Elizabeth Nevin’s souvenir cruet of the Model Prison

Souvenir Cruet of the Model Prison

This piece of souvenir ware was “Made in Germany, “, and was either “57” in a series or made at a coded location, according to the mark on the bottom of the large bowl bearing an image on the front of what claims to represent the ruins of the Model Prison at the Port Arthur penitentiary, Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania.

Port Arthur souvenir ware made in Germany

Photo © KLW NFC Imprint 2005-2009 ARR.
Watermarked image.

The three bowls constitute a cruet for mustard, salt, and pepper with a shaker lid.The inscription printed below the image states:

“ENTRANCE TO DUMB CELL, MODEL PRISON, PORT ARTHUR, TAS.”

Since it was originally the possession of photographer Thomas Nevin’s wife, Elizabeth Rachel Nevin (1847-1914), and remains in the Nevin family, it probably dates from ca. 1900. The palm trees appear to have been incorporated at the time of manufacture in Germany, and the prison image was most likely added after importation by local artisans; their repetoire of images would have been chosen to suit the particular site or occasion.

Photo historian Jack Cato remarked in his publication The Story of the Camera in Australia (1955:168) that photographer W.H. Carl Burrows (fl. 1876-1895, Launceston, and at Alba Studios Hobart 1900s) was the first in Tasmania to do photo ceramics –

” … burning his landscapes on to china plates, cups and saucers. His clever daughters, named alphabetically from Eunice down to Octavius the son, painted medallions of wildflowers, mountain berries, and waratah that sold like hot cakes to the tourists. (1955:168).

The inscription printed below the image states:

“ENTRANCE TO DUMB CELL, MODEL PRISON, PORT ARTHUR, TAS.”

These images are watermarked.
Photography and souvenir cruet from © KLW NFC Private Collection
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint ARR

A Brief History of the Dumb Cells
The separate prison – called The Model – was built at Port Arthur between 1848 and 1852. Fifty cells, arranged in three wings radiated from a central hall from which each wing was visible. The fourth wing contained the Chapel with fifty separate wooden stalls. There were four exercise yards, one of which was for convicts removed to one of the two Dumb Cells for a few days of severe punishment.

Source: Archives Office of Tasmania Ref: 30/4536

Pictured here is the entrance to one of the Dumb Cells, marked with an “X” , taken ca 1890 and printed by John Watt Beattie. The entrance to the Dumb Cells was through an outer door from the exercise yard, and then through three inner doors.

Diagram of Model Prison

The Hobart newspaper The Mercury reported on the 18th February, 1877:

“The two Dumb Cells are situated on either side of the right wing, with no windows or external entrance save through the internal exercise yard door, and then through three more inner doors. When the outer door alone was closed, the interior was perfectly dark and no sound could enter or escape.”

Source:  Weidenhofer, Maggie, Port Arthur: A Place of Misery (1981,1990, p.77)

Text: Separate Prison
Men under Strict Separate Treatment confined in the Separate Prison October 1867
Mitchell Library NSW Manuscripts Original : B 5

Detail of frontispiece photo © KLW NFC 2009 ARR



The David Scott Mitchell Collection
Photo © KLW NFC 2009 ARR

The Mitchell Library, SLNSW, holds the original documents detailing the names of prisoners incarcerated in the Model prison 1860s-1870s, together with their activities and general behaviour, per this catalogue entry:

SLNSW Mitchell Library
Title : Convict Department – Separate Prison Reports, 1867-1871
Creator : Tasmania. Convict Department
Date of Work : 1867-1871
Type of Material : Manuscripts Ask for : Original : B 5
Physical Description : Collection comprises – 1 volume – 0.02 metres
Admin / Biog Notes : The Separate Prison was located in the colonial penal establishment at Port Arthur, Tasmania. It opened in 1849 and provided the most severe measures of punishment. Here, constant surveillance, solitary confinement and silence were considered the way to reform. The building was a small modified version of the Pentonville Prison in London. It contained individual cells built around a four-wing radial design that ensured constant surveillance, as well as two dumb cells and a separate chapel.
Contents : 1 October 1867 – 4 July 1871; Each page is headed with the name of a convict and the ship he arrived on. Beneath this are entries in columns under the titles of Week ending, Employment, Class, Amount of Work performed, Conduct, Industry, Signature of Officer in Charge (A.W., John Cassidy, M. McCarthy, and P.M. Guinness), and earnings letter.
Inscriptions : Titled from handwritten inscription on paper plate affixed to front endpaper of volume, “No.38 / Separate Prison. / Men under strict separate / treatment confined in / the Separate Prison.- / October 1867-“Embossed on spine, “Convicts / Separate / Prison / Reports / 1867-71”
Notes : Pages are ruled into columns and rows of a table and an account book.Some entries note, “Discharge to Hobart Town”, implying that the prison is elsewhere in Tasmania.There are pin holes evident in the pages indicating that there were additional notes and papers.Volume was bound in July 1933.David Scott Mitchell bookplate inside front cover.”D.S. Mitchell” signature at front of original volume.
Source : Bequeathed by D.S. Mitchell, 1907
Place : Port Arthur (Tas.)
LC Subject : Convicts — Tasmania.David Scott Mitchell Collection.Prisons — Tasmania — Port Arthur.
Call no. : B 5

Photo taken at Mitchell Library NSW © KLW NFC 2009 ARR
Read more about these Separate Model Prison records for Edward Beaver and George White as Nut [sic,i.e. Nutt] – see this article here.

STORM IN A TEA SET
We approached the Port Arthur Historic Site in 2005 for any information the museum there might have about early Port Arthur souvenir ware. The PAHS Collections and Interpretation Manager, Julia Clark, took these photographs of what is supposedly a piece from a tea set held on site, and despite their abject quality which made them useless for any discernible purpose, let alone display, submitted them to this weblog as a “courtesy”:

Tea set 001 and 002 “courtesy” of PAHS 2005.

The PAHS proved to be very sensitive about these ridiculous photographs. They are the visual equivalent of the lamentable standard of “research” conducted by Julia Clark on Thomas J. Nevin’s prison photographs taken at the Port Arthur prison and Hobart Gaol in the 1870s. This government employee of the PAHSMA proved to be so sensitive to criticism as to seek revenge by attempting to wipe Nevin’s name from the photographic records of Tasmanian prison history, in the name of government funded “research” at which she is as inept as she is at photographing tea sets. The incident has earned Julia Clark the nick name “the Port Arthur shooter”, which the PAHSMA and the Tasmanian public and taxpayer can ill afford to encourage.

Sensitivity about convictism and crockery has a precedent in the Tasmanian House of Assembly. As Terry Newman recounts it in History Briefs, Parliamentary History Project, this incident over a story of a teapot took place in 1894:

“Teapot Tumult
Tasmanian politics during the 1890s was full of federal tension, but other undercurrents persisted, one of which was convictism. Despite the cessation of transportation having occurred over four decades previously (August 1853), any mention of the convict past was still sensitive, especially so if it was made personally as occurred in the House of Assembly in July 1894.

During debate on the Legal Practitioners Bill a lawyer, George Crosby Gilmore (MHA George Town), perpetrated a seemingly mild verbal assault on Allan MacDonald (MHA North Launceston), a co-founder of the Liberal Progressive League, and operator of a ‘crockery shop.’ ‘In the Chamber while the House was at work’ MacDonald was, so the newspapers reported, taking a ‘warm interest’ in the Bill, and his contribution was followed by Gilmore’s, who began to tell the House a story of a teapot.

Left: G. C. Gilmore (1860-1937)
Right: Allan Macdonald (c1853-1898)

Gilmore had apparently purchased a teapot in Launceston, from ‘someone not a hundred miles from here’, but had found that it had been broken and glued, and when he tried to return it he was simply told that it was the ‘way it had been sent out from England.’ According to newspaper reports MacDonald interjected, saying that Gilmore was ‘sent out in the same condition as the teapot’. What this actually meant was unclear, although Gilmore took it to mean that he was a convict or, as he put it, ‘had convict blood in my veins’. Therefore he demanded an apology, but MacDonald refused, and debate continued. When eventually a parliamentary division was called for on the Legal Practitioners Bill the two parliamentarians in question went to opposite sides of the Chamber. However, while on his feet Gilmore apparently went over to MacDonald and twice repeated his demand for an apology, which was repeatedly refused. At this Gilmore struck MacDonald a ‘resounding blow on the face’ and simply walked on to where he could cast his vote on the Bill.

Shocked by the events, the Premier Edward Braddon drew the attention of the Chairman of Committees, John George Davies, to the blow. Accordingly, Davies finished recording the vote on the question before leaving the Chair. The Speaker, Stafford Bird, resumed the Chair and duly took note of the ‘disorder’. Gilmore immediately apologised for his actions, but added that the convict allusion was the ‘gravest and grossest provocation’. To compound the matter, Gilmore then used unparliamentary language — he said that MacDonald had lied, which term the Speaker required that Gilmore withdraw.

Other Members, such as Sir Elliott Lewis, said that he had been sitting ‘between’ the two MHAs, and that MacDonald had indeed said that Gilmore had been ‘sent out’. Worse still, Gilmore suggested that he would settle the matter with MacDonald ‘outside’, which the Speaker took as a threat as Gilmore’s tone carried a ‘most aggravated sound.’ After further debate Gilmore finally withdrew the ‘threat’. For his part in the ‘teapot’ tumult MacDonald made a statement that Gilmore’s interpretation of his remarks had been ‘erroneous’. He had only meant to refer to Gilmore’s legal background, he was ‘sent out a lawyer like the teapot’.

Moreover, MacDonald refused to apologise under ‘threat’ and adding fuel to the fire explained that during the division he had said to Gilmore that ‘I always thought you were a fool and now I am convinced that you are a fool’, upon which Gilmore had struck him! After an attempt was made by Braddon to exclude Gilmore for the rest of the session he was ‘suspended from attendance in his place during this evening’s sitting’ only. The ‘teapot’ incident was over.
Terry Newman January 2007
Parliamentary History Project”