The Australian People: six prisoner cdv’s by T. J. Nevin

PUBLISHED ERRORS re “Port Arthur convicts”
TASMANIA prisoner photographs by T. J. NEVIN 1870s-1880s

The Australian People: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their origins
First edition 1988, second edition, 2001
Cambridge University Press, Melbourne
General editor: James Jupp.


  • The Peopling of Australia: pp. 3 – 86
  • Indigenous Australians: pp.87 – 162
  • The Settlers: pp. 163 – 750
  • Building a Nation: pp. 751-856
  • Birthplaces, Languages and Religions
  • Chronology Bibliography Index


Long after transportation to Tasmania ended in 1853, those sentenced to life or re-sentenced within Tasmania were still held at Port Arthur, as were these six convicts, photographed in the 1870s shortly before the penitentiary closed.
National Library of Australia

These six photographs of Tasmanian prisoners – “convicts” – were sourced by the publishers of The Australian People from the National Library of Australia’s collection of 84 photographs which were correctly attributed on accession in the 1960s and 1980s to commercial and police photographer Thomas J. Nevin, taken in Tasmania, 1872-1886. However, no photographer accreditation accompanied the photographs in this publication. They appear on page 20 within the context of Irish immigration.

The caption repeats a commonly-held misconception in many 20th century publications, namely,  that prisoners in Tasmania “were still held at Port Arthur” until its closure, which was in 1877. This is factually incorrect. The Port Arthur prison was in a state of disrepair by 1873; its commandant A. H. Boyd was dismissed for corruption in January 1874; and from July 1873 to early 1875 all re-offenders and lifers were relocated to the Hobart Gaol and House of Corrections where they were photographed on being received, assigned and/or  discharged by government contractor Thomas J. Nevin with the assistance of his brother Constable John Nevin.

The names assigned to these six prisoners from top left to bottom right are as follows:

  • John Gregson
  • Francis Gregson
  • Elisha Nelmes aka John Jones
  • Walter Johnson aka Henry Bramall or Taylor
  • Michael Gilmore
  • James Sutherland.

There is now an article posted here about the criminal activities in the 1870s of every one of these six prisoners.

A further misconception is that these six photographs represent convicted criminals transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) before cessation in 1853. Again, this is factually incorrect. Three of these prisoners – brothers John and Francis Gregson, and James Sutherland – were locally-born in Tasmania. James Sutherland’s photograph was taken at sentencing at the Hobart Gaol in the weeks before he was executed for murder on 29th May 1883, much later than the Gregsons’ who were photographed at the Hobart Gaol in 1874.

Five of these six cartes-de-visite of Tasmanian prisoners reprinted by Jupp (ed, 2001) from the National Library of Australia’s collection are dated 1874 on the verso, with the inscription “Taken at Port Arthur, 1874“, which is touristic spin rather than fact, written decades later in a cataloguist’s hand probably by Edward Searle while working at John Watt Beattie’s convictaria museum and studio in Hobart between 1911-1915 where many of these mugshots were displayed. The majority of these extant prisoner photographs of Tasmanian “convicts” in public collections – more than 300 – were taken by Thomas J. Nevin and Constable John Nevin at the Supreme Court and Hobart Gaol on the occasion of the prisoner’s incarceration and discharge between 1872-1884.

NLA convicts Port Arthur by T. J. Nevin 1870s

The complete list of NLA’s holdings, webshot 2007:

Nevin, Thomas J. 1842 -ca, 1922 [sic – 1923]
National Library of Australia
Convict Portraits, Port Arthur, 1874

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