Prisoner records of Allan WILLIAMSON and William SMITH

More than a thousand Tasmanian prisoner identification photographs (mugshots) were taken by the brothers photographer Thomas J. Nevin and Constable John Nevin between 1872 and 1886. Thomas Nevin worked on commission from 1872 to the mid 1880s at the Port Arthur prison and Hobart Gaol (Campbell St) with the Hobart Municipal Police Office and the New Town Territorial Police, Hobart as the government contractor. His photographic work was considered invaluable to police, an advantage  when he was appointed full-time Office-keeper and Hall-keeper to the Hobart City Corporation at the Hobart Town Hall, which housed the Municipal Police Office, the central registry of criminal records, in January 1876.

Prisoner photographs by Thomas Nevin SLNSW

T. J. Nevin, 9 convicts photographs
Mitchell Library NSW (PXB 274)
Photo copyright © KLW NFC 2009 Arr

Many of those prisoner photographs taken by the Nevin brothers between 1872 and the early 1880s are deemed missing, possibly destroyed; the extant 300 or so in public and private collections are significant to the national heritage in terms of 19th century prisoner documentation. The rare example of a criminal parchment record bearing Allan Williamson’s photograph, the re-use of his photograph on later Hobart Gaol Photo Books and rap sheet, plus these two examples of the same man William Smith per Gilmore (3), give some idea of the contexts of the photographs themselves and the context in which Thomas Nevin worked.

Prisoner Allan Williamson
The photograph on this record sheet of Williamson is typical of Thomas Nevin’s commercial portraiture technique of the 1870s. This criminal record and mugshot was recorded on parchment at the Hobart Gaol. The photograph of Allan Williamson was taken by Thomas Nevin at the Hobart Gaol on 3rd January, 1874, prior to Williamson’s relocation to the Port Arthur prison where he was to serve three months’ hard labour..

Prisoner Allan Williamson
Criminal record on parchment with mugshot
Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site, Hobart
Just one photograph is extant of Allan Williamson, reprinted at least twice
Photographed by Thomas Nevin at the Hobart Gaol 3rd January 1874

This document with Allan Williamson’s mugshot is online at the State Library of Tasmania’s e-Heritage database with these notes:

Creator(s): Convict Department
Date: 1850 –
Description: Convict record form on parchment paper for Allan Matthew Williamson. The form is handwritten over a number of years beginning with the arrival in Van Diemans Land on 9th August 1850. The latest entry records the discharged convicts death on 16th October 1893. The form includes a photograph of the convict. It includes a full description of him at the time of his arrival in Van Diemans Land aged 28 and includes a full record of his offences and sentences of which there are many. The form is rare and a copy is on display at the site in the Museum room at the Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site.
Format: Documents and books
Object: government records
Material: parchment
Titles: Williamson Allan Matthew No 22396
Subjects: convicts
People/Orgs: Williamson, Allan Matthew
Places: Campbell Street Gaol, Hobart (Tas.)
Institution: Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site Management Committee
Object number: PCH_00033
Disclaimer – The content of this record is provided by Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site Management Committee. For any questions about the content please contact them.

This document is held on display at the Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site, Hobart, next to the now demolished Hobart Gaol in Campbell St.. It is a complete prison record on parchment of Allan Matthew Williamson, per the ship Maria Somes (2), from his arrival in Van Diemen’s Land in 1850 right up to his death in 1893. Williamson’s photograph was pasted onto the parchment at the centre of the document, which was folded back on each side, rotated, and used for documenting Williamson’s criminal career for more than forty years. The photograph above of Williamson was taken by Thomas Nevin at the Hobart Gaol on 3rd January, 1874, prior to Williamson’s relocation to the Port Arthur prison. The second extant Hobart Gaol record shows a space where the photograph was removed.

Allan Williamson’s mugshot removed: TAHO Hobart Gaol Records: Ref: GD6719, page 194.

[Above] Allan Williamson’s prison record sheet dated 14th April, 1888 minus the police identification mugshot which was removed, perhaps applied to the parchment record above. It may have been reprinted from Nevin’s negative, since just one single image is extant of Williamson, and this one below is not sepia-toned as the parchment original was when printed. This second print was pasted to the later record (below) with full criminal history, dates ranging from 1850 to his death in 1893.

Prisoner Allan Williamson’s rap sheet and mugshot 1850-1893
TAHO Ref: TH-1961-46919-1384-3
Just one photograph is extant of Allan Williamson, reprinted at least twice
Photographed by Thomas Nevin at the Hobart Gaol, 3rd January 1874

[Above] A note at the top of the middle column on the page above refers to the page with the missing mugshot, p. 194: “For Photo see Photo Book No. 2 p.194“. The photograph attached this sheet was removed from the page dated 1888, or even reprinted, and pasted to the record above, dated to 1893, the year Williamson died.

POLICE RECORDS for Allan Williamson

Allan Williamson was discharged on 26 January 1867

Allan Williamson was discharged again on 8 December 1877

Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, J. Barnard Gov’t Printer

Thomas Nevin’s photograph of Allan Williamson was printed again on 23 July 1878 when Williamson was arraigned at the Supreme Court, Hobart for uttering a forged order; his photograph of another prisoner, Francis Sheeran who was arraigned in the same session, is held at the Mitchell Library NSW (PXB 274).

Thomas Nevin’s busiest years were 1872-1876 at the Municipal Police Office and Hobart Gaol, during the transfer of prisoners from the Port Arthur penitentiary on Tasman Peninsula to Hobart as the site there readied for closure (1873-74). The 60 or so prisoners still at Port Arthur in 1873 were speedily transferred to the Hobart Gaol, Campbell St, as both government MPs and the public alike demanded the closure of the site with allegations of corruption directed at its principal officer, A. H. Boyd. The majority of prisoner cartes-de-visite which now survive are not photographs of Port Arthur convicts who were photographed as some sort of museological portfolio because they were transportees per se before 1853 when transportation ended, nor were they photographed at Port Arthur. They were photographed in Hobart for a central registry because they were either released with a ticket-of-leave (Town Hall), or they were recidivists and re-offenders photographed on arrest, sentencing and arraignment (Supreme Court and Hobart Gaol). The weekly police gazettes of the day show a record for every single man in every single mugshot for these events. The photoraphs as cdvs were therefore produced to accompany the central prison and police registers, and this is the most likely original source from which the loose cartes have been divorced. The prison administrator at Port Arthur on the isolated Tasman Peninsula until December 1873, A.H. Boyd, played no role in the taking of prisoner photographs for the Colonial government in Hobart.

Thomas J. Nevin was assisted by his younger brother Constable John Nevin who was salaried at the Hobart Gaol (H.M. Prison) during the years 1874-1891. The contract was issued by W.R. Giblin, variously Attorney-General and Premier, whose portrait Nevin took ca. 1874. The Giblin portrait by Nevin is held at the Archives Office of Tasmania. The Nevin brothers’ supervisors were the Surgeon-Commandant Dr. Coverdale at the Port Arthur prison, the Superintendent of Police, Richard Propsting at the Town Hall Police Office, and at the Hobart Gaol, the Sheriff John Swan, the Keeper Ringrose Atkins and Thos. Reidy Inspector of Police.

The prisoner carte-de-visite of Allan Williamson pasted to the parchment record might have T. J. Nevin’s stamp on verso, but then again it may not, and for this reason: at least one duplicate of a prisoner’s mounted photograph was intended to be pasted to the prisoner’s record. More duplicates were made to be circulated to the police in the event of a warrant after the prisoner’s release. The photographer would not have wasted ink and time printing every carte on verso when the verso would never be visible. These cartes were co-owned by the government AND the photographer contracted on tender to produce them. Just one carte with the photographer’s official stamp verso per batch of 100 cartes was required by the the Customs and Patents Act. Primarily these cartes were legal instruments stamped with the government contractor’s Royal Arms insignia similar to the seal of the Hobart Supreme Court where many were taken. Their primary function was police records, unlike Thomas Nevin’s other cartes-de-visite of private citizens and those taken on commission, many of which bear his commercial stamps on verso or impressed on mount. No photographer’s stamp other than T. J. Nevin’s appears on these convict cartes-de-visite.

Prisoner William Smith
The second example is a loose copy bearing T. J. Nevin’s government contract stamp. The photograph below of the convict “William Smith per Gilmore 3″ was taken around the 10th September 1873. The original carte of William Smith with the verso (below) is held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston.

Recto and verso of photograph of prisoner Wm Smith per Gilmore (3)
Verso with T. J. Nevin’s government contractor stamp printed with the Royal Arms  insignia.
Carte numbered “199” on recto
QVMAG Ref: 1985.p.131

Why does this carte of Smith bear T. J. Nevin’s studio stamp? The question has been asked by photo historians with little consideration to the realities of government tender. It is not a commercial stamp but one signifying the photographer’s status as a government contractor. It was one of several chosen by Thomas Nevin to access his commission, register copyright on behalf of the colonial government, and renew his contract under the terms of the tender. Only one was required per batch, the verso stamp used to identify the photographer’s joint copyright under contract. The registration lasted 14 years from the second year of registration (1872-1874 to 1886).

POLICE RECORDS for William Smith per Gilmore 3:

William Smith per Gilmore 3 was discharged with a 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 discharge in 1873, Smith was dressed and ready for freedom. The photograph exhibits a degree of liminality of the prisoner’s state: free on a ticket of leave but classed as a criminal.

William Smith reoffended again in April 1874, and was discharged 12 months later.

Wm Smith discharged 1st April, 1875. Photographed again on release by T. J. Nevin.

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 face-to-contact with William Smith while photographing him 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 was arrested at Richmond, notice of  9th July, 1875.

Thomas Nevin photographed William Smith again wearing the prisoner issue black leathern cap. This photograph was taken on the prisoner’s incarceration at the Hobart Gaol, in July 1875.

William Smith per Gilmore 3.
Photo by Thomas Nevin, July 1875
Verso with Nevin’s government contractor’s stamp
Mitchell Library NSW PXB 274 No.1
Photo copyright © KLW NFC 2009 Arr

The first carte is numbered “199”. This, the second photograph by T. J. Nevin of William Smith per Gilmore (3) is numbered “200”. The numbers were applied when these two photographs among several dozen more were salvaged by John Watt Beattie from the Hobart Gaol’s Sheriff Office ca. 1900 and displayed in his museum in Hobart. Some were sent to an exhibition at the Royal Hotel in Sydney in 1916 in conjunction with a display of convictaria associated with the hulk Success.