The QVMAG, the NLA, Chris Long and A.H. Boyd

The Queen Victoria and Albert Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, seemed so intent on abrogating the name of Thomas J. Nevin as photographer from any association with its holdings of the “Port Arthur convicts” photographs which were exhibited there in 1977 as Nevin’s work that in a letter to a Nevin descendant date 17th November 2005, the technical officer showed considerable confusion and made contradictory and incorrect statements:

Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery

Dear [name],
Please find enclosed some documentation relating to the convict photograph exhibition that was attributed to Thomas Nevin in 1977. Also enclosed is a list of the convict photographs that include the registration number, the type and content of the photograph, as well as the photographer who is listed as Adolarious Humphrey Boyd. I have highlighted registration number QVM:1985:P:0131 and included a photocopy of the reverse of this image, as it contains the photographic stamp of T.J. Nevin. The photographer of the convict photographs has been listed as Boyd, in accordance with comments made by Chris Long.
We have two photographs in our collection which have the photographer listed as Thomas Nevin. I have enclosed information about QVM:1987:P:0220. The other is QVM:1985:P:0005 that we have discussed via e-mail.
Thank you for your enquiry. Please be in contact if you have any questions.
Danielle Grossman
Technical Officer
Community History Centre


A. Firstly, their holdings of Nevin’s attributed photographs:

One photograph held at the QVMAG bears the inscription on verso “Clifford & Nevin, Hobart Town”, QVM:1985:P:0005. That is a double attribution. It was published in Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940: A Directory (1995:34).

The second catalogue number QVM:1987:P:0220 refers to a photograph by Nevin titled “View of the Hobart to Launceston coach, 1872, Tasmania”.

But there are more, and in particular this one – QVM:1985:P:0131 – which is the verso of a convict portrait:

Above: Convict William Smith, portrait with Nevin stamp on verso, QVMAG.

That makes three. And there are more. Several comments by Chris Long in a letter to Nevin descendants 1984 about Nevin’s work indicate that the QVMAG holds quite a few of his photographs –

“Most of his work was commercially commissioned – business premises and commercial products. He photographed the coaches used by Page’s coach lines in about 1873.”

In addition, Chris Long mentions ” a number of convict photographs with the commercial stamp T.J. Nevin” (p. 36).

And these are apart from the whole collection of more than 140 convicts’ photographs at the QVMAG which the curator and researchers attributed to Nevin in 1977.

B. Secondly, the Chris Long “comments”

… in accordance with comments by Chris Long“? What comments exactly, and has the QVMAG ever investigated their veracity?

The source given by the QVMAG is pages 35-36 of the TMAG publication, Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940: A Directory (1995), and in that entry on pp 35-36 the writer Chris Long DOES NOT attribute the Port Arthur photographs to A. H. Boyd.

On page 35, he says:

“The authorship of these photographs is difficult to trace. Cato attributes offical convict photography to ‘various studios in Hobart and Launceston … (Jack Cato 1955:164)”.

The authorship was not difficult to trace. John McPhee, curator of the QVMAG exhibition, and Geoff Stilwell and Joan Kerr had ascertained Nevin as the photographer in 1977, and in publication 1992. But Chris Long was not familiar with John McPhee at all – his letter to Nevin descendants in 1984 referred to a Carl McPhee, not John McPhee.

The “authorship” comment by Long is a segue into a somewhat arrogant dismissal of Cato’s seminal early work The Story of the Camera in Australia, whose publication in 1955 preceded the 1977 exhibition and contains no information on these Tasmanian convict portraits. Long then proceeds to dismiss the possibility of convict photos taken by photographer W.P. Dowling in Launceston (fl. 1859-18740 (also Cato’s suggestion p. 165) because it seems –

” … highly unlikely as the work would have been associated with the establishment at Port Arthur” (p.36)

The use of “associated with the establishment at Port Arthur” does not in any way confirm the assumption he then makes that these Port Arthur convicts were in fact photographed at Port Arthur. Several of the convict cartes are inscribed on the verso with the convict’s name, the date of his transportation and the ship’s name. Some also bear the inscription “Taken at Port Arthur, 1874“. But Long includes copies of TWO photographs and their versos – one of Job Smith alias Campbell alias Boodle – which DOES NOT bear the inscription “Taken at Port Arthur, 1874”, and another of Samuel Blore per Lrd Petrie which does bear the familiar “Taken at Port Arthur, 1874”. So one of the photographs – Job Smith’s – cannot be said to be “associated” with Port Arthur. And there are many such photographs.

Long’s speculation then continues with this curious statement which is now known to be nothing more than hearsay:

“A.H. Boyd, Superintendent at Port Arthur from June 1871 to March 1874, was a very keen amateur photographer and is known to have had a room fitted up in his garden as a studio and darkroom.”(p.36)

Where’s the source? It appears not here in Long’s entry but in a Masters thesis submitted to the ANU by Warwick Reeder. Reeder notes (1995:70) that –

“Chris Long was the first to suggest that they [Port Arthur cartes 1874] might have been taken by A.H. Boyd”.

Reeder states clearly in his thesis (1995:69) that the Boyd attribution arose from hearsay about a story circulating at the Port Arthur Historic Site where a Boyd descendant recalled seeing a camera at the Commandant’s house:

Boyd’s niece, E. M. Hall, nee Giblin, recalls that while Boyd was in charge of Port Arthur, he “had a room fitted up in the garden [of the Commandant’s house] and was always on the lookout for sitters, [she being] a proud and constant occupant of the only available chair.” (footnote 65, Ibid, Reminiscences of E. M. Hall, Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania in Glover, Margaret, Report on the physical fabric of Port Arthur, n.d.).

Not only is this a piece of legally inadmissable hearsay, Reeder and Long are seriously proposing that a FICTIONAL children’s tale about a holiday at Port Arthur, delivered as a talk to a literary society in 1930 by a niece of Boyd’s, E.M. Hall, and extant only in typescript, titled “The Young Explorer” (submitted to the SLTas in 1942) can function as an authentic historical document and reference. There is no reference to this children’s tale in the cited article by Margaret Glover (1991). The children’s tale is not a personal memoir, its author makes no reference to either Boyd by name nor to the photographing of prisoners at Port Arthur. It was written by a 62 year old woman in 1930 with the intention of giving her young readers a taste of old Port Arthur. These two “researchers”, Chris Long and Warwick Reeder, with nothing to offer apart from this ridiculous “research” are principally responsible for the creation of the Boyd furphy. Clearly their “evidence” is nonsense.

However, having put this “evidence” in place, Chris Long then continues with the citation of three “notes contained in the Mitchell Library’s Tasmanian Papers” [Ref:320].

30/7/1873 – 288 photographic glasses sent to Port Arthur
12/8/1873 – 1 case of photographic equipment sent to Port Arthur
2/4/1874 – sent from Port Arthur to A.H. Boyd, Hobart – one photograph stand and one photograph tent.

Investigation at the Mitchell Library ascertained exactly what these “notes” indicate. They are in fact the dates of three way bills or cargo and passenger lists for the delivery of goods to and from government stores at Hobart and Port Arthur on board the government schooner Harriet.

The government schooner Harriet carried hundreds of passengers and tonnes of cargo to and from Hobart and Port Arthur while in service during these years. The names of professional photographers appear frequently on the passenger lists during 1873 and 1874, including Samuel Clifford’s and Thomas Nevin’s (misspelt in one instance as “Nivan”). Private goods were usually listed as simply packages, parcels, or boxes, while government cargo was usually detailed by its contents. The Civil Commandant or his proxy signed against the lists of both types of cargo.

Examination of the three original way bill documents revealed no data that could be used to determine that Boyd was the photographer – or “author” to use the photo historian’s misuse of the literary term – of the convicts while Civil Commandant of the Port Arthur prison. Chris Long’s is a spurious argument underpinned by nothing more than speculation about the ownership of a photograph stand and tent listed as household goods destined for Hobart on the Harriet‘s way bill dated 2nd April 1874.

The name of  Boyd appears twice on this particular way bill list against cargo designated as “private”, firstly as a general signature against 300 or so items of goods, some of which are identified by the owner’s name, eg. “1 Umbrella … Mr G.B. Walker”. The photograph stand and tent are NOT identified by the owner’s name.

The second appearance of Boyd’s name specifically brackets four items which included “1 child’s carriage, 1 package Deer Horns, 1 Hat Box, Leather, 1 package of Buttons [?]”. These FOUR items were bracketed as Boyd’s personal property, but the photograph stand and tent DO NOT appear here. Therefore, the stand and tent cannot said to be Boyd’s personal property: to argue for attribution to Boyd as the photographer of Tasmanian convicts on the basis of unproven ownership of two pieces of photographic equipment, is patently absurd. A cursory glance at the Tasmanian Pioneers Index (AOT) shows hundreds of Boyds alive in Tasmania in the 1870s, and not one of those Boyds has ever been documented as a photographer in their own lifetime or subsequently. Even A.H. Boyd’s predecessor in the position of Commandant at Port Arthur, James Boyd, who was the owner of stereoscopic equipment auctioned from his house in Battery Point in 1873, has never been documented as either an amateur or skilled professional photographer. Ownership of cameras does not presuppose authorship of photographs.

A.H. Boyd’s only connection with Thomas Nevin was through the Attorney-General, William Robert Giblin. Boyd was Giblin’s brother-in-law. He married Giblin’s sister Henrietta Selina Giblin (b.1839) in 1871. Thomas Nevin photographed W. R. Giblin while contracted as the Hobart prisons and police photographer. Giblin chose Nevin as his photographer for a personal portrait [AOT Ref: NS1013/1971], he also chose Nevin as his official photographer. The photograph stand and tent, far from being Boyd’s personal property, would have been returned ultimately to Attorney-General Giblin’s care, if they had been used for official purposes, and there is nothing to indicate who used them, when, where or for what purpose.

Boyd was not even at Port Arthur in April 1874. His tenure as Commandant terminated in December 1873 under allegations of corruption and nepotism levelled at his brother-in-law Attorney-General W.R. Giblin in the Parliament through June and July 1873. A.H. Boyd was a reviled individual whose bullying of employees attracted extensive comment in The Mercury over the period of his tenure as Civil Commandant at Port Arthur and Superintendent of Paupers at the Cascades depot. His obituary makes no mention of photography, nor is there any official document which associates Boyd with either the mandate or the skills to personally provide the colonial government with photographs of prisoners.

The government schooner Harriet’s waybills for the remainder of 1874 detail Dr Coverdale’s journeys several times a month to Hobart accompanying groups of prisoners on their way to prisons in Hobart, as the process of closing down Port Arthur continued. Most of the prisoners returned from Port Arthur to Hobart had been sent there in 1871 at the discretion of the Hobart Gaol Sheriff Thomas Reidy. Sixty had already returned to Hobart by July 15th 1873, noted by Giblin and tabled in Parliament  on that date, July 15, 1873. The remaining 49 on the list tabled in Parliament on that date were back in Hobart by October 1873. On their arrival back in Hobart, the prisoner was bathed, shaved and clothed in standard gaol issue which included a black leathern cap (two photographs by Nevin of prisoners wearing this cap are held at the Mitchell Library, NSW). The prisoners’ records were updated with a photograph taken by T.J. Nevin, the only contracted commercial  photographer to provide this service. His commission was paid out by Treasury, and appeared in the 1874 documents pertaining to expenses for the year 1873. T. J. Nevin had already photographed some of these men at their Supreme Court trials from mid 1871 at the adjoining Supreme Court.

The fact that no government documents such as these were sought and sourced by Long or Reeder pertaining to  the prisoners’ photographs is indicative of the problems art-trained photo historians bring to attribution issues.

Aesthetic judgement and personal taste also cloud Chris Long’s “comments”. Because he judges the nature of the convicts’ poses” to be “amateurish” –

” … it is quite possible that Boyd may have been the photographer.”

But Boyd was NOT a photographer. Chris Long has not established here or anywhere else that Boyd took a single photograph. As Kerr and Stilwell stated in 1992 (p. 568),

” … no photographs by Boyd are known.”

T. J. Nevin, however, does receive accreditation by Chris Long for “a number of convict photographs” bearing his “commercial stamp “T. J. Nevin“. (p.36)

As Chris Long says, his “belief” about Boyd was based on “an interpretation of the known facts” but the “facts” he has established are simply these: some photographic materials were listed as cargo for Port Arthur in 1873. A photograph stand and tent were returned to Hobart on 2nd April 1874. Boyd’s supposed “ownership” of a stand and tent is all that Chris Long offers as argument for a Boyd attribution. In itself, it is indeed a slender argument. As unproven, in any case, it is seriously nonsensical.

The other “fact” which Long believes is his own creation of a darkroom belonging to the Commandant, also derived from the children’s tale by the Boyd descendant. The “room” which the child narrator mentions in the FICTIONAL children’s tale has become a “darkroom” in Chris Long’s imagination:

“It is highly likely that the photographs were taken at Port Arthur, and highly unlikely that there would have been a darkroom there apart from the commandant’s own.”(p.36)

Above: page 36 of Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940: A Directory

“Belief” and “interpretation” do not constitute evidence. In personal communication with Nevin descendants in 2005, Chris Long stated that he “never said Nevin was not the photographer“.

CRONYISM at the National Library of Australia

So, why has the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery set about so assiduously to suppress Thomas Nevin’s attribution as photographer of their holdings of Tasmanian convict photographs?

Their ill-considered decision may have been based on a misreading of Chris Long’s “comments”, as the letter above indicates. It would seem, however, that the QVMAG and particularly the National Library of Australia are implicated in cronyism.

A concerted effort by Chris Long, and particularly by Warwick Reeder has influenced these institutions into promoting the A. H. Boyd attribution. Clearly, recapitulation by both Long and Reeder is difficult while their error of judgement re Boyd remains in print. Reeder, in particular, has used his (former) collegiate status to influence Pictorial staff at the NLA. Why? Because he circulated copies his Master of Letters sub-thesis – a student essay, a minor event in academic terms – to the Mitchell Library and to the National Library of Australia, and he is now aware of its major flaws and claims, and its errors concerning Nevin’s life and work.

Far from wishing to issue or attach statements of errata to the thesis (email to Nevin descendant), Reeder would rather see the national heritage compromised than his own “reputation”. He would rather see Thomas J. Nevin’s name written out of the “official records” than his own name. Cronyism is a form of corruption. Compromising historical fact, and the national heritage, is the way the future will remember these public servants in public institutions, who seem to overlook the basic fact of their existence – they are servants of the public. Reeder’s investment extends deeper: he is a self-publisher.

So the real reasons for the National Library of Australia’s change of attribution from Nevin to Boyd this year, 2007, “on the basis of research by Julia Clark” are becoming more apparent. It would seem at first that the NLA had been swayed by a confused and error-ridden essay containing deliberate obfuscations about Nevin, written by Clark at the Port Arthur Historic Site, and acted on it by effectively removed Thomas J. Nevin’s long-standing attribution from their digitised holdings of Tasmanian convict photographs. Their full-record URLs for the 25 convict portraits displayed this notice between April and August 2007:

“Formerly attributed to Nevin, Thomas J., 1842-ca. 1922. Attribution changed in 2007 to A.H. Boyd on the basis of research by Julia Clark, Manager Interpretations and Collections, Port Arthur. See TRIM R07/44377.”

In September 2007, the NLA amended the full record with this statement:

“No photographer name or studio stamp appears on these photographs. It is likely that the photographer was either A.H. Boyd or Thomas J. Nevin. An essay supporting attribution to Boyd, prepared by Julia Clark, Manager Interpretations and Collections, Port Arthur Historic Site, is on file (TRIM R07/44377); copies available on request.”

Why leave the reference to such a poorly researched and facticious essay, an essay padded with irrelevant convictism and singularly intent on deceiving the reader? This entry too will have to be amended. The NLA holds a file of ephemera relating to Nevin and their holdings of the Tasmanian convict cartes, cited as:

Record Id: 41137628 (Australian Library Collections)
Nevin, T. J. : photography related ephemera material collected by the National Library of Australia].
Description:1 folder of miscellaneous pieces.
Series:Australian photographer files
Contents:File contains material such as accession sheets, listings of works biographical material and correspondence related to convict portraits.
Subjects: Nevin, Thomas J., 1842-1923.Photographers — Australia.
Libraries that have this item: National Library of Australia. National Library of Australia (ANL) 3821234 Australian photographer files

The essay by Clark should be filed away as just another piece of ephemera, and the file itself should be referenced on the full record catalogue entry for the Digital Collections display of these Tasmanian convicts photographed by Nevin, minus any reference to Clark. Anything with Clark’s name attached is a waste of the reader’s time.

Sadly, Ms Clark – who does not even appear on the PAHS website staff lists nor is her position there in any way guaranteed (jeopardised, rather, in the face of this episode) – has not conducted “research” which proves Boyd as the photographer of the Tasmanian convict/prisoner photographs held at the NLA, some of which are dated by the NLA for 1884 and were taken at the Hobart Gaol where Thomas Nevin’s brother Constable John Nevin continued with the provision of prisoner ID photographs, nor does she come anywhere near to proving that Boyd ever produced a photograph on any subject. Her deliberate obfuscations are in some cases outright falsifications of statements found in readily available publications and documents (e.g The Mechanical Eye; Intersections). Clark’s “research” is also full of Reeder’s claims.

Some examples from Clark’s “basis of research” which the NLA has found so compelling concern incorrect statements about the NLA’s own history of involvement. This paragraph in the essay from Clark, for example, makes these baseless claims:

Claim A: wrong

Some further confusion has arisen because the NLA holds an album known as the ‘Nevin Album’. I, and it would seem some others, assumed that this was an album that Nevin himself had compiled or that was at least composed of work known to be Nevin’s.

Claim B: wrong

In fact, the NLA compiled it from cdvs in preparation for an exhibition on colonial photography at the National Library in 2003, ‘In a New Light; Australian Photography 1850s-1930s’, curated by Helen Ennis.

Claim C: wrong

In doing so, they were following their attribution of these images to Nevin; the source of this attribution is lost in the mists of time but may have been obtained from QVMAG. This object has now developed a power of its own, such that NLA staff had come to believe that each cdv bore Nevin’s stamp.

Claim D: wrong

However, when the album was taken apart it was discovered that not one of the images bore this stamp. Interestingly, the Curator Helen Ennis attributed the images to Boyd in 2000 in Mirror with a Memory.

None of these claims by Clark observes known and knowable facts.

Assumptions made by Clark or by anyone else are not legally tenable evidence. The album of convict cartes held at the NLA was originally sighted by Nevin descendants at the QVMAG Launceston exhibition in 1977, again at the QVMAG as the same and as a complete entity in 1984, and again at the NLA, Canberra in 1996 and in 2000, so far from being a compilation, its integrity up until 2003 had remained complete and intact.

The source of the “Nevin album” as the staff in the Pictorial section of the NLA called it – they also had a map drawer labelled “Thomas Nevin” containing photographs of NSW prisons which were NOT correctly located or attributed, however – was the QVMAG via the National Gallery of Victoria (deposited by curator John McPhee). The NLA staff stated in 2000 to a Nevin descendant working there as a volunteer that the versos of the cartes in their “Nevin album” were printed or inscribed, but whether with a photographer’s stamp or simply with handwriting, was largely unknown because they had not disassembled the album. A few loose cartes were copies from the Gunson Collection. The 19th century album, however, was not dismantled until Helen Ennis used several cartes for the NLA exhibition “In a New Light: A Love of Order ” in 2003, and then her attribution to several cartes was “photographer unknown”. This exhibition is online at the NLA.

The cartes that were used in the National Portrait Gallery exhibition Mirror with a Memory in 2000 were drawn NOT from the NLA but from the TMAG where Clark had worked, and where she had probably contributed to the Boyd mess of misattribution because her sole knowledge of these cartes was from the Chris Long hypothesis and error about Boyd in the 1995 TMAG publication, Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940: A Directory (page 36).

This statement in particular – “lost in the mists of time” – from Clark is a measure of the supercilious attitude she has towards her government position at the Port Arthur Historic Site where this so-called “research” is being funded. Far from being lost, Nevin’s contractual employment as police and prisons photographer was common knowledge in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, his work was valued to the extant that his “convict photographs” were salvaged, copied and sold to tourists by later photographers such as Beattie and Searle. The late 20th century validated the Nevin attribution at the QVMAG in 1977 with an exhibition  documented in the press releases and reviews of the day, and in correspondence between researchers and curators held by the State Library of Tasmania and the QVMAG. These documents are easily accessible to the public, and many (but not all key documents) have been visible on these Nevin family weblogs since 2003.

In the NLA publication Intersections, which appeared in 2004, Helen Ennis clearly attributed a carte of convict John Moran taken from the NLA’s “Nevin album” to T. J. Nevin.

Clark has peddled her so-called “research” to public institutions holding these 19th Tasmanian convict photographs with the insistence that they suppress Thomas Nevin’s name as the photographer of Tasmanian convicts. Poor Clark and her Port Arthur psychosis, deeply to be pitied for the redneck manner in which she has approached what is only a minor issue of misattribution, and so roundly despised for her lack of courtesy in requesting permission from Nevin’s family for use of their research and private collections.

The rest of the Clark essay, written in the mode of hero discourse – she will rescue the cartes, she will save them etc – is equally silly, equally invalid, equally duplicitious and dishonest. Ideas for discussion and original documentation were- and continue to be – purloined and plagiarised from the writers of these Nevin family weblogs by Clark and then abused for whatever has suited her contrary arguments.

The National Library of Australia should and can be held accountable for this act of cronyism. It’s not about whether their prisoner photographs are stamped verso by the photographer. Who would seriously expect police mugshots – in 1870 or in 2009 – to signify the photographer’s “authorship”? Even without Nevin’s stamp, which DOES appear on several of these Tasmanian prisoner cartes (for registration of his commission and contract renewal), there is ample evidence to be found in other documents of his “authorship”. The cry for a photographer’s stamp by the NLA on current catalogue records is simply the subterfuge of a biased staff who have demonstrated the degree of contempt in which they hold the noble profession of librarianship, the time they are prepared to devote to obscure their errors, their laziness, and their bias, and the errors of those who flatter them; these are librarians who assume they can sanction the rewriting of history by any fool regardless of the readily available historical documents held within the National Library building itself, especially those which testify to Nevin’s photographic duties as THE photographer of their “Port Arthur convict photographs 1874”. These public servants are not interested in the effects of their abuse of the national heritage and of our bona fide and extremely generous research, nor of the confusion they inflict on the Australian public. The effect of whimsical cronyism will ensure that no amount of research will write Nevin’s attribution back into “the official records” to use Reeder’s terms (email to Nevin descendant), at the NLA at least. Such action from the NLA puts into question any claim they make about any of their holdings: it generates distrust, and ultimately earns them derision and calls for accountability. Families such as the Nevins, with valuable collections and a history of service to King and country dating back to the Interregnum, have no option but to contemplate deposits elsewhere such as Britain or the USA.