be presented to the Duke of Edinburgh (State Library of Victoria Collection). The firm of Nevin & Smith was dissolved on 22nd February 1868, undersigned by Thomas Nevin’s solicitor, later Attorney-General, W.R. Giblin. Thomas Nevin exhibited photographs of Melville St under snow (1868) and A Party at the Rocking Stone Mt Wellington (1870) at the Wellington Park Exhibitions (TMAG Collection). He also exhibited stereoscopic views and cartes at the Town Hall Bazaar on 1st April, 1870 (Mercury).
On July 12th, 1871, Thomas Nevin married Elizabeth Rachel Day, daughter of master mariner Captain James Day, at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kangaroo Valley, Hobart. He photographed the Odd Fellows’ Hall for the Loyal United Lodge and IOOF in the same month, July 1871. Several examples of Nevin’s stereography survive from collaboration with commercial photographer Samuel Clifford (late 1860s – late 1870s). Some full-length portraits survive with the verso inscription Clifford & Nevin, Hobart Town (QVMAG and Private Collections). Samuel Clifford advised the public in 1876 that he could provide prints from Nevin’s negatives for his former patrons and friends (Mercury 17 Jan 1876).
From as early as 1873 Thomas Nevin was active at the Hobart Town Hall Municipal Police Office, listed as the “Office-keeper” (Mercury) while maintaining two commercial photographic studios at Elizabeth St. and New Town. His services to the City Police extended to acting as assistant bailiff in the City and Supreme Courts for Sub-inspector John Dorsett (1881-1888; Mercury August 1886). His last documented assistance to police was noted by The Mercury, 19th July, 1888. He was the only commercial photographer in Hobart to receive commission on contract to provide the Municipal and Territorial Police with prisoner identification photographs for the central registry of the Inspector of Police, Town Hall. Nevin’s patron, coach operator Samuel Page, who commissioned Nevin to advertise his coachline, also held government contracts. Page delivered the Royal Mail between Launceston and Hobart, and conveyed prisoners taken into custody at regional police stations to the central courts, prisons and depots in Hobart. Nevin travelled in the company of constables and prisoners on Page’s coaches for his police work, but the majority of his prisoner ID photos were taken at the Hobart Supreme Court and Gaol (also called the Campbell Street Gaol) on the occasion of the prisoner’s sentencing and release, and at the Municipal Police Office, Town Hall, where tickets-of-leave were issued and renewed.
In the years 1873-1877 Thomas Nevin also assisted police and the Prisons Department in security matters during the devolvement of the Port Arthur penitentiary on the Tasman Peninsula, when prisoners were transferred and received at Hobart institutions. These arrangements were ordered by Nevin’s solicitor and referee, Attorney-General W.R. Giblin (Journals of the House of Assembly July 1873), who contracted Nevin and whose portrait Nevin took ca 1874 (Archives Office of Tasmania). Extant examples of prisoners photographed for these purposes and on these occasions survive in the hundreds as loose carte-de-visite vignettes and glass negatives, many of which were copied again by J. W. Beattie in the 1900s for sale as tourist tokens, and a few survive still pasted to the parchment prison records (AOT, SLNSW, TMAG, NLA, PCHS, QVMAG, PAHS, and Private Collections).
In 1977, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, exhibited a large collection of these prisoners’ ID photographs by Thomas Nevin. Many of the men photographed in the 1870s had been transported as Parkhurst boys to Port Arthur. The idea that Nevin (or anyone else) might have photographed more than 300 prisoners solely at Port Arthur, however, became the source of an error which originated during the QVMAG’s accession of the photographs on acquisition of John Watt Beattie’s collections in 1930. Many of the original photographs were salvaged by Beattie from the Sheriff’s Office in the 1890s and reproduced as commercial items. Had they remained intact and in situ, they would have been archived at the Archives Office of Tasmania as the supplement to the Tasmania Police Gazettes (known then as the Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police) which recorded on a weekly basis the subject of every photograph’s offence, sentence, and discharge. Once divorced from the police gazettes, the photographs lost their contemporaneous reference, and have been misattributed and misappraised as “portraits”, i.e. art objects by the public institutions which hold them. The terms and execution of Nevin’s prisoner commission were contractually and generically identical to those of other professional photographers working in prisons, Fraser Crawford (1867, South Australia) and Charles Nettleton (1873, Victoria).
Between 1869 and 1880, Nevin was an active member of the Loyal United Brothers’ Lodge. His photograph of the Odd Fellows’ Hall was praised in The Mercury 25 July 1871. He placed advertisements in newspapers soliciting medical profession services for Lodge members and their families in 1875, and was an Anniversary Ball committee member.
In January 1876 Thomas Nevin advertised his shop to let at 140 Elizabeth Street and took up residence with his family at the Hobart Town Hall where he had been promoted from Office- Keeper to Hall-Keeper. The Town Hall housed the central registry of the Municipal Police Office and Office of the Inspector of Police, in addition to cells in the basement. It also housed a first class library with an extensive range of overseas newspapers which was praised in the New York Times (1875) by the visiting American Expedition who photographed the Transit of Venus in Hobart (1874). The Keeper’s position (an archaic term still used in Britain to denote the manager of an archive and its house) was a consolidation of Nevin’s commission working with the Municipal Police, and their choice of a commercial photographer to the Town Hall staff was a clear indication of the value they placed on maintaining his ongoing services as a police photographer.
The Mercury Supplement reported on January 24, 1876, that ‘Mr. Thomas Nevin, photographer, has been appointed Town Hall keeper, Hobart Town, in succession to the late Mr. Needham. There were 24 applicants for the office.’ Although employed now as a full-time civil servant, Thomas Nevin maintained his commercial photographic practice, sometimes in collaboration with friends and photographers, Samuel Clifford and Henry Hall Baily, as well as another studio at New Town in partnership with his younger brother Jack (William J. or John, known to the family as Jack) Nevin who was also salaried in the H.M. Gaol administration under the supervision of the Keeper Ringrose Atkins (1874 – 1891). Younger brother Jack (who was armed on occasions) acted as assistant during his brother’s photographing of prisoners taken into custody at the Gaol after arraignment and sentencing at the Supreme Court.
In 1879 Thomas Nevin was sworn in as a “special constable” i.e. he was ordered to carry arms, to help police control riots at the Town Hall during the lecture of the lapsed Catholic Canadian priest Pastor Charles Chiniquy. On the evening of 3rd December 1880, Nevin was returning to the Town Hall from the printing offices of the Advertiser with “photographic apparatus and chemicals” in hand and in the company of photographer Henry Hall Baily when he was detained by Inspector Connor on suspicion of acting in concert with a person in phosphorescent clothing who had been terrorising local residents by appearing late at night as a ghost.
For being detained the night before on suspicion of acting in concert with a person pretending to be a ghost down by the Customs House, but principally for being inebriated while on duty, Nevin was sacked, but he was not arrested by the detaining detective Connor, who knew him well, and after leaving Baily, returning to the Town Hall where he had heard the constables’ whistle, he had spent the evening in and out of hotels with two constables whom he had supposed were friends as well as colleagues. Although Mayor Burgess ostensibly mounted Nevin’s defense, Burgess was a Temperance man, and Nevin’s drinking was an embarrassment.
At some point Thomas Nevin must have decided the Wesleyans weren’t for him, despite his father’s Trusteeship of the Wesleyan Chapel at Kangaroo Valley, and the taking of his wedding vows there in 1871. He was the only member of his immediate family to be buried at Cornelian Bay cemetery within the Church of England. The Town Hall experience of religious violence during Chiniquy’s visit, and then the death there of his son Sydney at 4 months old, and finally his dismissal, probably because of Temperance intolerance, changed his life. The hanging of Job Smith too, amidst much public outrage at the continued use of capital punishment in 1875, may have affected him, since Job Smith as William Campbell was one of the prisoners Nevin accompanied back to Port Arthur in 1874.
Thomas Nevin maintained his work on commission with the Hobart Municipal Police and Territorial Police (New Town) from his photographic studio there producing prisoner cartes, as well as commercial stereographs and portraits. He continued with a commission at the Hobart Gaol assisted by his brother Jack Nevin until 1887 and acted as assistant bailiff for the City Police Sub-inspector John Dorsett (Mercury 1886; AOT; Reeder 1995; Death Warrants with photographs, Mitchell Library SLNSW; Private Collections). In 1888, he signed a resolution at the Hobart Town Hall in support of a bill proposing the centralisation of the various police forces. He died in Hobart on March 12th, 1923, survived by six adult children.
During the 1890s-1900s, Nevin maintained an interest in photography, producing some enduring images of his family, but he turned his attentions to training horses, a love engendered in his youngest son Albert which has been passed onto Albert’s children who maintain the pacing tradition today.
See also these site maps, and the album of Nevin Public records:
|From Nevin Public Records|
SUMMARY by DATE:
1842: Thomas J. Nevin is born near Belfast, Ireland, 28th August, to John and Mary Nevin.
1845: His sister Mary Anne Nevin is born near Belfast, Ireland.
1847: His sister Rebecca Jane is born near Belfast, Ireland.
1851-2: His brother William John, known as Jack Nevin, is born near Belfast, Ireland.
1852: Thomas Nevin arrives in Hobart, Tasmania, in July with parents Mary and John Nevin, and siblings Mary Anne, Rebecca Jane and William J. (Jack) on board the convict transport Fairlie (ex-Portsmouth) as free settlers. Their father John was a guard and warden on board on the 32 exiled boys from the Parkhurst prison.
1852-1870: Thomas Nevin resides with parents at Kangaroo Valley in the Glenorchy electoral district, Hobart. His father John Nevin publishes poetry, holds a trusteeship of the Wesleyan Chapel there and teaches children and adults as occupier of the schoolhouse. During these years Thomas Nevin is apprenticed to established photographer Alfred Bock (until 1865) , and also partners commercial photographer Sam Clifford (late 1860s to late 1870s). He also establishes a photographic studio in New Town, signing his studio stamp “Thos. Nevin“.
1865: Thomas Nevin leases Alfred Bock’s former dwelling and studio at 138-140 Elizabeth Street, Hobart Town (the property of A. Biggs, Victoria), and continues to use the business name, T. Nevin, The City Photographic Establishment, late A. Bock, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart Town. His sister Rebecca Jane dies at Kangaroo Valley, aged 18 yrs.
1860s -1870: Thomas Nevin sets up the firm Nevin & Smith at the same premises in partnership with Robert Smith. Photographic work includes studio portraits, carte-de-visite vignettes, stereographs, and albums of views, tombstones, and residences. “Nevin & Smith” appears as a studio stamp on these cartes and stereographs.
1868: The firm of Nevin & Smith is commissioned to provide the visiting Duke of Edinburgh with an album of photographs of Tasmanian children. Nevin exhibits a photograph, “Melville St under snow, July 1868“, at the Wellington Park Exhibition. The partnership with Robert Smith is dissolved in February 1868, and Nevin’s liabilities are undersigned by his solicitor W.R. Giblin.
1868: father of Thomas, Rebecca and Jack (W.J.), John Nevin, publishes a poem entitled “My Cottage in the Wilderness” as a pamphlet (held at the Mitchell, SLNSW).
1870: Nevin exhibits a stereograph of ” A party at the Rocking Stone, Mt Wellington” at the Wellington Park Exhibition, and stereoscopic views and cartes at the Town Hall Bazaar.
1871: Thomas Nevin marries Elizabeth Rachel Day (b. 1847 Hobart), daughter of Captain James Day master mariner, on July 12th at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kangaroo Valley, and moves into the dwelling attached to the studio at 138-140 Elizabeth Street. They attend the grand soiree for the inauguration of the new Odd Fellows’ Hall one week earlier, on 6 July 1871, and Nevin’s commissioned photograph of the Odd Fellow’s Hall is praised in The Mercury during July and August.
1872: Their first child, Mary Florence Elizabeth Nevin, is born (known as May to living descendants) at 138-140 Elizabeth St. Hobart Town. Notices and advertisements for Thomas Nevin’s photographic items, some taken in collaboration with Samuel Clifford, appear frequently between 1872 and 1876 in The Mercury.
1874: Their first son, Thomas James Nevin, is also born at the residence attached to the City Photographic Establishment, 138-140 Elizabeth Street, on April 16th.
1873-1876: Thomas Nevin works on commission as police agent and photographer, with patronage and support from contracted coachline licensee Samuel Page; Police Superintendent Richard Propsting of the Municipal Police, Town Hall; John Swan, Inspector of Police at the Hobart Gaol; Dr John Coverdale, MD at the Hobart Gaol, later Surgeon-Commandant at Port Arthur from 1873 (Walch’s Almanac 1873); and his solicitor, Attorney-General W. R. Giblin, to supplement the weekly police gazettes with photographs of prisoners who had re-offended, were sentenced on warrant, and who were released on discharge. Nevin also takes a portrait of W. R. Giblin. Younger brother Jack Nevin is now employed as a Constable at Cascades (Mercury, 27 October, 1875).
1874: On December 24th, The Mercury published a notice that Thomas Nevin had performed a “Photographic Feat” by managing to photograph the entire front page of the 23 December issue and fitting it legibly to a card 3×2 inches.
1875: Thomas Nevin’s mother, Mary Nevin, dies on 15th April and is buried at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kangaroo Valley. She was born in England in 1810. She had married his father John Nevin in Ireland in the 1830s, and migrated with their four children to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1852 on board the Fairlie. In May 1875, John Nevin applies to the Board of Education to establish a night school for males at the Wesleyan Chapel schoolhouse.
1875: Thomas Nevin is listed as a Committee member for the Anniversary Ball of the Loyal United Brothers’ Lodge. He places advertisements in The Mercury soliciting the services of a medical practitioner for Lodge members and their families.
1876: In January, Thomas Nevin gains a further government contract over 24 other applicants. He is appointed “keeper” at the Hobart Town Hall. The appointment notice appears in The Mercury 24th January, 1876. His employment as a civil servant continues under the auspices of the Office of Inspector of Police, the Attorney-General, the Mayor at the Town Hall, and the Premier’s Office of W.L. Crowther.
1876: Thomas Nevin moves his family into the residence at the Hobart Town Hall. He maintains the use of the photographic studio at 140 Elizabeth St, occupied by Mr Edward Slide. He is now using his middle initial “J” which appears as T.J. [James] Nevin on his photographic stamp encircled by the government insignia (Royal Arms, insignia of the Supreme Court). Examples appear printed on the verso of prisoner cartes and portraits of prison officials.
1876: Their third child and second son, Sydney John Nevin is born at the Town Hall, but lives for only four months. His death notice appears in The Mercury on 29th January 1877.
1877: Thomas Nevin’s younger sister Mary Anne Nevin (b. 1846) marries John Carr, son of the late Captain Jas. Carr, on 12th May at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kangaroo Valley.
1877: Younger brother Jack (William John) is now a Constable employed in administration at H.M. Gaol and assists Nevin in producing prisoner ID photographs for the police and gaol authorities.
1878: Their fourth child and third son William John Nevin is born at the Town Hall, Hobart on March 14th. William later dies in an accident in 1927, aged 49.
1878: On July 27th, Thomas Nevin’s sister Mary Ann Carr nee Nevin dies aged 34yrs at Sandridge, Victoria.
1878: Sister-in-law Mary Sophia Day, younger sister of Thomas’ wife Elizabeth Rachel Day, and second daughter of Captain James Day, marries Hector Charles Axup on May 1st, at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kangaroo Valley.
1879: John Nevin, Thomas Nevin’s father, marries again on 23rd October, aged 71 years old, to Martha Salter, aged 46 years old, daughter of John Nevin’s lamented close friend and Wesleyan preacher, William Genge. His wife Mary and mother of Thomas had died in 1875.
1879: Thomas is sworn in as a Special Constable in June during the riots at the Town Hall arising from the visit of the lapsed Catholic Canadian priest Chiniquy.
1880: Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin’s fifth child and fourth son George Nevin (b.1880) is also born at the Town Hall, Hobart.
1880: In early December Thomas Nevin is dismissed from the position of “Keeper” at the Town Hall for being drunk while on duty. The dismissal notice and full account of the incident with the “ghost” appears in The Mercury on 4th December, 1880. The Committee expresses regret at the dismissal from the Keeper position and mindful of his growing family, re-assigns Nevin to the City Police as assistant bailiff with warrant and photographic duties.
1881: John Nevin, Thomas’ father, publishes a poem in pamphlet form, lamenting the death of his friend William Genge (held at the SLTas). He is still resident at Kangaroo Valley.
1882: Father-in-law and master mariner Captain James Day (b. 1804), former Guard Captain of the 3rd detachment of the 99th Regiment (on board the Candahar 1842), dies and is buried at The Point.
1882: Brother Jack Nevin, officially Constable W.J. Nevin, testifies to an inquest into the accidental death of colleague Constable Green (Mercury 19 May 1882).
1883: A person named as Thomas Nevin is listed on the Electoral Roll at 21 Cottage Green, Battery Point. This may or may not be T.J. Nevin, but the property is listed as belonging to J. Heathorn of Heathorn’s Hotel, for whom he produced commercial advertising. He maintains the New Town studio, working on commission for the Territorial and City Police as photographer and warrant officer, as well as supporting his brother Jack Nevin as the Hobart Gaol prison photographer.
1884: Their sixth child and second daughter Mary Ann Nevin is born. Known as Minnie to living descendants, she is believed to have been born at a residence in Brisbane Street, Hobart.
1884: Younger brother Constable William John (Jack) is listed on the Denison Electoral Roll as a resident and salaried employee of the Hobart Gaol. He continues to assist elder brother Thomas with the provision of prisoner ID photographs for the police and prison authorities.
1886: Thomas Nevin is employed as assistant bailiff with The Municipal Police Office in the City and Supreme Courts. His warrants are supplemented with photographs of prisoners, including those condemned to death (Mitchell Collection SLNSW). He is charged with Breach of the Education Act in August for keeping his children at home during an outbreak of whooping cough. After testimony from Sub-inspector John Dorsett of the City Police, the charge is dropped.
1887: Father of Thomas, John Nevin dies (1808-1887). He is survived by his second wife, Thomas and siblings’ stepmother, Martha Salter.
1888: Their last born, seventh child and fifth son, Albert Edward Nevin is born at 236 Elizabeth Street, Hobart. Thomas Nevin signs a resolution to the House of Assembly bill to centralise the various police forces.
1891: Jack Nevin (William John), the younger brother of Thomas J. Nevin, dies aged 39 years old (1851 or 2-1891).
1905: Thomas Nevin lists his occupation as “labourer” on the Commonwealth Electoral Roll for the seat of Denison, Tasmania. He is believed to have taken to carpentry and furniture removals (with William Hanson, a witness at his wedding in 1871), as well as horse training. Six members of Thomas Nevin’s family are listed, and all are resident at 236 Elizabeth Street, Hobart:
1. Thomas Nevin senior (1842-1923) – the word “senior” appears here to avoid confusion with his eldest son who bears the same name, Thomas James. His occupation is listed as labourer. He is now 63 years old.
2. His wife Elizabeth Rachel Nevin (1847-1914) is now 58 years old. Her occupation given is domestic duties.
3. Their son Thomas James Nevin (1874-1948) is listed as a bootmaker.
4. Their daughter Mary Florence Nevin is listed as dressmaker. She was also known as May Nevin (19 May 1872-4 June 1955).
5. Their son George Nevin is listed as a labourer (2 April 1880 – 30 July 1957).
6. Their son William Nevin is listed as a shop assistant (14 March 1878 – 28 Oct 1927).
The two youngest – Mary Ann (Minnie) and Albert Edward – were not yet of voting age.
1907: Eldest son Thomas James Nevin marries Gertrude Jane Tennyson Bates (1883-1958) on 6th February at the Wesleyan Chapel, Hobart. They travel to the USA to join Gertrude’s family who migrated to California in 1907.
1911: Thomas’ first grandson is born to son Thomas and his wife Gertrude in Hobart in 1910 and named Walter Sydney Tennyson Nevin, but dies on August 16th 1911.
1914: Elizabeth Rachel Nevin, Thomas’ wife, dies suddenly, aged 67 years. Her funeral notice appears in The Mercury on June 18th, 1914.
1917: Albert Edward, their last born child, marries Emily Maud Davis on March 5th at Launceston.
1923: Thomas [J.] Nevin the photographer dies in March, aged 80 years. His funeral notice appears in The Mercury of March 12th, 1923.
The address in 1923 which appears in the funeral notice is 270 Elizabeth Street.
Sources: Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin’s grandchildren and great grandchildren have developed this information from their collective memory of family members; from their holdings of Thomas Nevin’s family photographs in the © The Nevin Family Collections; © The Private Collection of Denis Shelverton; from contributions from living descendants of the Axup, Baldwin, Genge, Davis (Germany), Bates and Cetnar (USA) families; from extensive research of original archival and newspaper documentation; from readers, private collectors, and selected researchers; and from the extensive holdings of Thomas J. Nevin’s photographic work in public collections.
Many thanks to all contributors.
Last updated July 2011.
NB: this information is subject to updates, revisions, and additions at any time.