University of Sydney’s Professor Joan KERR (1938-2004) conducted research in collaboration with Special Collections Librarian at the State Library of Tasmania, G. T. Stilwell, on professional photographer 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
Entry of Thomas J. Nevin, pp 568-9 in 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 Dictionary of Australian Artists Online (DAAO at https://www.daao.org.au/), administered by the University of NSW, has become another contributor, albeit a highly skeptical one, to the myth that the Port Arthur Commandant, A.H. Boyd (June 1871 – December 1873) was a photographer (i.e. an “artist”, hence the inclusion), simply by association with Thomas Nevin’s photographs of Tasmanian convicts.
Print edition 1992
Photo © KLW NFC 2010 ARR
Our point is this: A H Boyd was NOT a photographer (a corrupt accountant, in fact), and therefore – in the terms of the DAAO – not an ARTIST – and so the DAAO should NOT have an entry for him. If the DAAO retains the entry, the logic they are using goes something like this: “Paul Keating was a politician, he administered money to give to artists, therefore he was an artist”. Furthermore, by associating A. H. Boyd with T. J. Nevin, the prisons photographer, the logic goes like this: “Peter Sculthorpe wrote Variations on the Sunrise (a fictional example) with a grant from Paul Keating’s government, therefore Paul Keating was the composer of Variations on the Sunrise” etc etc etc…
The DAAO specifically states at this URL – http://www.daao.org.au/intro/about.html – that a person eligible for inclusion should meet these criteria:
Who classifies as an Australian Artist?
An Australian artist is defined as a person, living or dead, who:
— has a body of artistic work
— considers themselves to be an artist
— is considered by others to be an artist
— is a resident or citizen or is known as an Australian.
A.H. Boyd was NOT a photographer, NOT an Australian artist, NOT considered by himself or by others in his lifetime or subsequently to be classified as one, so WHY is the entry here in the DAAO?
This is the DAAO entry for A. H. Boyd, as this point in time (May 2009.) What follows on the DAAO entries are supplementary comments from this weblog:
THE DAAO ENTRY for Adolarious Humphrey Boyd (2009)
photographer [!] and penal officer, was commandant at the Port Arthur convict settlement from June 1871 to March 1874. Chris Long points out that in 1873 Boyd ordered 288 glass plates and a case of photographic equipment for Port Arthur, while a photo stand and portable studio/darkroom tent were sent on to him personally from Port Arthur in April 1874 after he left the station. Long considers this proves that Boyd was an enthusiastic amateur photographer and took the large collection of extant cdv portraits of Port Arthur convicts (c. 1874, QWMAG, AOT, TMAG) – the first photographic portraits known of Tasmanian convicts. Some of the prints, however, carry T.J. Nevin‘s stamp on the back, which Long thinks may be commercial copies of the works (see Monte Scott and J. Hunter Kerr). But it seems more likely that Boyd commissioned Nevin to come down from Hobart Town and take the convicts as a straight commercial job, in the same way as Nevin was commissioned to take a Hobart firm’s full range of coaches, especially since commercial mainland photographers like Nettleton were already taking prison photos by this date. If so, Boyd would have been responsible for ordering photographic and other supplies for an employee. Even so, Boyd must have had considerable enthusiasm for photography to have bothered to go to the expense and effort to get permission and payment for the experiment.
This entry is a stub. You can help the DAAO by submitting a biography.
And then there is this inane comment in the SUMMARY:
An amateur photographer, Adolarious Humphrey Boyd took photographs of convicts in Tasmania (not surprising given his job as a penal officer).
What? It is very surprising, given that he was NOT a photographer!
COMMENTS from this weblog:
Despite the claim of the reviewer(s) of this DAAO entry to elevate A H Boyd’s status to “photographer/artist” besides an association with Thomas J. Nevin’s convict photographs, the Mitchell Library SLNSW DOES NOT have a record of any photograph catalogued at PXD 511 f.10, titled “Port Arthur during ocupation. Enlargement from a stereoscopic view by A.H. Boyd Esq”. The only photograph with a similar title is cataogued at the Mitchell as: Photographic Views in Tasmania [being mainly of Hobart and Port Arthur, ca. 1878-1895] / by Anson Brothers Creator : Anson Brothers Date of Work : ca. 1878-1895 Type of Material : Pictures Ask for : Original : PX*D 221 21. Port Arthur During Convict Occupation. No photographs exist or ever existed by A.H. Boyd. The Mitchell Library’s Tasmanian Papers Ref: 320 cearly show the arrival of Thomas Nevin on May 8th, 1874 at Port Arthur, in the same year 1874 which appears transcribed on the verso on several convict cartes (eg NLA Collection of convict portraits Port Arthur 1874). No photographer’s studio stamp other than Nevin’s appears on these convict cartes. Nevin’s trademark for this contract was submitted and maintained for 14 years under the official Trademarks Act of 1864(NAA).
The DAAO specifically states at this URL – http://www.daao.org.au/intro/about.html – that a person eligible for inclusion should meet these criteria: Who classifies as an Australian Artist? An Australian artist is defined as a person, living or dead, who: — has a body of artistic work — considers themselves to be an artist — is considered by others to be an artist — is a resident or citizen or is known as an Australian. A.H. Boyd was NOT a photographer, NOT an Australian artist, NOT considered by himself or by others in his lifetime or subsequently to be classified as one, so WHY is the entry here in the DAAO??
Thomas Nevin took a photograph of the Queen’s Orphan School (1864) for its administrator, Dr John Coverdale whose predecessor Adolarious Humphrey Boyd was dismissed from the post after less than two years as Superintendent (July 1862-October 1864). This same A. H. Boyd was despised by the public throughout his career as an administrator of the Orphan School, as Commandant of the Port Arthur Penitentiary, and administrator of the Cascades Asylum for Paupers, evidence of which proliferates in Parliamentary Papers seeking his dismissal, and in newspaper articles of the day decrying his bullying of staff and misuse of public funds. A. H. Boyd’s descendants in the 1980s – who appear to have inherited their ancestor’s nasty disposition – desperately tried to bring him up from history smelling like roses with a photographic attribution to the hundreds of extant police mugshots taken by Thomas Nevin in the 1870s. A. H. Boyd was no photographer, amateur, official or otherwise, in fact, no single document or photograph exists which substantiates the ridiculous and aggressive deceptions of Boyd’s descendants to credit him as a photographer “artist” of any persuasion. No doubt Boyd knew Thomas Nevin from his work such as this photograph of the St. John’s Church and Orphanages, and from Nevin’s studio portraiture at Alfred Bock’s in the early 1860s. He knew too that his brother-in-law, the Hon. W. R. Giblin, Attorney-General 1870-77, was Thomas Nevin’s family solicitor. A. H. Boyd’s misogyny cost him the job of Superintendent at the Orphan School. He was dismissed in October 1864.
A.H. Boyd (1829-1891) was an accountant at the Port Arthur prison in 1853, superintendent of the Queen’s Orphan School (July 1862-October 1864), stipendiary magistrate at Huon (1866-1870), and Civil Commandant of Port Arthur (June 1871-December 1873), a position he was forced to resign because of allegations of corruption and nepotism implicating his brother-in-law Attorney-General W. R. Giblin. He was not a photographer. A. H. Boyd had no reputation during his life time as a photographer, and no photographic work exists by A. H. Boyd. His “amateur photographer” status originated with Chris Long (1985, 1995) from the singular circumstance of Boyd’s presence at the Port Arthur site in 1873, a date which only approximates the date “1874” written on the verso of several extant convict cartes (Davies & Stanbury, 1985; Kerr & Stilwell, 1992; Long, 1995; Reeder, 1995). The assumption was that a cargo of photographic plates sent to Port Arthur in July 1873 was used by Boyd to take photographs of the prisoners there; research has shown the plates were accompanied by T. J. Nevin’s partner Samuel Clifford and used to photograph the site’s buildings, visiting dignitaries, and the surrounding landscape (Tasmanian Papers Mitchell Library Ref: 320). It was assumed that the wet plate process was used by the photographer at Port Arthur, but Clifford was known for his proficiency in dry plate photography (Kerr, 1992). It was also assumed that other photographic equipment returned to Hobart in April 1874 – a tent and stand – was Boyd’s personal property, but the only property that is listed as Boyd’s is “1 child’s carriage, 1 package Deer Horns, 1 Hat Box, Leather, 1 package of Buttons [?]” accompanied by his wife who was a passenger. Because these assumptions were published as a “belief” in the A-Z reference, Tasmanian Photographers 18401-940: A Directory (1995: TMAG, Gillian Winter ed), several publishers and curators in the past decade have mistaken the “belief” about Boyd to be an attribution as photographer of convicts. The surviving photographs of Tasmanian convicts in public holdings from the 1870s to the early 1880s were taken by the commercial photographer Thomas J. Nevin on contract to the Lands and Survey Dept of the Hobart City Council and Hobart Gaol, in terms identical to Nettleton’s generic practice under contract to the Victorian prison system, 1873-1880. Extensive research on the work of Thomas [T.J.] Nevin based on original documentation can be accessed at http://tasmanianphotographer.blogspot.com
Below is the entry by the DAAO on Nevin which omits several important details supplied by his biographers Professor Joan Kerr and Specialist Collections Librarian G.T. Stilwell in the prototype publication The Dictionary of Australian Artists and Photographers to 1870 (Kerr, ed. 1992) from which the DAAO staff writers claim to draw their information.
2. THE DAAO ENTRY for Thomas J. Nevin (2008)
professional photographer and civil servant, was born near Belfast, Ireland. From 1867 until the end of 1875 he worked alone as a commercial photographer from Alfred Bock‘s former studio at 140 Elizabeth Street, Hobart, except for a period in the early 1870s when the firm became Nevin & Smith. (Smith has not been identified.) The bulk of the practice was the normal one of taking views, mainly of and around Hobart, like the stereo photo New Town from the Public School (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery), and carte de visite portraits which were apparently of lower middle-class sitters to judge from the collection of standard portrait photographs and hand-coloured cartes-de-visite in the Archives Office of Tasmania. Larger commissions included photographing the full range of coaches used by Samuel Page’s firm in the early 1870s.
Seventy cdv identification photographs of Port Arthur convicts taken in about 1874 (Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery), two years before the settlement was closed, have been attributed to Nevin because several of them carry his studio stamp. Long, however, believes he was merely the printer or copyist of these and claims that the Port Arthur commandant A.H. Boyd was the sole Port Arthur convict photographer. Professional photographers, however, were employed to take identification photographs in mainland Australian prisons from the beginning of the 1870s (see Charles Nettleton) and these Port Arthur portraits fit the genre. Moreover, the darkroom Boyd authorised in the Port Arthur garden was not necessarily for his own use; no photographs taken by him have been identified.
Nevin’s photographic career ended abruptly at the end of 1875 and on 8 January 1876 the studio was advertised for lease. ‘Mr Thomas Nevin, photographer’, had been appointed over twenty-three other applicants to the office of keeper at the Hobart Town Hall following the death of the former keeper Mr Needham. Despite a tendency to drink on duty, he 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.
COMMENTS from this weblog:
Our comments, heavily edited by the DAAO (March 2008):
Thomas Nevin’s photographic career did not end abruptly in 1876 when he took the position of keeper (1876-1880) of the Hobart Town Hall, the location of the Police Office with cells in the basement. He maintained photographic studios at 140 Elizabeth St, Hobart Town and at New Town (Hobart) from c.1865 until the mid 1880s while working continuously as both commercial photographer and government photographer in prisons. He was also a Special Constable. He did not work alone: his partners were the photographers Alfred Bock, Samuel Clifford, Nevin & Smith (of Smiths studio, Hobart 1865), and his brother Jack Nevin (Hobart Gaol). His sitters and private clientele were from all classes and callings(that they appeared poorly dressed to Chris Long (1995:68) is just a sniffy 20th century view of clothing in the 1870s, and the source of the comment regarding “lower-middle class”); his clients included the Attorney-General and Premier W.R. Giblin whose portrait is held at the Archives Office of Tasmania; merchants and seamen (photos lithographed as advertisements for Samuel Page’s coach line); women in Sunday best; Wesleyans; children (1868, with Smith, SLV); all members of his immediate family (parents, siblings, wife and in-laws); and other photographers. The number of photographs of Port Arthur convicts/Tasmanian prisoners taken by Thomas Nevin exceeded 300; more than 200 survive at the QVMAG, TMAG, NLA, AOT and in private collections. He also produced large numbers of salt-paper stereographs in the late 1860s; 50 or more are held at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. There is no evidence to suggest that Nevin (a Wesleyan) had a “tendency to drink on duty”: his dismissal from the Town Hall position was the result of one evening’s events.
Substantial research from original sources on the work of Tasmanian photographer Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923) can be accessed at these sites:
The DAAO staff writer has taken some information from the entry for Nevin in the print publication The Dictionary of Australian Artists and Photographers to 1870 (1992:568), and incorporated irrelevant comments by Chris Long about the prison administrator A.H. Boyd (not a photographer), and Long’s social class judgments, from the print publication Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940 (1995:36). Why do these staff writers and reviewers pose as experts on Nevin when they are not, and why do they choose to ignore recent research based on key data easily accessible from historical documents we put online in these weblogs? Hidebound, conservative, and not very professional, is the impression gained from correspondence with the DAAO by writers of this weblog.
Webshot of DAAO 2008 of entry on Thomas J. Nevin