Robert Hughes, cdvs of Tasmanian convicts in The Fatal Shore (1987)
Biography of Thomas J. NEVIN photographer in Joan Kerr (1992)
Prisoner Thomas Harrison per Augusta Jessie 2
Photo by T. J. Nevin, taken at the Hobart Gaol 1875
Archives Office of Tasmania Ref: PH30/1/3252
Thomas HARRISON, Hobart Gaol 1875.
Prisoner Thomas Harrison per Augusta Jessie 2 was photographed by Thomas J. Nevin in the three months between arrival and discharge from the Hobart Gaol, July – October 1875. Information written on the back of this copy held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, states the following:
“Thos Harrison Aug Jessie Idle & Disorderly P.O. Sorell. 3 months. July 1875”.
The QVMAG copy and verso:
Prisoner Thomas Harrison per Augusta Jessie 2
Photograph by T. J. Nevin Hobart Gaol October 1875
Verso inscription: “Thos Harrison Aug Jessie Idle & Disorderly P.O. Sorell. 3 months. July 1875”.
QVMAG:1985_P_0113 and verso accession numbers
The following extracts from the weekly police gazettes over the decade 1868-1878 show that Thomas Harrison was repeatedly arrested and imprisoned for short periods of three months or less on charges of being idle and disorderly and vagrancy. Thomas Nevin took this photograph, the only extant image, of Thomas Harrison per Augusta Jessie 2 at the Hobart Gaol in the three months prior to the prisoner’s discharge on 6th October 1875.
Thomas Harrison per Augusta Jessie 2 was tried for the offence of vagrancy on 30th January 1872 at Sorell, sentenced to three months and discharged from Sorell in the week ending 22nd April 1868. He was described as 47 years old, native place Liverpool (UK), 5 ft 5 inches tall, with dark brown hair and an impediment in speech. He was free in servitude when arrested.
Thomas Harrison per Augusta Jessie 2 was tried for the offence of vagrancy on 10th September 1872 at Sorell, sentenced to one month and discharged from Sorell in the week ending 14th October 1874. He was described as 60 years old, native place Liverpool (UK), 5 ft 6 inches tall, with brown hair and an impediment in speech. He was free in servitude when arrested.
Thomas Harrison per Augusta Jessie 2 was tried for the offence being idle and disorderly on 6th July 1875 at Sorell, sentenced to three months, photographed and discharged from Hobart Town in the week ending 6th October 1875. He was described as 55 years old, native place Liverpool (UK), 5 ft 5½ inches tall, with brown hair and a scar on his forehead above his left eye. He was free in servitude when arrested.
Thomas Harrison per Augusta Jessie 2 was tried for the offence of vagrancy on 3rd June 1878 at Sorell, sentenced to three months and discharged from Hobart Town in the week ending 4th September 1878. He was described as 56 years old, 5 ft 5½ inches tall, with dark grey hair and a scar on his forehead above his left eye. He was free in servitude when arrested.
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, James Barnard Gov’t printer
As these are the only records for Thomas Harrison per Augusta Jessie 2 which appear in the police gazettes, it is evident this prisoner was by no means violent. His carceral records over the decade 1868-1878 show no major criminal activity, unlike the company he joined on the page of prisoners (below) published in Robert Hughes The Fatal Shore (1987).
The QVMAG Exhibition 1977
T. J. Nevin’s mugshot of Thomas Harrison per Augusta Jessie 2 was printed on the postcard to advertise the exhibition of T. J. Nevin’s convict photographs at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in 1977, curated by John McPhee. Of the more than 100 photographs of Tasmanian prisoners which were sourced from the Beattie Collection at the QVMAG for exhibition, why the curator John McPhee chose this particular prisoner’s photograph is strange, since it is not typical of the majority of Nevin’s prisoner identification photographs taken from his first contract in 1872 to the mid-1880s. The majority of mugshots taken by him in those years demonstrate the commercial studio techniques of carte-de-visite portraiture. Possibly this cdv of Thomas Harrison was chosen because of his defiant stare and tattered clothes, signifiers of desperation and social deviance. He was not a violent prisoner, as the police gazettes record show.
The same photograph of prisoner Thomas Harrison per ship Augusta Jessie 2 appeared again in Joan Kerr and G. Stilwell’s short biographical entry for Thomas J. Nevin in the Dictionary of Australian artists : painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870 (ed) Joan Kerr (1992:568). The convict is given the name “Thomas Harrison” and the provenance is given as the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. The Archives Office of Tasmania in Hobart holds a paper copy made around the same time as the 1978 QVMAG exhibition when originals and copies of these cartes-de-visite of 1870s prisoners were circulated to other public collections from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, viz. the Archives Office of Tasmania, Hobart; the National Library of Australia, Canberra; the Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasman Peninsula; and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, for exhibitions in the 1980s-1990s:
Above: biographical entry for Thomas Nevin in Joan Kerr (ed, 1992:568)
Prisoner photograph of Thomas Harrison with T. J. Nevin attribution.
Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2010.
Thomas J. Nevin produced at least four duplicates of a single capture on glass in each sitting with a prisoner which were distributed to regional stations when the prisoner was discharged. The AOT copy of this same photograph of Thomas Harrison does not name him for some reason. His photograph is captioned:
“Convict unidentified – photograph taken at Port Arthur by Thomas Nevin” :
Prisoner Thomas Harrison per Augusta Jessie 2.
Photographed by Thomas Nevin at the Hobart Gaol 1875
Archives Office of Tasmania AOT Ref: PH30/1/3252
“The Fatal Shore” (1987)
Robert Hughes’ book The Fatal Shore (1987) includes several prisoner identification photographs taken by Thomas J. Nevin for the Hobart Municipal Police Office, Town Hall, and Hobart Gaol photo books which Hughes’ publishers sourced from the Archives Office of Tasmania. No accreditation was made to the photographer Thomas Nevin. This page includes Nevin’s photographs (from top left to bottom right) of prisoners George Willis, James Merchant, Michael Harrigan, Thomas Jackson, Charles Clifford, Joseph Grahame, William Burley and Thomas Harrison.
Tasmanian prisoner mugshots, 1870s
Taken by Thomas J. Nevin, Hobart Gaol
Photographs published in The Fatal Shore, p. 450
Robert Hughes states in his Introduction to The Fatal Shore (Harvill 1987).
“The idea for this book occurred to me in 1974, when I was working on a series of television documentaries about Australian art. On location in Port Arthur, among the ruins of the great penitentiary and its out-buildings, I realized that like nearly all other Australians I knew little about the convict past of my country. I grew up with a skimpy sense of colonial Australia.
Convict history was ignored in schools and little taught in universities – indeed, the idea that the convicts might have a history worth telling was foreign to Australians in the 1950s and 1960s.
Even in the mid-1970s only one general history of the System (as transportation, assignment and secondary punishment in colonial Australia were loosely called) was in print: A.G.L. Shaw’s pioneering study Convicts and the Colonies.
An unstated bias rooted deep in Australian life seemed to wish that “real” Australian history had begun with Australian respectability – with the flood of money from gold and wool, the opening of the continent, the creation of an Australian middle class.
Behind the diorama of Australia Felix lurked the convicts, some 160,000 of them, clanking their fetters in the penumbral darkness. But on the feelings and experiences of these men and women, little was written. They were statistics, absences and finally embarrassments.”
From © Introduction, Robert Hughes The Fatal Shore Collins Harvill hardback edition 1987
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