The first Rogues’ Galleries

ROGUES GALLERIES Britain, America and Australia

Some of the earliest integral collections of prisoner mugshots (1857) used as a Rogues Gallery are held in the New York Public Library:

Prisoner Marcom collection NYPL Prisoner Marcom collection NYPL

Thomas A. Larcom photographs collection, New York PL
1857-1866, Mountjoy Prison

While some prisons and jurisdictions in England had begun judicial and prison photography by 1859, the practice was not universal until 1872.

1. Extracts from pages 524-525, the Photographic News London 1866

The credit which has been denied to photography on the score of art capacity must be conceded to its literal fidelity in rendering facts. That it is not imaginative, that it cannot modify or omit details from its presentments, becomes, in many cases, its cardinal virtue. If it nothing extenuate, it sets down naught in malice, and when it enters the witness-box, its evidence leaves little room for doubt. Hence it has taken an important place as an auxiliary to the administration of justice, both in civil and criminal cases. In multiplying indisputable fac-similes of important documents, in indicating pictorially the relative positions of disputed territory, its use is obvious. But it is in its aid to the discovery of identity in persons charged with crime that its legal use is most important. Nearly twelve years ago, Mr. J. A. Gardiner, Governor of Bristol Gaol, addressed a letter to the Governors of Her Majesty’s gaols generally, pointing out the importance of preserving a photographic record of the prisoners under their charge—a veritable rogue’s gallery! which might be a rare study to the disciples of Lavater. It was not with a view to the study and classification of physiognomical types that Mr. Gardiner proposed to secure sun drawings of bis enforced guests, but solely with a view to their identification when they visited gaol a second time. ” It is well known to all,” he said, ” who have been concerned in criminal administration, that the most cunning, the most skilled, and the most daring offenders, are migratory in their habits ; that they do not locate themselves in any particular town or district. but extend their ravages to wherever there is the most open field for crime ;” the best planned robberies, he adds, being rarely conducted by the resident thieves in any district. This migratory, or Bohemian tendency, diminished the risk of identification in the exact ratio in which it brought the criminals within fresh judicial districts and under fresh official inspection, and often permitted expert professional thieves, hardened criminals, to pass off lightly as first offenders, only just stepping out of the path of rectitude. Written descriptions were rarely found sufficiently precise for identification, and hence Mr. Gardiner was induced to try photography, which he found most efficient for the purpose, and strongly recommended for systematic adoption to his brother governors. The success which attended the partial adoption of this plan induced a Select Committee of (The House of Lords, on whose Report the Prison Act of 1866 was framed, to recommend its universal adoption in Her Majesty’s prisons. For some unexplained reason, the Secretary of State did not see fit to adopt the recommendation, and photography is only employed where the governors of gaols themselves see its importance…

Read the rest of this article here for examples taken at Millbank, Pentonville and Leceister held at the Bedford Gaol taken between 1859 and 1877.

2. Good Words 1869, By Norman Macleod, Donald Macleod,

“The public may not be aware that there is a photographic album at Scotland Yard, in which may be seen the carte of every ticket-of-leave man in the country … One carte de visite is kept in the police album at Scotland Yard, another at the station-house of the division of the metropolis in which he may select to reside, and a third is forwarded to any country district he may wish to remove to …”

pages 62-63

3. From the museum at the Metropolitan Police Heritage Centre UK:

“From 1862, copies of photographs of criminals taken by prison governors were sent to Scotland yard, and formed a “Rogues Gallery”. In 1864 the first murder on the railway occurred when a bank clerk named Briggs was killed. The suspect Muller escaped the country by sailing boat, but was eventually caught by detectives on a steamship. On 20th June 1869 the Home Secretary gave authority for the creation of a detective department. The tipstaves issued to plain clothes officers from 1867 were re-issued in 1870 engraved “Metropolitan Police officer in plain clothes”.

4. Australian collections.

Extant examples of Thomas J. Nevin’s photographs taken in the 1870s of Tasmanian prisoners – or “convicts”, the archaic term used in Tasmanian tourism discourse up to the present – number more than 300 in Australian public collections. Thomas J. Nevin was a government contractor for the Lands and Survey from 1868, commissioned by his family solicitor, Attorney-General W.R. Giblin, who extended the contract to photograph prisoners for the colonial administration of Tasmania in early 1872, less than a year after the government of NSW authorised the Inspector of Prisons, Harold McLean, to commence the photographing of all prisoners convicted in the NSW Superior Courts. The colony of New South Wales had already introduced the practice of photographing prisoners twice, firstly on entry to prison and secondly near the end of their term of incarceration by January 1872 when this report was published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The purpose of the visit to the Port Arthur prison by Sir John O’Shanassy, former Premier of Victoria, and Howard Spensley, Solicitor-General of Victoria with photographer Thomas Nevin and the Tasmanian Attorney-General the Hon. W. R. Giblin on 1st February 1872 in the company of visiting British author Anthony Trollope, was to establish a similar system for processing prisoners through the central Municipal Police Office, Hobart Town Hall on their relocation from the dilapidated and dysfunctional Port Arthur prison to the Hobart Gaol in Campbell St. The few remaining prisoners at Port Arthur were returned to Hobart from mid-1873 to early 1874. Some were photographed by Nevin at Port Arthur, but the majority were photographed by Nevin on arrival in Hobart.

Photography and Prisons
The Sydney Morning Herald 10 January 1872


PHOTOGRAPHY AND PRISONS.-We understand that, at the instance of Inspector-General McLerie, Mr. Harold McLean, the Sheriff, has recently introduced into Darlinghurst gaol the English practice of photographing all criminals in that establishment whose antecedents or whose prospective power of doing mischief make them, in the judgment of the police authorities, eligible for that distinction. It is an honour, however, which has to be ” thrust ” upon some men, for they shrink before the lens of the photographer more than they would quail before the eye of a living detective. The reluctance of such worthies in many cases can only be conquered by the deprivation of the ordinary gaol indulgencies; and even then they submit with so bad a grace that their acquiescence is feigned rather than real. The facial contortions to which the more knowing ones resort are said to be truly ingenious. One scoundrel will assume a smug and sanctimonious aspect, while another will chastise his features into an expression of injured innocence or blank stupidity which would almost defy recognition. They are pursued, however, through all disguises, and when a satisfactory portrait is obtained copies are transferred to the black books of the Inspector-General. The prisoners are first ” taken” in their own clothes on entering the gaol, and the second portrait is produced near the expiration of their sentence. When mounted in the police album, the cartes-de-visite, if we may so style them, are placed between two columns, one containing a personal description of the offender, and the other a record of his criminal history. Briefer or more comprehensive biographies have probably never been framed. Copies of these photographs are sent to the superintendents of police in the country districts, and also to the adjoining colonies. To a certain extent photography has proved in England an effective check upon crime, and it is obviously calculated to render most valuable aid in the detection of notorious criminals. New South Wales is, we understand, the only Australian colony which has yet adopted this system ; but the practice is likely soon to become general.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald. (1872, January 10), p. 4. Retrieved from

Following the NSW government example, Thomas Nevin photographed men convicted in the Hobart Supreme Court who were housed on remand in the adjoining Hobart Gaol. Those men who were convicted in regional courts with sentences longer than three months were transferred to the Hobart Goal, Campbell St. He took at least two original photographs of the prisoner, on different occasions: the first, the booking shot, was taken on entry into the prison, sometimes when the prisoner was unshaved and in street clothing as soon as convicted; the second was taken fourteen days prior to the prisoner’s discharge. The same negative was reprinted if the prisoner was an habitual offender in and out of gaol year after year until the negative was beyond further use, or the prisoner’s appearance had significantly changed. Additional prisoner photographs were taken by T. J. Nevin at the Port Arthur penitentiary between 1872 and 1874, and at the Cascades Prison for Males with the assistance of his younger brother Constable John Nevin in the unusual circumstance of the transfer of 103 prisoners from the Port Arthur prison to the Hobart Gaol at the request of the Parliament in 1873. Up to six duplicates were produced from each negative. Although the glass plates seem to have been lost, original unmounted prints from Nevin’s 1870s negatives survive, principally in the QVMAG collection.

By 1875, the phrase “Photo in this office” was published next to warrant notices in the weekly police gazettes, Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, especially for offenders from other colonial jurisdictions, and sometimes those photos depicting the suspect were obtained from family albums taken as personal mementoes rather than police mugshots taken previously for the judiciary. These photos were often displayed as a Rogues’ Gallery in the windows of the local newspaper office as well as along the walls of the Hobart Town Hall Municipal Police Office.

See this extensive selection and links from the national collections:

All of these prisoner photographs from the 1870s were originally used by police and the judiciary in the course of daily surveillance, arraignment and discharge at the Hobart Gaol and pasted into the Photo Books, collated with the Hobart Municipal Police Office and Supreme Court registers. Numbering and inscriptions on the extant images indicate that more than 300 carte-de-visite were salvaged from the Sheriff’s Office at the Hobart Gaol in the early 1900s by Beattie’s studio for display and sale to tourists as part of the Tasmanian government’s campaign to attract intercolonial visitors to the ruins of the Port Arthur prison. In the late 20th century, these “convict portraits” of 1870s prisoners have been recontextualised within two types of discourse: promotion to World Heritage status of Port Arthur using Tasmania’s penal heritage as a theme park for the tourist industry; and modern and post-modern art history aesthetics (eg. Long, Crombie, Ellis 2007).

Prisoner William Ryan
See this post:
Photographer; Thomas J. Nevin (name, date, and “60” on verso, together with Ryan’s name and ship)
At Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Prisoners James Mullins and William Smith
Photographer; Thomas J. Nevin (his government contractor stamp on versos)
At the Mitchell Library State Library of NSW

Prisoner William Smith
Photographer; Thomas J. Nevin
At the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery

Prisoner George Fisher
Photographer; Thomas J. Nevin
At the National Library of Australia’s collection

Prisoner Hugh Cohen
Photographer; Thomas J. Nevin
The Hobart Gaol Photo books and Hobart Gaol camera
Photocopies of the QVMAG collection at TAHO,

The crime museum at Scotland Yard dates the first rogues’ galleries at 1862. Scotland Yard used commercial photographers from 1862 right through to 1901. The early reports of the efforts of prison governors such as Gardiner in Bristol from 1854 no doubt influenced by analogy a rather pretentious attempt at the misattribution of Thomas J. Nevin’s Tasmanian prisoner photographs to the Port Arthur Commandant A.H. Boyd in 1874 (Chris Long, Gillian Winter, 1995). The analogy not only ignored the significant gap in photo-history between 1852 and 1874, but stretched the analogy to create a photographer “artist” of A. H. Boyd who was not a photographer by any definition of the term, who was not known as a photographer in his own lifetime, and no works are known to exist by A.H. Boyd today. See this article here on what can only be termed a parasitic attribution.

5. From The Oxford Companion to the Photograph, OUP 2005

“Police and forensic photography serves the purposes, respectively, of identifying and documenting individuals suspected or convicted of committing crimes, and of detecting and presenting evidence needed to solve crimes and obtain convictions. The former has involved the compilation of rogues’ galleries and albums; the latter, scene-of-crime photography and a range of scientific imaging techniques.

During the 19th and 20th centuries two developments were particularly important in relation to police and forensic photography. First, as state administrations became increasingly professionalized, more and more data about citizens were collected. Secondly, the organizational and technical modernization of criminal-justice systems brought science to bear on both police and judicial procedures. As far as identification and investigative photography were concerned, criminological, physiognomical, and anthropological theories were significant, but played little part in everyday practice. The main reason for eventual police and judicial adoption of photography, apart from the medium’s increasing ubiquity, was the widespread belief in the unequivocal verisimilitude of the photographic portrait.

Police photography to 1890
Although photography was accepted from the beginning as the most precise method of depicting people and objects, its acceptance as a forensic instrument and means of identification took some time. The earliest evidence for the photographic recording of prison inmates comes from Belgium (1843-4) and Denmark (1851). Although in the 1850s the photography of detainees began in Switzerland (Prosecutor-General Jakob Amiet, 1854), the USA (San Francisco, 1854), and England (Bristol, 1852), and in the 1860s in many other states, including Germany, Spain, and Italy, it was on a purely experimental basis. It was not yet governed by any basic technical or legal principles, and there was no special training for photographers, policemen, or prison officials. Nor were there any sizeable portrait collections that could have facilitated systematic searches for suspects or escapees. The pictures were taken either by amateurs, such as prison governor Gardener in Bristol from 1852, or by commercial photographers like Carl Durheim in Bern, Switzerland (1852), or Emil Rye in Odense, Denmark (1867-78). Efforts to make prisoner portraits in the 1850s were not only scattered, but sometimes failed to win approval from above. Although in 1850s France the journal La Lumière several times discussed suggestions for prison photographs, there was no response until after 1871. (However, the Paris police took an early interest in photographic pornography, as their Dossier BB3 demonstrates.)

In the 1870s, when the authorities in many countries increasingly had delinquents photographed, it was by professional photographers who produced conventionally posed portraits. Although poses were gradually adapted to police requirements, this practice remained widespread until the end of the 19th century; until 1900, for example, the Berlin police presidency used the firm of Zielsdorf & Adler. This period also saw the emergence of the still widely accepted convention that—subject to police discretion—only individuals convicted of fairly serious offences should have their pictures taken and archived.

In practice, police and, particularly, forensic photography remained for a long time limited to big cities. Only there did the scale of police organization and the existence of a scientific infrastructure make it feasible to use photographic methods to record clues at crime scenes and evaluate them in the laboratory. But urban criminal investigation departments had to keep track of ever-increasing numbers of suspects. With the ‘rogues’ gallery’, a means was found to classify criminals and sort their portraits in albums or card indexes according to types of offence. The earliest precursors of such collections have been identified in Birmingham, England (1850s-1860s), Danzig (1864), Odense (1867), and Moscow (1867). But systematic picture archives were first assembled in London (1870), Paris (1874), and Berlin (1876), the responsibility for them shifting from prison services to the police. The first attempts were also made to standardize the pictures. But although the anthropological practice of using profile and full-face shots was suggested, it took nearly two decades to be universally accepted. Another challenge was the sorting and classification of the collections, which in a few years swelled to many thousands of images and therefore became practically unusable.

The problem was solved by Alphonse Bertillon while he was employed in the Paris prefecture of police at the end of the 1870s. The Paris portrait collection was arranged according to sets of anthropometric data designed to guarantee reliable identification even when the name of an individual was unknown. In fact, the system was meant to replace the mug shot as a means of identification, but this did not happen, since photography was by this time too firmly established in police practice. Bertillon therefore worked out rules for a scientifically exact form of identification photography, which were published in Paris under the title La Photographie judiciaire (1890). For police purposes, an individual would be photographed full face and in profile, with the face well lit and, in the profile image, the ear clearly visible. Bertillon insisted that the conventions of commercial portraiture should be completely excluded from judicial photography. His physical measurement system and photographic rules gained acceptance and by the turn of the century had been introduced in nearly all states. While body measurements were replaced soon after 1900 by fingerprinting, the standardized method of making photographs endured, but was supplemented from the 1920s by the inclusion of a three-quarter portrait.

Since the early 20th century, identification data have been exchanged internationally, a practice that increased after the founding of Interpol in 1923. Whenever possible, lists of internationally wanted criminals have been accompanied by photographs.

Not only criminal investigation departments but special branch (political) sections made and used photographic portraits for identification and search purposes. As early as 1855, Berlin police president Karl Ludwig von Hinckeldey circulated photographs of ‘revolutionaries’ among his colleagues in other German states. In 1858 the Württemberg political police used photographs in hunting for the Italian republican nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini. Collections of political portraits also grew rapidly. The National Library of Ireland holds an album of 204 pictures of Fenian (Irish Republican) conspirators compiled by Samuel Lee Anderson, a government intelligence officer, between 1865 and 1871; many more Fenian portraits exist in the Irish National Archives. At international level, from 1898 to 1899, a secret album of hundreds of portraits of wanted anarchists assembled by the Berlin political police was regularly updated by pictures of new suspects. The survival of this ‘anarchist album’ in numerous European archives indicates how far reaching such cooperation was.

Research on ‘criminal physiognomy’
Scientific examination of picture collections from an anthropological or physiognomical perspective was not actually done by the police themselves. Significantly, the two best-known users of criminal portraits, the Italian Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909) and the Englishman Francis Galton began their work before Bertillon’s reform of police photography. Lombroso, a doctor and eventually professor of forensic medicine and hygiene in Turin, attempted in his book L’uomo delinquente (1876) to prove both that criminal tendencies were hereditary and that they could be identified from particular physical characteristics. To this end he had visited prisons, made body measurements of prisoners, and collected pictures of criminals. After the appearance of his book he continued to work on the subject, and by the turn of the century had a large collection of criminal portraits obtained from governments in Europe and overseas. Although his theory was heavily criticized, and was never accepted by experts, it became popular. So too with Galton, who began his research a few years after Lombroso. He too believed in the heritability of mental traits, grappled with the phenomenon of criminality, and used official pictures. His method was to make composite copies of portraits of different people in order to arrive at an ‘average’ deviant physiognomy. His major work, Inquiries into Human Faculty, containing papers written since 1869, appeared in 1883. But his theories also failed to convince his peers, and there were no further attempts to examine criminals or criminality on the basis of police portraits. Undeniably, however, a certain image of ‘the’ delinquent did emerge in the popular imagination, and persists as a visual code identifying certain characters as criminals in literature, comics, films, and tabloid newspapers.

Forensic photography
Alongside photography’s role as a means of documenting individuals, it is an important tool in solving crimes. Narrowly defined, forensic photography serves to identify and document clues. Crime-scene photographs were made in Lausanne as early as 1867. Photographic exposure of forgery, and revelation of handwriting invisible to the eye, also took place before the end of the 1860s. But it took decades before such evidence became widely acceptable in court. Eventually in Germany, however, the forensic chemist Paul Jeserich from Olmütz and the Berlin court official Friedrich Paul formulated convincing procedures for photographic clue gathering; Paul’s 1900 handbook, complete with gruesome images of murders and accidents, also provided a fascinating history of the whole subject and a review of current practices. Rodolphe Reiss, professor of judicial photography at Lausanne University from 1906, played an equally important role in Switzerland. After the turn of the century the celebrated Austrian criminologist Hans Gross (1847-1915) also lent his authority to the cause of forensic photography. In this more favourable climate an increasing number of police forces created their own studios or modernized existing ones, among them those in Vienna (1899), Berlin (1900), and London, where in 1901 Scotland Yard could finally give up using commercial photographers.

Such developments, reflecting the increasing professionalization and scientific sophistication of police work, have continued up to the present. Promising technical advances have been rapidly adopted by police specialists, while tasks unsuitable for police laboratories have been handled by outside institutes. At the beginning of the 21st century, conventional and digital photography continues to play an important role in police work, ranging from long-established, technically straightforward activities such as surveillance and traffic monitoring to the use of sophisticated equipment to show minute objects and invisible substances.

— Jens Jaeger


  • Paul, F., Handbuch der criminalistischen Photographie für Beamte der Gerichte, Staatsanwaltschaften und der Sicherheitsbehörden (1900).
  • Regener, S., Fotografische Erfassung: Zur Geschichte medialer Konstruktionen des Kriminellen (1999).
  • Hamilton, P., and Hargreaves, R., The Beautiful and the Damned: The Creation of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Photography (2001).
  • Jaeger, J., ‘Photography: A Means of Surveillance? Judicial Photography 1850 to 1900’, in Crime, History and Society (2001)

“Police and forensic photography.” The Oxford Companion to the Photograph. Oxford University Press, 2005. 22 Jul. 2008.

6. Rogues Gallery- external links