Three significant prisoner photographs by T. J. Nevin, 1870s

T. J. NEVIN, colonial warrant Royal Insignia studio stamp

The corpus
More than 320 mugshots of Tasmanian prisoners from a much larger original corpus have survived from the 1870s and 1880s in Australian public collections. The work of government contractor and professional photographer Thomas J. Nevin, the majority of those currently extant were taken primarily at the Hobart Gaol, Campbell Street, and on occasions with the assistance of Thomas’ younger brother Constable John Nevin. There is evidence to suggest that a handful of prisoners were photographed on Thomas Nevin’s visits to the Port Arthur prison on the Tasman Pensinsula in 1873, 1874 and 1875. However, the bulk were taken at Supreme Court Oyer and Gaol Delivery sessions for the central registry at the Municipal Police Office, Hobart Town Hall. Thomas Nevin’s photographic work was considered invaluable to police from his first commission in 1872, and a distinct advantage when he was appointed to the full-time position of Office-keeper and Hall-keeper to the Hobart City Corporation at the Town Hall in January 1876. He returned to professional photography and commission work with the New Town Territorial Police at his New Town studio in 1880, retiring in 1888.

Prisoner photographs by Thomas Nevin SLNSW

T. J. Nevin, 9 convicts photographs
Mitchell Library State Library NSW (PXB 274)
Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2009

State Library of NSW Catalogue notes

Title Photographs of convicts, 1877-1878 / T.J. Nevin
Author / Creator Nevin, T. J.
Call Number PXB 274
9 photographs – carte-de-visite – each 9.4 x 5.6 cm, on card 10.4 x 6.4 cm
Keyword subjects:
Butter, William Henry
Cowen, Hugh
Lamb, Patrick
Parker, Michael
Mullins, James
Sheeran, Francis
Smith, William
Wallace, Edward
Signatures / Inscriptions
Two of the photographs (nos. 1 and 2) are stamped on the back ‘T.J. Nevin … Hobart Town’, and are numbered ‘198’ and ‘200’ on the front in ink. The remainder of the photographs do not have a photographer’s name. Four (nos. 3-6) are dated ‘1877’, ‘23.7.78’, ‘17.12.78’ and ‘4.4.78’. Each photograph is inscribed on the back with the convicts name and ship; four writings are discernible. The convicts are: (1) William Smith, (2) James Mullins, (3 & 4) Francis Sheeran [Shearan], (5) Edward Wallace, (6) Hugh Cowen, (7) William Henry Butter, (8) Michael Parker, (9) Patrick Lamb

The larger corpus of prisoner identification photographs taken by the Nevin brothers in the 1870s-1800s perhaps number to a thousand if the four duplicates Nevin produced from each sitting are counted, but most are deemed missing, possibly destroyed. The extant 320 photographs or so of prisoners in public collections are held in these institutions: the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, Tasmania; the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania; the State Library of NSW, Sydney; the Archives Office of Tasmania, Hobart; the Port Arthur Historic Site, Tasman Peninsula; the Penitentiary Chapel, Hobart, Tasmania, and the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Mugshot attached to the criminal record
This rare example of a criminal record on parchment bearing prisoner Allan Williamson’s photograph gives some idea of the original context of the 1870s photographs and the purposes for which  T. J. Nevin was contracted. It is typical of Thomas J. Nevin’s commercial portraiture of the 1870s.

This document, prisoner Allan Williamson’s criminal record on parchment, is catalogued at the State Library of Tasmania’s e-Heritage database with these notes:

Creator(s): Convict Department
Date: 1850 –
Description: Convict record form on parchment paper for Allan Matthew Williamson. The form is handwritten over a number of years beginning with the arrival in Van Diemens Land on 9th August 1850. The latest entry records the discharged convicts death on 16th October 1893. The form includes a photograph of the convict. It includes a full description of him at the time of his arrival in Van Diemens Land aged 28 and includes a full record of his offences and sentences of which there are many. The form is rare and a copy is on display at the site in the Museum room at the Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site.
Format: Documents and books
Object: government records
Material: parchment
Titles: Williamson Allan Matthew No 22396
Subjects: convicts
People/Orgs: Williamson, Allan Matthew
Places: Campbell Street Gaol, Hobart (Tas.)
Institution: Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site Management Committee
Object number: PCH_00033
Disclaimer – The content of this record is provided by Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site Management Committee. For any questions about the content please contact them.

The Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, holds a number of similar criminal record sheets with mugshots attached, though the QVMAG has yet to digitise them online. The Tasmanian Archives and Heritage office (State Library of Tasmania) holds registers of prisoner photographs attached to the criminal record sheet with later dates of 1890 and 1892. This document, however, is held on display at the Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site, Hobart. It is a complete prison record on parchment of Allan Matthew Williamson, per the ship Maria Somes (2) , from his arrival in Van Diemen’s Land in 1850 up to his death in 1893. Williamson’s photograph was pasted onto the parchment at the centre of the document, which was folded back on each side, rotated, and used for documenting Williamson’s criminal career for more than forty years. The photograph above was taken by Thomas Nevin on Williamson’s discharge from the Hobart Gaol on 8th December 1877 or even earlier. The parchment itself, however, may date to 1867 or earlier, and the photograph pasted to it a decade later.

Although this document is rare because it is made of parchment, it bears the standard commercial carte-de-visite studio portrait format used by Thomas J. Nevin and other Australian prison photographers in the 1870s. Police records from the weekly police gazettes show that Allan Williamson was discharged in January 1867, assigned and discharged in December 1877, arraigned in July 1878 for another 4 yrs, and died in custody in 1893.

POLICE RECORDS (selected) for Allan Williamson

Allan Williamson discharged on 26 January 1867
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, J. Barnard, Gov’t printer

Allan Williamson was discharged on 8 December 1877
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, J. Barnard, Gov’t printer

Allan Matthew Williamson and Francis Sheeran arraigned 23 July 1878
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, J. Barnard, Gov’t printer

Thomas Nevin photographed Alan Williamson again on 23 July 1878 at the Supreme Court, Hobart; his photograph of Sheeran who was arraigned in the same session is held at the Mitchell Library State Library of NSW (PXB 274).

Mugshots removed from Hobart Gaol records
The photograph above of Allan Williamson was taken by Thomas Nevin at the Hobart Gaol on 3rd January, 1874, prior to Williamson’s relocation to the Port Arthur prison. The second extant Hobart Gaol record dated 14th April, 1888 shows the space where his mugshot was removed.

Prisoner Allan Williamson’s mugshot removed: TAHO Hobart Gaol Records: Ref: GD6719, page 194.

This missing photograph may have been removed for display by archivists from the early 1900s onwards. It may have been a duplicate of the earlier one taken in 1877 and 1878, which would explain the note on this record: “53 years in 1878”.

The third Hobart Gaol record for Allan Williamson (below) indicates with a note at the top of the middle column on the page where the missing mugshot from the record above might be found: “For Photo see Photo Book No. 2 p.194“. The photograph attached this sheet was removed from the page dated 1888, or even reprinted, and pasted to the record above, dated to 1893, the year Williamson died.

Prisoner Allan Williamson’s rap sheet and mugshot 1850-1893
TAHO Ref: TH-1961-46919-1384-3
Just one photograph is extant of Allan Williamson, reprinted at least twice
Photographed by Thomas Nevin at the Hobart Gaol, 3rd January 1874

Thomas Nevin’s busiest years were 1873-1880 at the Municipal Police Office and Hobart Gaol, during the transfer of prisoners from the Port Arthur penitentiary on  the Tasman Peninsula to Hobart as the site there readied for closure (1873-74). The 60 or so prisoners still at Port Arthur in 1873 were speedily transferred to the Hobart Gaol, Campbell St. as both Members of Parliament and the public alike demanded the closure of the site with allegations of corruption directed at its principal officer, A. H. Boyd.

The majority of prisoner photographs produced in carte-de-visite format which now survive are not photographs of Port Arthur convicts who were photographed because they were transportees per se, nor were they photographed at Port Arthur; they were photographed in Hobart for a central registry because they were either released with a ticket-of-leave (Town Hall), or they were recidivists and re-offenders photographed on arrest, sentencing and arraignment (Supreme Court and Hobart Gaol). The weekly police gazettes of the day show a record for every single man in every single mugshot for these events. These photographs were therefore produced to accompany the central prison and police registers, and this is the most likely original source from which the loose cdvs have been divorced. The prison administrator at Port Arthur on the isolated Tasman Peninsula until December 1873, A.H. Boyd, played no role in the taking of prisoner photographs for the colonial government in Hobart.

Photographer Thomas J. Nevin was assisted by his younger brother Constable John Nevin who was salaried in the civil service at the Hobart Gaol (H.M. Prison) during the years 1874-1891. The contract was issued by W.R. Giblin, variously Attorney-General and Premier, who sat for a photographic portrait by Thomas Nevin ca. 1874. The Giblin portrait by Nevin is held at the Archives Office of Tasmania. Other key officials involved in Nevin’s commission were the Superintendent of Police, Richard Propsting at the Town Hall Office; the Keeper of the Hobart Gaol, Ringrose Atkins; and the Inspector of Police at the Hobart Gaol, John Swan.

The mugshot of Alan Williamson might have T. J. Nevin’s stamp on verso, but then again it may not, and for this reason: at least one duplicate of the carte was intended to be pasted to the prisoner’s record. More duplicates – usually six in Tasmania – were made to be circulated to the police in the event of a warrant after the prisoner’s assignment or discharge. The photographer would not have wasted ink and time printing every cdv on verso when the verso would never be visible. Just one cdv with the photographer’s official stamp verso per batch of 100 was required by the the Customs and Patents Act for grant of copyright and commission. Primarily these prisoner mugshots were legal instruments which were stamped with T. J. Nevin’s colonial warrant incorporating the Royal Arms insignia similar to the seal of the Hobart Supreme Court where many were taken. For private clients, Thomas Nevin’s studio portraits and landscape stereographs bear his commercial impress, at least six different types. No photographer’s stamp other than T. J. Nevin’s appears on these 1870s mugshots of Tasmanian prisoners – or “convicts” – as they are called in tourism discourse.

T. J. Nevin’s colonial warrant stamp
The photograph below of the convict “William Smith per Gilmore 3 was taken in September 1873. The original carte of Smith with the verso (below) is held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston. A copy is held at the Archives Office of Tasmania, Ref: PH30/1/3244.

Recto and verso
Wm Smith per Gilmore 3 carte with T. J. Nevin’s government contractor stamp
T. J. Nevin’s contractor stamp printed with the Royal Arms government insignia.
QVMAG & AOT Ref: 30-3244

Why does this cdv of prisoner William Smith bear T. J. Nevin’s studio stamp? The question has been asked by photo historians with little consideration to the realities of government tender. It was one of several chosen by Nevin to access his commission, register copyright with the Customs, and renew his contract under the terms of the tender. Only one was required per batch of 100 photographs, the verso stamp being used to identify the photographer’s copyright.

POLICE RECORDS for William Smith per Gilmore 3:

William Smith discharge week ending 10 Sept 1873
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, J. Barnard, Gov’t printer

William Smith per Gilmore 3 was discharged with a ticket-of-leave in the week ending 10 September 1873, and received from Port Arthur at the Municipal Police Office, Hobart. Note that his age and physical measurements were not recorded in this police gazette notice since no photograph existed prior to his release. He was not photographed at Port Arthur, he was photographed by Nevin when Smith reoffended again in April 1874, sentenced to 12 months for larceny, and discharged in the week ending 21 April 1875.

Wm Smith discharged 1st April, 1875. Photographed again on release by T. J. Nevin
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, J. Barnard, Gov’t printer

Suspicion attaches to William Smith per Gilmore 3, 23rd April, 1875
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, J. Barnard, Gov’t printer

Wm Smith per Gilmore 3 Warrant for arrest 23 April 1875.
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, Gov’t printer J. Barnard

William Smith’s description, now complete with his photograph, was issued by police when coming under suspicion for theft just three weeks after his release on 1st April, 1875. Smith was arrested 3 months later in July 1875.

William Smith arrested, notice of 9th July, 1875.
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, Gov’t printer J. Barnard

Thomas Nevin photographed William Smith again wearing the prison issue leather cap on incarceration in 1875. The earlier photograph was numbered “199”. This, the second photograph by T. J. Nevin of William Smith per Gilmore 3 was numbered “200”. The numbers were applied when these two photographs among several dozen more were salvaged by John Watt Beattie from the Hobart Gaol’s Sheriff Office ca. 1900 and displayed in his “Port Arthur Museum” located in Murray Street, Hobart. Some were sent to an exhibition at the Royal Hotel in Sydney in 1916 in conjunction with a display of convictaria associated with the fake hulk Success

William Smith per Gilmore 3.
Photo by Thomas Nevin, July 1875
Stamped verso with Nevin’s government contractor stamp
Mitchell Library State Library NSW (PXB 274 No.1)
Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2009

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