Thomas Nevin self portraits 1850s-1880

There are not many extant “self portraits” of Tasmanian colonial photographers of the 1850s-1880. The watercolour attributed to Alfred Bock of a young gentleman is held at the State Library of Tasmania; the stereograph of a supine Thomas Nevin and friend is held at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery; and the rest are held in descendants’ private collections. These portraits all exhibit interesting variations in male facial hair fashions.

Watercolour of Thomas J. Nevin as a fresh-faced teenager:

Watercolour attributed to Alfred Bock

State Library of Tasmania
[Portrait of a young gentleman]
Attributed to Alfred Bock.
Unsigned and undated.
1 drawing : pencil, pastel & watercolour on paper ; 25 x 19 cm within matt.
Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts

This watercolour, unsigned though attributed to Alfred Bock, is included in the selection because it may well represent the young Thomas Nevin while apprenticed to Alfred Bock (early 1860s). If dated to ca. 1859, it shows a 17 year- old youth sprouting a wispy set of mutton chops, a clean shaven chin, no moustache, and wavy hair parted slightly off-centre. These are the same facial fashions which characterised Thomas Nevin’s style in his wedding photograph, aged 28 yrs, in 1871.

The violet bowtie with white spots in this painted portrait, which is expertly executed, is similar to the hand-tinting of neck wear in several photographic portraits of private clients and prisoners by taken by Nevin in the 1870s. See also this entry on the red and violet in Brewster’s stereoscopy.

A photographic portrait of Thomas J. Nevin, 23 years old, at an early stage of his career as a young stereographer, pictured here wearing white gloves and holding a small stereoscopic viewer, taken in a studio ca. 1865-8.

Thomas J. Nevin, mid 1860s in white gloves holding a stereoscopic viewer
Carte-de-visite on buff mount. Verso is blank.
Copyright © KLW NFC 2009 ARR Private Collectio

The studio decor differs in every respect from Nevin’s portraits of his parents and private clientele taken at The City Photographic Establishment in the 1870s. The drape is intensely floral with large motifs; the table has a single support and a beaded bevelled edge (it’s not his table with the griffin-shaped legs); the carpet features a plain diamond pattern; his upright chair is from a dining set and behind his chair is a three-footed stand; and the painted backdrop is awash with a flowering bush and sketchy version of a balustrade. It is not the Italianate balcony with disappearing river vista of his later commercial portraits of private clientele. This suggests it was taken at Alfred Bock’s studio ca. 1867 before Bock’s departure to Victoria. By 1864, and prior to Bock’s deaparture, Thomas Nevin had established a studio at New Town near his parents’ family farm at Kangaroo Valley. He maintained the New Town studio concurrently until 1888.

detail Thomas Nevin self portrait 1860s

Detail of above:
Thomas Nevin, ca. 1867

Nevin’s facial features are very clear. The mutton chops have thickened, he’s grown a moustache and a beard, possibly because this capture was during winter. He seems to be wearing a double layer of clothing underneath the belted waistcoat. At this close range, another facial feature becomes evident. His eyes do not align. One is turned, or one is not. He may have been in an accident, perhaps involving photochemicals, or developed a problem from excessive viewing of stereographs (which required crossing the eyes). Or it may be an effect from pinpricking of the eyes, a common technique in early portraiture for light, or simply an effect of refraction from the camera lens as it caught his pose.

This stereograph of a supine Thomas Nevin and friend on the Queen’s Domain, Hobart was probably taken ca. 1868. By 1870, Thomas Nevin was producing commercial stereographs in large numbers, often travelling in the company of his colleague Samuel Clifford.


A supine Thomas Nevin and friend on the Domain 1868

The small bowler hat and patterned waistcoat are unmistakeable, so is the beard. Is this a supine “selfie” or was Thomas J. Nevin and his friend photographed with his own camera at the Queen’s Domain (Hobart) by his brother Jack Nevin?

Stereograph by Thomas J. Nevin, ca. 1868-70 
Self portrait (in hat) and male friend reclining on the Queen’s Domain, Government House in distance.
Verso blank, inscription “Domain Hobart per G. T. Stilwell, Librarian, SLT.”
Photos recto and verso copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2014-2015
Taken at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 10 November 2014
TMAG Ref: Q16826.3

‘Self-portrait’ shutters were not introduced until the early 1900s so this photograph, or indeed many taken in the 1860s-70s, cannot strictly be termed a “selfie”. The supine pose in these outdoor photographs of the period, of men in particular, was due partly to the size, the focal length, width and aperture of stereo lens types available and partly because a standing rather than reclining figure in the foreground deflects the eye from a distant focal point, which in this example was one carrying a salient message about Empire and Colonial stability, the new Government House (completed 1857). The invisible photographer was present in at least five extant photographs of Thomas J. Nevin in various poses and formats, held in family collections, and there may be several more in public collections waiting to be identified, such as this one first viewed at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, November 2014.

The full-length wedding portrait of Thomas James Nevin with Elizabeth Rachel Day, now a married man, July 12, 1871 and professional photographer with two studios, one nearby the Nevin family farm at New Town, and one in the city at 140 Elizabeth St, Hobart:

Thomas Nevin and Elizabeth Rachel Day, July 12, 1871.
Wedding photograph, carte-de-visite. Verso is blank.
Copyright © KLW NFC 2005-2009 ARR.

Thomas James Nevin married Elizabeth Rachel Day on July 12, 1871, at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kangaroo Valley, Hobart Tasmania, in his finest suit and top hat. This photograph shows his mutton chops are wispy again, suggesting he periodically shaved them off. He has kept the moustache, but reverted to the clean-shaven chin, and brushed the wavy hair straight back. The couple was photographed in his studio,The City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth Street, Hobart Town, possibly by his younger brother Jack Nevin (1852-1891). The verso is blank.

Thomas Nevin wedding group portrait 1871
Unmounted paper print
Copyright © KLW NFC 2009 ARR Private Collection

A clean-shaven chin, mutton chops and moustache were favoured by all the adults males when this group portrait of Elizabeth Rachel Day and Thomas J. Nevin was taken at their wedding in 1871, with the exception of the clean-shaven young man at extreme right, Jack Nevin (by 1875, known as Constable John Nevin), Thomas’ younger brother. Jack was barely 19 yrs old when this photo was taken. This unmounted print was for private family viewing, and has survived, albeit badly damaged, in descendants’ collections.

The business calling card. A carte-de-visite portrait of Thomas Nevin, now a young father and government contractor:

Photographer T. J. Nevin ca. 1873
Self-portrait, in oval mount
Copyright © KLW NFC 2005 ARR Private Collection

This self-portrait of Thomas J. Nevin was printed and mounted as a standard commercial carte-de-visite. The same format was used by professional photographers commissioned to work for police and prisons in Victoria, South Australia and NSW from the late 1860s (eg. Frazer Crawford and Charles Nettleton). Thomas Nevin used the same oval mount format from 1872 to the 1880s for printing the final identification photos of Tasmanian prisoners which were pasted to the prisoner’s record sheet, a format which persisted into the 1890s at the Hobart Mayor’s Court and Municipal Police Office when the prisoner was photographed on discharge. Nevin was the government contractor for this work from 1872 at the Port Arthur prison, and the Hobart Gaol. His other contractual work with the Lands and Survey Department and the Hobart City Council was photographing damage from floods, mining operations, HCC personnel, and the Royal Mail coach operated by Samuel Page whose service included the carriage of prisoners into custody at the Hobart Gaol.

This portrait of Thomas Nevin was lightly tinted with rose on the cheeks. The mutton chops are gone, and the beard (which was red) is longer. The off-centre part and wavy hair recall the style of the early watercolour image ca 1859.

T Nevin late A Bock stamp

The verso carries the “T. Nevin late A. Bock” stamp with kangaroo design.

Full-length portrait of Thomas Nevin, now a full-time civil servant.

Thomas Nevin ca. 1876
Full-length standing portrait with hat and table stereoscope
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint & The Private Collection of Denis Shelverton 2007 -2009 ARR

Thomas Nevin ca 1876 shows a more mature photographer with some impressive equipment. This full-length portrait was taken in his studio at the City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart Town, probably by his younger brother Jack (John) Nevin. Visible in this portrait is the familiar table with the griffin-shaped legs. On the table is a large stereoscope with the stereograph holder open.

The variations of facial hair continue, this time Thomas has grown a denser set of mutton chops, shaved off the beard and kept the moustache. By 1876 he was working in the Office of Inspector of Police within the Municipal Police Offices at the Town Hall where he was appointed Hall and Office keeper. This image was scanned from a copy pasted into his son George Nevin’s scrapbook. .

See this summary of the Key chronological events in Thomas J. Nevin’s life 1842-1923

Carte de visite of Thomas Nevin mid 1860s