First-born child May Nevin and the China trade soapstone vase

May Nevin (baptised as Mary Florence Elizabeth Nevin, 1872-1955) was born a fortnight before the great Glenorchy landslip which destroyed houses, farms, businesses and streets and tore boulders and vegetation from the slopes of Mount Wellington. She was born on 19th May 1872  and died to the day exactly 83 yrs later on the anniversary of the great landslip, on 4th June 1955. She was the first child born to Elizabeth Rachel Day and Thomas James Nevin who were  married at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kangaroo Valley (Hobart) on July 12, 1871. May was born at Thomas Nevin’s studio, The City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth Street, Hobart. She died in 1955 and was buried within the denomination of the Church of England at the Cornelian Bay cemetery.

May Nevin’s soapstone vase
Photo © KLW NFC Imprint Private Collection ARR 2003-2015

May was the child who witnessed the expansion of her father’s commercial studio practice in the early 1870s to include his commissions with the Hobart City Council’s Lands and Survey Department and the Hobart Municipal Police Office working in prisons. She was the child whose father was also a police photographer and whose uncle Jack (John Nevin jnr) was a Constable at the Cascades and Hobart Gaols. Her education was significantly enhanced by ready access to the world’s newspapers and books held in the Public Library, housed within the Hobart Town Hall, when her parents took up residency there on her father’s appointment to the civil service in 1876.

In a sense, May Nevin was the beneficiary of her grandparents’ military and merchant navy careers. Her maternal grandfather master mariner Captain James Day served in Australian and international waters for many years from the 1830s until his death in 1882. Her paternal grandfather John Nevin served in the Royal Scots from 1825-1841 in the West Indies and at the Canadian Rebellions, and arrived as warden of Parkhurst boys on the Fairlie 1852 with his wife Mary and May’s father Thomas James, her uncle Jack (William John), and aunts Rebecca Jane and Mary Ann.

May also inherited her parents’ cultural interests and memorabilia. She lived long enough to witness the trajectory of her father’s career from young photographer to police agent to civil servant to horse trainer, and saw as well the arrival of six more of her siblings. She saw the arrival of her siblings’ children who knew her as Aunty May, and saw the arrival of their children in turn, who knew her as Great Aunty May. In 1955, her wake was held in the big house at 23 Newdegate Street, North Hobart, where her siblings George, William, and Albert also had resided from the 1920s, soon after their father Thomas’ death in 1923. The house contained many beautiful objects and furniture pieces dating from the mid 1870s, including the China trade soapstone vase (pictured below). Her wake in the big house was attended by the grand daughters of her siblings Minnie Drew and her youngest brother Albert Nevin who died in the same year, 1955. The longest survivor of all of May’s siblings was Minnie Drew, born as Mary Ann Nevin in 1884. Minnie Drew died in 1974, aged 90 yrs. See this article for photographs and details of her siblings, children of Elizabeth and Thomas Nevin.

May Nevin never married. She inherited her looks from her father’s side of the family rather than from her mother’s side (tall and thin, the “cornstalk” look). Her occupation on the Denison electoral rolls in 1905 was listed as “dressmaker”. Her closest friends were her cousins, the Axups. They were the daughters and sons of Mary Sophia Day, her mother’s sister who married mariner Hector Axup in 1878 at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kangaroo Valley. A few photographs of May Nevin survive, held in the Shelverton Collection, the Axup-Davis Collection, and the private collections of Albert Nevin’s descendants.

[Above]: Minnie Nevin on extreme left, and her sister May Nevin on extreme right, with their aunt, their mother’s sister Mary Sophia Axup and her daughter Eva Baldwin ca 1938.
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint ARR.

[Above]:  MAY (Mary Florence) NEVIN (1872-1955), ca. 1950
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2005 ARR.

[Above]: Mary Florence Nevin, known as May Nevin, second from right in fur coat, pictured here with her aunt Mary Sophia Axup, third from right, and her Axup cousins, Sid (on left), Ethel (behind)  and Eva (extreme right)
Copyright  © The Axup Family and John Davis Collections ARR.

This beautifully carved China trade soapstone vase belonged to May’s parents, Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin. It may have been acquired by Elizabeth Nevin’s father, master mariner Captain James Day, on one of his voyages between 1830 and 1880, or even by her uncle Captain Edward Goldsmith. A very similar vase is held by John Davis and the descendants of Mary Sophia Axup, Captain James Day’s younger daughter. Both daughters were named as legatees in Captain Goldsmith’s will of 1869. May Nevin passed this vase on to her youngest brother, Albert and his wife Emily, and from Emily it was passed on to one of her grandchildren (KLW Private Collection).

19th century China trade soapstone vase
Photography and vase copyright © KLW NFC Imprint Private Collection 2007 – 2015 ARR. 
These images are watermarked

Back of 19th century China trade soapstone vase
Photography and vase copyright © KLW NFC Imprint Private Collection 2007 – 2015 ARR. 
These images are watermarked.

The vase may have arrived in Tasmania aboard a barque such as the Lufra, which was built in 1870 for the China trade and bought by Captain Alexander McGregor in 1874. The barque  “plied the Hobart-London route for 23 years, her [its] fastest trip lasting only 79 days” according to Dan Sprod, Victorian and Edwardian Hobart From Old Photographs, (1977 Ferguson).

State Library of Tasmania
Title: Clipper ship “Lufra,” 672 tons
Creator: Baily, Henry Hall, fl.1865-1880
Title: printed below image., Mounted size 31 x 38 cm.,
Notes: Believed to have been photographed by H.H. Bailey., Built in 1870 by McGregors Shipyard ; re-rigged as a barque in 1874 ; sold 1887 to L. Castellano of Naples ; broken up in 1905.
Publisher: State Library of Tasmania
Format: 1 photograph : b&w ; 18 x 26 cm.
Location: W.L. Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania