Cartes-de-visite photographs of convicts by Nettleton and Nevin

Charles Nettleton’s Patents (Victoria)

National Archives of Australia Ref: A2388
Registers of Proprietors of Paintings, Photographs, Works of Art and Sculpture

Charles Nettleton’s government commission to take photographs of the Benevolent Asylum, 
National Museum, the Royal Mint (1873) etc
Photography © KLW NFC 2008 ARR

The numbers appearing on these cartes-de-visite (below) taken by commissioned prison photographers Charles Nettleton (Victoria) and Thomas [T.J.] Nevin (Tasmania) are the copyright registration numbers. Where Nevin’s original 1870s glass negative has been reproduced by copyists such as John Watt Beattie and Edward Searle in the 1910s, the number written on the prints from the glass negative pertains to their claim of patent. In some instances, the same number was used by archivists when numbering copies at the holding institutions, eg. the QVMAG, to circulate to other institutions such as the NLA in the 1960s and 1980s. James Geary’s carte is an example, below.

Nettleton’s vignette of the convict Lowry bears the verso inscription The convict ‘Lowry’. The copyright was registered in 1870, and the photograph received the number “190” handwritten on the recto inside the copyright stamp, a practice which continued in Victoria until 1873.

In Tasmania, Thomas Nevin’s vignettes of prisoners were registered with his government insignia trademark at the Customs House, which housed the Office of the Registrar of Patents, now at the Archives Office of Tasmania Series RGD9/1/1, RGD12, from 1859-1904.

Webshot: Office of the Registrar of Patents (AOT)

State Library of Victoria
“H96.160/1584, a vignette bust portrait.
He [Lowry] wears a shirt and unbuttoned jacket, and has a moustache.”
State Library of Victoria
Nettleton, Charles, 1826-1902, photographer.
Title: The convict ’Lowry’ [picture] / Charles Nettleton.
Accession number(s): H96.160/1584
Date(s) of creation: 1870.
Medium: photograph : albumen silver ;
Dimensions:10 x 6 cm.
Collection: Victorian Patents Office Copyright Collection
Notes: Title inscribed on verso.
Date of copyright registration ascertained from Victorian Patents Office Copyright Collection (VPOCC) Index: Aug. 6 1870.
VPOCC registration number inscribed on item l.c. & l.r.: 189 & 190.
Registered by Frederick Secretair, Russell Street, Melbourne.
Original Picture Collection location number: Env. 24, no. 39 & 40.
Source/Donor: Transferred from The Victorian Patents Office to the Melbourne Public Library 1908. The files which now comprise the Victorian Patents Office Copyright Collection were begun by the Victorian Patents Office in 1870. In order to register copyright, a copy of the photograph, print or illustration was lodged with the Victorian Patents Office at the Melbourne Town Hall. A number was assigned and the photographs were mounted in scrapbooks. The photographs were stamped with the date of registration but this ceased in 1873. The original registers are now in the National Archives of Australia. The Picture Collection holds photocopies of these registers. The registers or indexes contain the following information: Date of registration, name and address of proprietor or author, description of the work and date of first publication. Images were registered from 1870 until 1906. The collection was transferred to the Melbourne Public Library in 1908.”

Tasmanian convict photographs by T. J. Nevin

National Library of Australia
James Gearey [sic], native, taken at Port Arthur, 1874,
Incription on reverse “149” , Pictorial: P1029/16,
NEVIN, Thomas J. 1842-1923, photographer

Thomas [T.J.] Nevin photographed James Geary (the NLA has mispelt his name) no earlier than the 20th February, 1874 on the occasion of Geary’s discharge from the Hobart Gaol where he was incarcerated for escaping from the House of Corrections, and no later than his arrest, recorded in the police gazette for the week of 13th November, 1874. He was listed as “Free” when arraigned for horse-stealing in the Supreme Court, Hobart on 1st December, 1874. Mr Superintendent Richard Propsting, Nevin’s supervisor at the Town Hall’s Municipal Police Office, recovered the stolen horse etc.


James Geary absconded from the Hobart Commissariat Stores, police gazette notice of 22nd April 1870. He was serving a sentence of 6 yrs for cattle-stealing, tried 7th July 1868, Hobart.

James Geary was arrested by Sub-Inspector Dorsett, 20 May 1870. Thomas Nevin often accompanied Sub-Inspector Dorsett as assistant bailiff, a service he continued through to 1886.

Geary was photographed by Nevin on being discharged from the Police Office on 20th February 1874.

But Geary reoffended. Warrant for his arrest issued on 6th November 1874

Geary was arrested again on 13th November, 1874, Supt Propsting etc

Geary was arraigned and photographed again by Nevin at the Hobart Supreme Court on 1st December, 1874.

A reproduction of the carte by government photographer John Watt Beattie in the early 1900s for his trade in convictaria at his Hobart museum included the inscription verso “Taken at Port Arthur, 1874” which was the Edwardian equivalent of a batch edit, applied regardless of the actual time and place of original photographic capture. The details that this convict was “native” (a local offender), as well as the patent number assigned to Beattie, were transcribed from the patents registrar, and not from the prisoner’s record sheet or police documents which bore an entirely different set of numbers.

The 1870s originals were intended to be pasted to the prisoner’s record sheet. A similar photograph (unattributed) of convict George Miller dated 1881 is held in the State Archives of NSW. All three of these vignettes were produced within the conventions of commercial studio portraiture typical of 1870s prison photography in Australia when professional photographers were contracted under tender: the use of albumen, an oval frame, a darkened background in many instances, and the subject posed with sight lines to either semi-left or semi- right of frame. Very few absolute profile photographs were taken by these 1870s photographers, a feature of later prison photography influenced by the Bertillon method. See also this entry “Prison photographers Nettleton, Nevin and Crawford” for the vignette of Ned Kelly attributed to Nettleton, and for Frazer Crawford’s account of his methods used to photograph prisoners in South Australia in 1867.

Gaol Photograph of George Miller [NRS 2138 Vol. 3/6044 Photo No. 2688 p. 219]
Unattributed photo: NSW State Archives

RELATED POSTS main weblog