Who were they? They were T.J. Nevin’s sitters for police records, mostly “Supreme Court men” photographed on committal for trial at the Supreme Court adjoining the Hobart Gaol when they were isolated in silence for a month after sentencing. If sentenced for a long term at the Supreme Court Launceston, they were photographed, bathed, shaved and dressed on being received in Hobart. These procedures, past and present, were reported at length by a visitor to the Hobart Gaol and Supreme Court in The Mercury, 8th July 1882:
At the Bathurst-street end of the block are about 30 cells, built in three decker style. They are dark, ill ventilated, and stuffy, were originally intended for the use of convicts awaiting shipment to Port Arthur and do not appear to be fitted for other than temporary quarters … Opening into this yard [Yard 3] are a number of cells, kept as much as possible for Supreme Court first timers, in order to remove them, to some extent at least, from the contaminating influences of the old hands in crime … The next yard and block of cells are also set apart for the use of first timers , and the cells and yard in the next division are appropriated to the use of prisoners under examination or fully committed for trial. At the back of the block is a model prison, in which the silent system is carried out. The cells here are only used for “Supreme Court men,” who are confined in them for one month after sentence, which time they pass in solitary confinement day and night, with the exception of one hour during which they take exercise in the narrow enclosure outside the cells, pacing up and down five yards apart, and in strict silence. There can be no doubt this is, to some at least, a much-dreaded punishment.
One of the two rooms used by the photographers was located above the women’s laundry and demolished in 1915.
Above: Wall chart or poster of Tasmanian convicts produced by the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority ca. 1991 with photographs taken of “Supreme Court men” by Thomas Nevin from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Beattie Collection.
This poster or wall chart was purchased at the National Trust’s Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site, adjacent to the site of the former Hobart Gaol. Its montage of Thomas Nevin’s portraits of Tasmanian convicts (1870s) was compiled from John Watt Beattie’s donated collection (ca. 1927) at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston. The Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority is credited with its production, according to the caption on lower border, left, and presumably for its large titles: “WHO WERE THEY?” and “THE CONVICTS OF PORT ARTHUR”. The poster or wall chart was published as a booklet ca. 1991, according to Libraries Australia catalogue notes:
Several of these convicts were indeed incarcerated as transportees at Port Arthur at some time during their criminal careers, and some were local offenders or “native”. But they were not photographed because they had been transported convicts per se (transportation ended in 1853), but because they were habitual offenders, escapees and recidivists. Their photographs were commissioned by the Tasmanian government in 1871 and used by the Town Hall Municipal Police Office, The Tasmanian Supreme Court at the Hobart Gaol, and the Prisons Department in the course of daily detection and surveillance. All of these photographs of the so-called “Port Arthur convicts” were taken by the brothers Thomas and Constable John Nevin at the Hobart Goal whether prior to deportation to Port Arthur in the 1870s or after being returned from Port Arthur to Hobart, a process which was systematically deployed as early as 1871 through to the Port Arthur closure in 1877. All prisoners by July 1873 with sentences longer than 3 months were being received at the prison in Hobart Town from regional lock-ups. Thomas Nevin held exclusive rights to the commission while still an independent commercial photographer (1871-1876), and jointly operated the Hobart Gaol and Municipal Police Office studios with his brother when appointed to the civil service (from 1876-mid 1880s).
Purchased from the National Trust’s Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site, Hobart
Photos © KLW NFC 2008 Arr
PAHSMA accreditation on lower left border with this caption:
CAPTION: Produced by Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, with photographs (circa 1870) from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Beattie Collection.
John Watt Beattie’s collection of Thomas Nevin’s original identification photographs or mugshots of Tasmanian prisoners taken between 1871 and 1884 came into Beattie’s possession in the late 1890s. Beattie acquired many of these original mugshots from the Supreme Court registers and police records at the Sheriff’s Office ca. 1895 and reprinted them in the 1900s for sale in his convictaria museum as tourist tokens of Tasmania’s penal history. They were resurrected as an exhibition at the QVMAG in 1977. This notice appeared in The Mercury, 10th March, 1977:
Contributory researchers included the curator John McPhee, State Librarian Special Collections Geoffrey T. Stilwell, and Professor Joan Kerr (University of Sydney). In her massive publication, The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, (1992, Melbourne: OUP), Professor Joan Kerr included on page 568 in the entry for Thomas Nevin one of these photographs, a “booking photograph” of Thomas Harrison (middle row, centre) :
Caption: Thomas Harrison – 3 months for being idle and disorderly
Click on images for readable version
Photos © KLW NFC 2010 ARR
Stilwell and Kerr’s inclusion of Nevin’s vignette of Thomas Harrison in their entry for Thomas J. Nevin, p. 568, The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870.
WILLIAM SMITH per GILMORE (3)
This photograph of convict William Smith (below centre) is one of the several extant prisoner photographs which Nevin stamped verso with the Royal Arms insignia signifying his contract as prisons photographer for the Municipal Police Office and Prisons Department:
Vignette of convict “William Smith – 6 years for burglary and its verso with Nevin’s government stamp.
Recto and verso of convict Smith carte with Nevin’s studio stamp
Carte numbered “199″ on recto
QVMAG 1985:p131 & AOT Ref: 30-3244.
This is Nevin’s official studio stamp displaying the government’s Royal Arms, the lion and unicorn insignia. In addition, researcher Chris Long noted that several convict cartes, which he maintained he had examined at the QVMAG, the TMAG and the State Archives Office in 1984, carried Nevin’s studio stamp (1984, NLA file on Nevin, and 1995, TMAG publication, Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940, page 36). Why does this carte of Smith bear Nevin’s studio stamp? The question has been asked by photo historians with little consideration to the realities of government tender. It was one of several chosen by Nevin to access his commission, register copyright with the police office, and renew his contract under the terms of the tender while still operating as a commercial photographer. Once employed as a full-time civil servant with the Town Hall and Municipal Police Office, the stamp was unnecessary. Only one photograph was required per batch under the terms of the Patents Act (Victoria) for the tender. There is nothing out of ordinary about this carte which would set it apart from more than 300 extant mugshots of the 3000 or so (now lost or destroyed) taken by the Nevin brothers in the 1870s mid 1880s – its framing, processing and pose are consistent with Nevin’s commercial portraiture of the period, the verso stamp being used to identify the photographer’s joint copyright with the government.
Verso of convict carte of William Smith per Gilmore (3) with T. J. Nevin’s stamp printed with the government insignia, the Royal Arms.
POLICE RECORDS for William Smith per Gilmore 3:
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, James Barnard Government Printer
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William Smith per Gilmore 3, discharged with TOL 10 September 1873, received from Port Arthur. Note that his age and physical measurements are not recorded at the Police Office because no photograph existed prior to his release. When Nevin photographed him on arrest in April 1874, Smith was wearing a combination of prisoner and civilian clothing. He was also unshaved. The photograph exhibits a degree of liminality of the prisoner’s state: free on a ticket of leave but contained as a criminal in the open prison that was the island of Tasmania.
Smith reoffended again in April 1874, sentenced to 12 months and photographed by Nevin on incarceration at the Hobart Gaol.
Wm Smith discharged 1st April, 1875.
Suspicion attaches to William Smith per Gilmore 3, 23rd April, 1875
Wm Smith per Gilmore 3 Warrant for arrest 23 April 1875.
Thomas Nevin’s knowledge of Smith from face-to-face contact while photographing him in 1874 was used as an adjunct in the written description issued by police of Smith’s coming under suspicion for theft just three weeks after his release on 1st April, 1875. Smith was arrested 3 months later in July 1875.
William Smith arrested, notice of 9th July, 1875.
Thomas Nevin photographed William Smith at the Hobart Gaol wearing the standard prison issue of a grey uniform and black leathern hat. The visitor to the Hobart Gaol in 1882 noted this uniform with the hat in his report to the The Mercury, (as above), on 8th July 1882:
In their dark-grey uniform and black leathern caps, with their criminal visages, shaven of the covering Nature had given to aid them in the concealment of their vicious propensities and villainous characters, they were, in truth, a forbidding, repulsive lot. Yet very far from unintelligent, at least, in some marked instances. A villainous shrewdness and a perverse cleverness writ in many a cunning, gleamy eye and heavy brow ; and a dogged determination to be read in the set of the jaw, and the style of the gait, were as the translated speech of artfully calculated, daring crime.
This is another “booking photograph” of Smith taken at the Gaol while the prisoner awaited committal for trial at the Supreme Court, 9th July 1875.
William Smith per Gilmore 3.
Photo by Thomas Nevin, July 1875
Stamped verso with Nevin’s government stamp
Mitchell Library NSW PXB 274 No.1
The first carte is numbered “199″. This, the second of William Smith is numbered “200″ and it is another original photograph by Thomas Nevin which bears Nevin’s stamp with the Royal Arms insignia on verso. It is held at the Mitchell Library, NSW, among others by Nevin acquired by David Scott Mitchell prior to 1907. The sequence of numbers is insignificant, whether transcribed from a police register, or whether devised by archivists in the 20th century. There is no real-time-based relationship between the photographs: in one William Smith is bewhiskered and wearing a patterned scarf (April 1874); in the other he is clean shaven and wearing a plain neckerchief and hat (July 1875). They were clearly taken at different times during Smith’s well-documented criminal career.
Verso of photograph of William Smith per Gilmore 3.
Photo by Thomas Nevin, July 1875
Stamped verso with Nevin’s studio stamp and Royal Arms
Mitchell Library NSW PXB 274
Photography © KLW NFC The Nevin Family Collections 2008-2010 ARR