Professor Joan Kerr 1992-4

Professor Joan Kerr (1938-2004) conducted research in collaboration with Special Collections Librarian at the State Library of Tasmania, G. T. Stilwell, on Thomas J. Nevin’s life and career for inclusion of an entry in her massive two volume biographical dictionary of Australian artists and photographers which she published in 1992 (page 568):

Photo KLW NFC 2010 ARR
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Entry of Thomas J. Nevin, pp 568-9
The Dictionary of Australian artists : painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, edited by Joan Kerr.
Publisher: Melbourne : Oxford University Press, 1992.
Description: xxii, 889 p. : ill., facsims., ports. ; 27 cm.

In a series on memorable colonial images for her farewell lecture to students and staff at the University of Sydney in 1994, Joan Kerr included ” Belfast-born” Thomas Nevin’s photographs of the “Port Arthur convicts” dated 1874 (i.e. Tasmanian prisoner photographs or mugshots). She also told the story of his dismissal from the position of Town Hall keeper in 1880.

Professor Joan Kerr (1938-2004)
National Library of Australia Collection
Evans, Joyce. [Portrait of Joan Kerr 1993] [picture] / Joyce Evans. 1993.
1 photograph : gelatin silver on fibre-based paper ; 40.2 x 30.3 cm. P893.;
Exhibited: Beyond the Picket Fence, NLA 1995.
Subjects: Kerr, Joan — Portraits. Art historians — Australia — Portraits.
Picture — Photographs — Portraits. Picture — NLA exhibition 1995.
Call Number: PIC PIC P893
LOC Q93* Last Updated: 2005/04/26

Her entry in the DAA correctly states that Thomas Nevin was appointed to the position of keeper of the Hobart Town Hall in January 1876, and –

Despite a tendency to drink on duty, Nevin remained in the position until 3 December 1880 when he was dismissed for being drunk the previous evening. The more serious charge for which he had been arrested, that he was associated with or was a figure in phosphorescent clothing who had been terrorising local residents by appearing late at night as a ghost, was dismissed for lack of evidence. (p.568)

The source of this story appeared in The Mercury and is included in the Stilwell Index:

Title: [Thomas Nevin dismissed as Town Hall Keeper]
In Mercury 04/12/1880 Page(s): 2, column 6.
Notes Transcribed from Stilwell Index (Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts)
Thomas Nevin dismissed as Town Hall Keeper, lots of amusing detail and fact.Also cited same issue p.3, column 1.
Subjects Nevin, Thomas J., 1842-c. 1922.

Read the full transcript from The Mercury article: “Thos Nevin arrested for acting in concert with the ‘GHOST’here on this site.

Joan Kerr and Geoffrey Stilwell’s entry on page 568 of The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870 dismisses the claim made by Chris Long in the mid 1980s, published in 1995, that A.H. Boyd was the photographer of the cdvs known as the Port Arthur convict cartes, 1874, or that he was a photographer at all. They state:

Some of the seventy cartes-de-visite identification photographs of Port Arthur convicts taken in the 1870s (QVMAG) at about the time the settlement was closed (1876) have been attributed to Nevin because they carry his studio stamp. He possibly held the government contract for this sort of criminal recording work, although Long believes that he was merely a printer or copyist and suggests that the most probable photographer was the commandant A.H. Boyd. However, professional photographers were employed to take identification photographs in Australian prisons from the beginning of the 1870s (see Charles Nettleton) and while a collection of standard portrait photographs and hand-coloured cartes-de-visite undoubtedly by Nevin is in the Archives Office of Tasmania no photographs by Boyd are known.

Information: J.S. Kerr, G.T. Stilwell

These two photohistorians, in other words, resisted Chris Long and his “belief”, and rightly so. Chris Long had disseminated his “belief” about A.H. Boyd in letters. His letter to Nevin descendants in 1984 was duly ignored. It was unfactual and intended to affront.

Two photohistorians who were unsure exactly what claim Chris Long wanted to make in his letter to them about A.H. Boyd were Davies & Stanbury, authors of the earlier A-Z directory of photographers, The Mechanical Eye in Australia (1986).

These authors make mention of a letter from Chris Long in a footnote to this statement (page 201):

Cartes-de-visite of convicts taken at Port Arthur in 1873-74, possibly by the Commandant, A. H. Boyd, [*Footnote 3] survive in the Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston, and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart

*Footnote 3 , page 201: “Letter from Chris Long, formerly at Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston”.

When Chris Long put the name “Adolarious Humphrey Boyd” and “Port Arthur 1873-4” forward to Davies & Stanbury to include in their publication The Mechancial Eye in Australia ca. 1984, these authors had no prior knowledge of any photographer called A.H. Boyd because he wasn’t a photographer. Boyd was a career accountant at Port Arthur from 1857 to 1866, and Commandant there from 1871 to December 1873. In other words, Chris Long persuaded the authors of The Mechanical Eye in Australia, Davies & Stanbury to include an “amateur” photographer called A. H. Boyd who might have taken some photographs of convicts at Port Arthur in 1874. The information about A.H. Boyd which subsequently appeared in the index to their book came not from any prior listing in the SLNSW of images by A. H. Boyd – there are no extant photographs by someone called A.H. Boyd – it came from Chris Long. Alan Davies was Pictures Curator at the State Library of NSW at the time. The SLNSW did not then nor does it now hold any photographs by A. H. Boyd. The only photographer of the period by the name of Boyd in their holdings at the SLNSW is the Sydney photographer Thomas H. Boyd working between 1879-1890s.

Because Davies & Stanbury had never actually seen A. H. Boyd’s name printed on any existing photograph, they made a spelling mistake – copying it from Long’s letter – when including Adolarious Humphrey Boyd in their index on page 136 – they have spelt Adolarious as Adovarious.

They list “T. J. Nevin” in their index on page 204, but without mention of his attribution in 1977 from the QVMAG exhibition as the photographer of Tasmanian convicts. In other words, Long’s misattribution had got a toehold by 1986, and he was obliged from then onwards to maintain the fiction. It duly appeared when he put together the A-Z directory, Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940: A Directory for the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (on page 36. )

When questioned about A.H. Boyd by Nevin descendants, Chris Long said there was a photograph by Boyd at the SLNSW (email 2005)- ONE photograph! There are photographs by several people called Boyd in the SLNSW Collections, e.g. Thomas Boyd, a Sydney photographer, but NOT by A. H. Boyd, and of course, Chris Long could furnish neither a catalogue number nor a description of the subject or format of this ONE and ONLY non-existent photograph. The photograph in question is in fact a reprint by the Ansons brothers of an earlier photograph taken by Clifford & Nevin in the 1870s of the buildings at Port Arthur. It is NOT a photograph of a man in prison clothing, and the only connection to A. H. Boyd is a pencilled note written in modern hand, which was probably added to the mount in 1984. In other words, Chris Long has pushed his own barrow on this “belief” about A. H. Boyd, which has now persisted as a misattribution, and which he based on no extant evidence of any kind.

Another important fact emerged from correspondence to Nevin descendants in 2005: Chris Long did not actually see the three original documents which he cites as the basis for his “interpretation” of evidence of an A. H. Boyd attibution, on page 36 of the Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940: A Directory (1995). He said that Alan Davies had sent him the information – his Sydney source, as he put it.

If Chris Long had actually seen the original documents for himself – which are just way bills – ships cargo and passenger lists to and from Port Arthur 1873-1874 – he would have seen that the photographers and partners Thomas Nevin and Samuel Clifford, who signed themselves “Clifford & Nevin, Hobart Town” on the verso of studio portraits, had travelled regularly to and from Port Arthur in those years.

Samuel Clifford’s photographs taken in 1873, from many vantage points around the Port Arthur site of subjects which include the Commandant’s Cottage and his visiting dignitaries that year, are held at the State Library of Tasmania in substantial numbers, including a series called the Clifford Albums; more than a dozen examples are online at the SLT, and at the SLV.

Hearsay about an unpublished children’s fictional tale originating from a Boyd niece, E.M. Hall in the 1930s, in which the story teller, a young child, mentions a Chief and a camera while on holiday at Port Arthur, has been the cornerstone of Long’s wish to attribute the convict photographs to Boyd. If Chris Long had actually read the children’s tale, called “The Young Explorer”, he would have realized that neither Boyd is mentioned by name, nor any reference to photographing prisoners. Yet Long creates a “darkroom” at Port Arthur and camera equipment, all belonging to A. H. Boyd, purely from this hearsay.

The Nevin entry in the DAA includes a carte by Thomas Nevin of a convict named “Harrison” (pictured). More about this carte here which was also published in Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore.

Photos © KLW NFC 2010 ARR