Sir Francis Smith, the death warrant, and the photographer

TASMANIA SUPREME COURT Death warrants 1883-84
CHIEF JUSTICE Sir Francis Villeneuve Smith

Detail: hand-tinting on photograph by T. J. Nevin of James Sutherland, June 1883
Carte-de-visite in buff mount pasted on page opposite of Sutherland’s death warrant
Death Warrants V.D.L. Tasmania Supreme Court. Mitchell Library C203.
Photos copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2009

The death warrant for the execution of James Sutherland at the Hobart Gaol 1883 was signed by Chief Justice Sir Francis Villeneuve Smith. The black seal attached to these Supreme Court of Tasmania warrants is the Royal Arms insignia used by the colonial government on all their judicial documents. It was also designated for use as Thomas J. Nevin’s government contractor studio stamp which was printed on the versos of prisoner photographs (one per batch of 100 was submitted for his commission while still operating as a commercial photographer), and on the versos of photographs taken of government officials and their families (extant in public collections at the QVMAG, the SLNSW, the TMAG, the NZNL, and in private collections.)

T, J. Nevin’s photographs of prisoners James Mullins on left and William Smith on right in full prison uniform
Versos below:

Photographs of prisoners James Mullins on left and William Smith on right in full prison uniform
Versos bear T. J. Nevin’s government contractor stamp with Royal Arms insignia.
State Library NSW Ref: PXB 274
Photos taken at the State Library NSW
Copyright © KLW NFC 2009-14 ARR

Sir Francis Villeneuve Smith (1818-1890) ca. late 1870s
1 photograph : sepia toning ; 14 x 10 cm.
Title inscribed in pencil beneath image in unknown hand.
In: Members of the Parliaments of Tasmania – no. 66 / photographed by J.W. Beattie.
Location: Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts

Although this photograph is accredited to J.W. Beattie (1859-1930) by the State Library of Tasmania, it is a reprint made several decades later than the original capture taken possibly in the late 1870s.  Here the Tasmanian administrator, Attorney-General and Chief Justice, who was born in 1818, looks like a man in his fifties. He appears to be about 15 years older than his earlier 1860s portrait by Reutlinger, Paris 1860s  (below) which portrays a man in his early forties. Sir Francis Smith would have been an old man of eighty years or so by the time J. W. Beattie produced his Members of the Parliaments of Tasmania series in 1895-1900, and clearly this is not a portrait of an eighty year old. It is yet another reprint by Beattie without acknowledgement to the original photographer.

In 1872, Sir Francis Smith left Tasmania on 18 months’ leave. Within a month the Government Printer James Barnard (1809?-1897), had also requested leave of absence. These documents give details.

TRE1/1/363 1154 – Correspondence re. Payment of Chief Justice Francis Smith’s Salary While on 18 Months Leave from the Colony 12 Feb 1872- 19 Feb 1872

TRE1/1/376 1170 – Request for Leave of Absence- James Barnard at the Government Printing Office 08 Mar 1872 – 09 Mar 1872 (Archives Office Tasmania records)

On his return to duty in Hobart, 1874, Sir Francis Villeneuve Smith served the Governor Charles Du Cane as administrator, although he was soon to become involved in a controversy between the Governor and the judges, on matters of pardons, remissions and reprieves of offenders.
Revised instructions …

… defined the Executive Council as the responsible advisers of the Governor, and required that he should be guided by their advice, except that he could act against it if he saw “sufficient cause”; laid down the classes of legislation to which he could not assent, and required that he should not give his assent to a bill unless he had had previous instructions from the Secretary of State to do so, unless it contained a clause suspending its operation until the Royal pleasure was known, or unless it was a case of “urgent necessity”. The Governor must still use “his own deliberate judgement” in considering in the Executive Council whether an offender under sentence of death should be pardoned or reprieved.

(AOT Guide to Records Chapter 2)

And by December 1877, Governor Frederick Weld was objecting to the possibility of Francis Smith as Chief Justice becoming the Administrator. With support from “a large and influential party” they looked upon Sir Francis Smith –

” … as their political opponent, and the personal enemy of their leader (Reibey). “… this combined with his unmeasured hostility to myself personaIly … & still more the means he uses, would render it inexpedient on public grounds for me to leave the Government or the private records of the Governor’s Office in his hands.” Weld therefore suggested that it would be far less objectionable for a President of the Legislative Council than for a Chief Justice to act in the place of the Governor.”

(AOT Guide to Records Chapter 2)

The Governor’s Secretary for the Penal Establishments was Charles Torrens Belstead, 1 May 1869 – 1877; it was during his term that the transition of imperial convicts to colonial government supervision occurred.

In the photograph above, Sir Francis Smith is examining a carte-de-visite. Who was the photographer of both Smith’s portrait and the carte he holds? It is an usual and very informal photograph for a portrait of a senior government official and suggests that the circumstances occasioning the capture had everything to do with his assessment of the photographer standing before him, and the photographer’s work.

Given that this photograph was sourced in Tasmania by Beattie ca 1895, it was most likely taken by a Tasmanian photographer. From May 1873, at the time the decision was made by the Chief Justice to accelerate the transfer of paupers and prisoners at Port Arthur to the Hobart Gaol under the supervision of the Surgeon-Commandant Dr Coverdale, the photographer contracted at the Hobart Gaol was T. J. Nevin. The paupers were not photographed and were housed in welfare depots. Most of the transferees – 109 in all – were received at the Hobart Gaol where Nevin photographed them on arrival if they had not already been photographed at their Supreme Court trial. Those with a ticket-of-leave, those who absconded and those who re-offended earned another sentence and a further mugshot by the government contractor, T. J. Nevin.

The photographer of this portrait of Sir Francis Smith may have been Thomas Nevin and the carte-de-visite Francis Smith is holding may be one of the several hundred of Tasmanian prisoners taken by the brothers Thomas J. Nevin and Constable John Nevin over the decade 1872-1888 for the Tasmania Supreme Court, the Hobart Gaol and the Municipal Police Office at the Hobart Town Hall. The photograph he is assessing here may be the hand-tinted cdv pasted next to James Sutherland’s warrant, or Nevin’s mugshot of George Fisher, the prisoner who broke into Sir Francis Smith’s home in August 1877 and stole personal property, including clothing. Fisher was sentenced by Sir Francis Smith to 12 years at the Hobart Gaol.

Archives Office of Tasmania
Guide to the Public Records of Tasmania – Section Two –
Governor’s Office Record Group

Succession of Governors and Administrators

  • Colonel Thomas F. Gore Browne, 25th Regiment, 11 Dec. 1861-30 Dec. 1868.
    • Lieutenant-Colonel William C. Trevor, 14th Regiment (Administrator), 30 Dec. 1868-15 Jan. 1869.
  • Charles Du Cane Esq., 15 Jan. 1869-28 Nov. 1874.
    • Sir Francis Smith (Administrator), 30 Nov. 1874-13 Jan. 1875,
  • Frederick A. Weld, Esq., 13 Jan. 1875-5 Apr. 1880.
    • Sir Francis Smith (Administrator), 6 Apr.-21 Oct. 1880.
    • Lieut.-General Sir John Henry Lefroy, R.A., (Administrator), 21 Oct. 1880-Dec. 1881.
  • Sir George C. Strahan, R.A., 7 Dec. 1881-28 Oct. 1886.
    • W. R. Giblin, Esq., (Administrator), 29 Oct.-18 Nov. 1886.
    • Sir William L. Dobson (Administrator), 18 Nov. 1886-11 Mar. 1887.
  • Sir Robert G. C. Hamilton, 11 Mar. 1887-30 Nov. 1892.
    • Sir William L. Dobson (Administrator), 1 Dec. 1892-8 Aug. 1893.
  • Rt. Hon. J. W. Joseph, Viscount Gormanston, 8 Aug. 1893-14 Aug. 1900.

Sir Francis Smith (1818-1909)
Creator(s): Reutlinger, Charles
Date: 186-?
Location: Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts

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