NLA’s ‘Intersections’ with convict carte by Nevin

Helen Ennis 2004 and the National Library of Australia collection …

Intersections: Photography, History and the National Library of Australia
By Helen Ennis
ISBN 0 642 10792 0
pb, large format 270 b&w and colour photographs.
297 x 240mm 285pp
Publisher: National Library of Australia 2004

Included in this publication with attribution to professional photographer Thomas J. Nevin is the carte-de-visite of a Tasmanian prisoner, John Moran, selected from a collection of 84 “Port Arthur convicts” photographs held at the National Library of Australia.

Thomas J. Nevin’s photograph in an oval mount of convict John Moran 1874

The photograph appears on page 18 with this caption, copied from the NLA catalogue:

Thomas J. Nevin (1842-ca.1922) [i.e. the photographer] John Moran per Ly (i.e. Lady) Lady Franklin, Taken at Port Arthur 1874 albumen photograph on carte-de-visite mount; 9.4 x 5.7 cm nla.pic-an24612479

Notes from the Publisher:

“The National Library holds more than 600 000 photographs in its Pictures Collection. This large collection of images is contemporary, diverse, exciting, historic, whimsical and unexpected, embodying the challenge and pathos of history and the extraordinary dimensions of memory.
Now, in this first representative survey of the Library’s photographic holdings, Helen Ennis introduces us to Australia from the 1840s to the present as we have never seen before – at peace and at war, and in all of its splendour and ordinary dailiness, as seen through the cameras of Charles Bayliss, Samuel Sweet, Olive Cotton, May and Minna Moore, Peta Hill, Frank Hurley, Harold Cazneaux, Max Dupain, Philip Gostelow, Raymond de Berquelle, Wolfgang Sievers and many more.”

As the majority of photo-histories are written within or from a context of art theory and practice, the focus on factual documentation is often foreshortened. Police records and biographical information on this convict details his crimes of burglary and incarceration at the Hobart Gaol:

The Archives Office of Tasmania holds this information:

Database No:50512
Moran John 12 Oct 1845 Lady Franklin Norfolk Island To NSW per Florentia. To Norfolk Island 1836. Soldier 99th Regiment. Tried Sydney May 1841.

From being “enlarged” with a ticket-of-leave in January, 1874, John Moran was in and out of Hobart Gaol on a regular basis. He was photographed by Thomas J. Nevin on discharge in February 1874 at the Municipal Police Office, Town Hall, and this photo of him was circulated with the warrant in October 1875.

John Moran:Ticket of leave granted 30th January, 1874

John Moran: Discharged 6th February, 1874

John Moran: Discharged 4th August 1875

John Moran: Arrested 26th October, 1875

John Moran: Discharged 27th October 1875

John Moran: Warrant for arrest 26th November, 1875

John Moran: Convicted 4th December, 1875
etc etc John Moran died in custody at the Hobart Gaol in July 1889.
Source: Tasmania Reports on Crime For Police Information 1871-1875 J. Barnard, Gov’t Printer.

Three print formats are extant of government contractor T. J. Nevin’s original capture from the only sitting with prisoner John Moran between 2-6 February 1874:

Uncut sepia print of prisoner John Moran, original capture
Photographed by T. J. Nevin February 1874
QVMAG Collection (one of forty in three panels)

Prisoner MORAN, John
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin February 1873
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery collection
TMAG Ref: Q15582

The two identical photographs of John Moran printed in an oval mount are Nevin’s copies from his original capture. The NLA copy was acquired from the QVMAG ca. 1985 for an exhibition at the NLA (McPhee, personal communication). The TMAG copy was acquired from the QVMAG for an exhibition held at the Port Arthur Heritage Site in 1983 and returned – not to the QVMAG – but to the TMAG (Wishart et al).

The original uncut sepia print was cleaned of scratches and cracks, and re-photographed as a black and white print by Chris Long at the QVMAG in 1985 for reasons known only to himself since they serve no purpose. The original print taken from Nevin’s glass negative of the 1870s was removed from the prisoner’s Hobart Gaol rap sheet and collated into one of three panels, forty (40) in all, by convictaria collector John Watt Beattie and advertised for sale in his catalogue, 1916. Both the original 1874 sepia uncut print and the 1985 reproduction are held at the QVMAG.

Black and white print of John Moran
Reprduced from T. Nevin’s negative 1874
QVMAG Collection Ref: 1985 p 0163

John Moran was not photographed at Port Arthur, despite the NLA’s catalogue entry which suggests there is a handwritten inscription on verso. The inscription “Taken at Port Arthur, 1874” appears inscribed on the verso of many dozens of these cartes of Tasmanian prisoners. The number “3″ appears on the verso, too, apparently, and like all these numbers on either the verso or mount ranging from 1 to more than 300, the sequencing has been devised by the copyists for inclusion in an archive decades later.

The photograph was taken at the MPO, Hobart Town Hall, between the 2nd and 6th February 1874, and NOT at the Port Arthur prison. This prisoner was one of three men photographed on that date: Thomas FRANCIS and Thomas SAUNDERS were also discharged and photographed in Hobart by T.J. NEVIN between 4th-6th February 1874. Thomas Francis’ mounted mugshot is held at the National Library of Australia, and a print from Nevin’s original negative is held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. Thomas Saunder’s mounted mugshot is also held at the QVMAG.

The methodical copying, printing and cataloguing of the originals, some reproduced from Nevin’s glass negatives as lantern slides, others reprinted in an oval mount conventionally used by commercial photographers working in prisons in NSW and Victoria of the 1870s, date from 1900s -1920s and were displayed by John Watt Beattie in his convictaria museum in Hobart and for inclusion in travelling exhibitions of convictaria associated with the fake convict hulk Success. Who else but a curator/archivist would write “Taken at Port Arthur …” on the verso of a photograph, unless the image was to be directed at tourists as an artefact of Tasmanian history? Not the prison photographer working in situ with government documentation, and as the several copies circulated for police reference were pasted to documents such as the warrant and the prisoner’s criminal record, inscribing the verso would serve no one; it would not be visible. Likewise, printing the verso with a studio stamp would have been a waste of effort and ink. The several extant prisoner cartes which do carry T. J. Nevin’s studio stamp enclosing the government insignia (located at the QVMAG and Mitchell Library, NSW) were used to register his copyright (of a batch per 100 capita), renew his contract, and access his commission.

There is no doubt that the early years of transportation to Tasmania’s Port Arthur prison have been the primary focus and fascination for historians. It feeds and feeds off the aggressive promotion of the prison site as the State’s key historic attraction. And it has become the convention and norm of writers to corral one or more of these prisoner ID photographs within their new texts that deal with those early years. Michael Bogle’s recent publication on convicts (2008), as an example, has T. J. Nevin’s negative (1875) of convict Charles Rosetta on the front cover, unattributed to Nevin, and wrongly dated to 1917 with attribution to the copyists Beattie & Searle, from the NLA collection.

Michael Bogle, Convicts (2008) Photos © KLW NFC 2009 ARR

These sorts of publications ignore the fact that the circumstances in which T. J. Nevin produced the photos in the mid 1870s were very different from those experienced by transported convicts at Port Arthur in the 1850s; moreover, they ignore the very obvious fact that these “booking photographs” as they were called, represent old men with 20 more years’ experience of felonies and incarceration since their early Port Arthur days, transportees who had become conventional prisoners in and out of a conventional town gaol. This blind spot explains in part why the site of Port Arthur with the date of 1874, embellished with the fantasist creation of a photographer attribution to one of its Commandants (A.H. Boyd) in the 1990s (Chris Long, Warwick Reeder), has been assigned across the board to the National Library of Australia’s collection under pressure from these writers’ errors in printed publications. The mundane reality of these convicts’ later prison exploits does not make good tourist copy, and by association nor do the routines of a jobbing photographer, as Thomas Nevin was, employed at a city gaol to produce the prisoner’s mugshot. Who can name a prison photographer in any era? No one, because they are not deemed “artists”. They remain invisible to the public, without attribution. Anonymity is de rigeur in their job. See also this post with reference to Helen Ennis.

page 18, Intersections, photograph by Thomas Nevin of convict John Moran.