Nevin’s mugshots: the transitional pose and frame

In the first of his 3×3 year contracts to the Prisons Department of the Tasmanian Colonial Government and the Hobart Town Hall Municipal Police Office (1873-1880), commercial photographer and civil servant Thomas J. Nevin deployed the conventional techniques of 19th century commercial studio vignette portraiture in matters of posing, photographing and printing the final official prisoner identification photograph (mugshot). The prisoner was usually posed with his upper torso turned 45 degrees from the photographer, with sightlines deflected to the edge of the oval vignette, and backgrounded by a plain backcloth. The majority of Nevin’s prisoner photographs taken in 1873-74 which are held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery and the National Library of Australia evince his use of this commercial technique, evident as well in these two later photographs of prisoners Mullins and Smith taken in 1875:

Mullins and Smith prisoners by Nevin

Above: The two photographs of prisoners, James Mullins on left and William Smith on right, which bear Nevin’s stamp with Hobart Supreme Court Royal Arms insignia.

All photos © KLW NFC 2009 Arr

Mitchell Library NSW (PXB 274)

Versos stamped prisoner photos

Neither carte bears a date, but the photographs can be dated from the week in July 1875 when both men were booked and arrested. Mullins’ carte (on left) is numbered recto “198” and Smith’s (on right) is numbered recto “200”. Nevin took an earlier and different photograph of an unshaven Smith, which is numbered “199” and stamped verso as well. It is held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery. See this article here on this site.




James Mullins, transported as John Conlan, arraigned at the Supreme Court Hobart 13 July 1875, sentenced to 3 yrs for housebreaking. Mullins absconded on 19th July 1876.


Photographed in the same week: James Mullins, photo on left, was photographed on his first arrest by Nevin at the Gaol 13th July 1875.

William Smith, photo on right, was photographed on arrest by Nevin at the Gaol 9th July 1875.

Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, James Barnard Gov’t Printer

Regulations per amendments to the Police Acts of Victoria and Tasmania 1873 required Nevin to provide several duplicates in vignetted carte-de-visite format from the one image of the prisoner he recorded on a glass negative. One duplicate was pasted to the criminal’s record sheet; another was held in the Sheriff’s Office at the Hobart Gaol; several more were circulated to regional police, prisons (including Port Arthur) and depots, and another was held at the Town Hall Municipal Police Office central registry (as supplements to the police gazettes) where they were sometimes displayed in a Rogues’ Gallery along the walls. Nevin also displayed cartes of absconders and others wanted on warrant in his studio shop window at 140 Elizabeth Street, Hobart Town. Some of the prints he (or his assistants) hand-tinted to reflect reality: blue for blue eyes and blue for the prison issue scarves. Physical descriptions of wanted criminals, which were written conjointly with Edwin Midwood, the Information Officer at the Municipal Police Office and printed in the weekly Police Gazettes (titled Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police), took pains to list the colour of the wanted man’s eyes, hair, whiskers, complexion, and clothing.

Thomas Nevin’s younger brother Jack – Constable John Nevin – had gained employment in the administration of the Hobart Gaol on salary as a trainee Keeper by the mid 1870s, and by 1876 he was armed and resident at the Gaol, acting as Thomas Nevin’s photographic assistant, eventually executing duties as the principal photographer at the Gaol until his death in 1891. Between 1876 and 1884, transitional years in the history of 19th century prison photography, changes took place in the way Jack and Thomas Nevin posed the prisoner and and printed the final carte-de-visite. The technology changed too. Lenses after 1875 enabled a closer or larger image of the face. The prisoner was also posed closer to the camera in a full frontal position facing the photographer, and although the oval vignette was still the preferred format for printing, square frames were also used. The formalised front and profile pair of portraits using the methods of Bertillonage did not appear in Tasmanian prison photography until the late 1890s, by which time both Nevin brothers had ceased professional photography.

Tasmanian prisoner mugshots ca. 1900sTasmanian prisoner mugshots ca. 1900s

Above:Bertillon method: front and profile pair
Tasmanian prisoner mugshots, 1897 and 1904
Courtesy Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

This photograph (below) of Jack Nevin, taken by his brother Thomas Nevin ca. 1880 and probably in situ at the Gaol or Supreme Court, has a square blue outer border.

Jack Nevin brother of photographer Thomas Nevin

Constable John Nevin, brother of Thomas Nevin, ca. 1880
From © The Nevin Family Collections 2009 Arr.

Three prisoner photographs in this group of Tasmanian prisoners from the David Scott Mitchell Collection (Mitchell Library SLNSW PXB 274) were printed with the same square border, coloured in the sepia tint of the backdrop or oval frame:

Tasmanian prisoner mugshots by Nevin 1870s-80s

Tasmanian prisoners William Henry Butler and Michael Parker
Photos by T.J. Nevin , 1877-1878

Tasmanian prisoner mugshots by Nevin 1870s-80s

Above: Verso of Butler’s carte

The booking photograph Thomas Nevin took of Patrick Lamb on 10th February 1876 also has a square outer border, not common on these prisoner mugshots. Patrick Lamb (transported to Tasmania on the ship Siam), was booked and sentenced on 10th February 1876 to 3 years in the Hobart Gaol for wounding with intent. The photograph was duplicated again by Jack Nevin at the Hobart Gaol when Patrick Lamb was discharged from the Supreme Court on 15th May, 1878. The full frontal position marks the transition phase in Nevin’s portraiture in the years 1876-84, from the aesthetics of the conventional commercial portrait to the mugshot, in which the eyes are open and the gaze is direct to camera, a requirement in the interests of the police administration, and no doubt dictated by a belief in the realism of photography.


Click on for readable version

Patrick Lamb and Stephen Spurling arraigned 10 Feb 1876

Patrick Lamb was photographed by Thomas Nevin at the Supreme Court on Lamb’s arraignment, 10th February 1876. Nevin would have been more than a little interested in proceedings because fellow photographer Stephen Spurling was also arraigned in the same session for obtaining credit under false pretences and released on bail. Just a note here: no Spurling was ever employed as a police or prisons photographer in Tasmania.

Patrick Lamb discharged 11 May 1878

Patrick Lamb was discharged from Hobart on 11th May 1878. His prisoner identification photograph was reprinted at that time by Nevin for circulation to police in the region where Lamb would seek employment.

As with all of these cartes in this group of nine bequeathed by David Scott Mitchell to the SLNSW ca 1907, there is no verso inscription which mentions “Port Arthur”, unlike several other photographs of Tasmanian prisoners taken by Nevin, held at the NLA and the QVMAG, which were incorrectly inscribed on verso “Taken at Port Arthur 1874” by an early 20th century archivist (and copyists for the tourist trade), and which subsequently led to misattribution of non-photographer Port Arthur accountant A.H. Boyd (Long 1995 et al). The effect of the misattribution can be seen in the catalogue entry to this collection too, despite the absence of any wording on the cartes themselves relating to Port Arthur.

In August 2009, the catalogue entry was revised and Boyd’s name removed, per this webshot:

The two photographs in this group of nine bear Nevin’s government stamp incorporating the Royal Arms insignia of lion and unicorn rampant, the same insignia which appears on the seal of the Supreme Court of Tasmania, yet the original record entry proposed extraordinary contradictory logic: that the stamped cartes are “copies of originals made by A.H. Boyd.” This statement is nonsense; it has no basis in fact. Whereas photohistorians make an attribution to a photographer if his studio stamp appears on the mount or verso of the photograph, the perversity here is the modalised atrribution of Nevin’s work to the non-photographer A.H. Boyd, despite Nevin’s stamp. As with any other government tender holder, Nevin was required to register ONE trade example, of a photograph per batches of hundreds, and once employed as a full-time civil servant, his use of a nominal stamp was unnecessary. This lack of knowledge of patent registration under tender by photographers contributed to researchers’ (eg. Chris Long) serious errors in deflecting Nevin’s attribution in 1995. Long has since pleaded ignorance of the facts, but his cohort has closed ranks around him in a pretense of support while bleeding the error for all its worth . See the latest attempt at the NLA’s full record online catalogue for their 83 holdings of Nevin’s mugshots, which references A.H. Boyd. The record until 2007 was headed with Nevin’s name; since then the deeply aspirational, sycophantic and opportunistic Julia Clark has talked her way into Nevin’s life (and ours, which is her point) with a student “essay” purporting to be research about Boyd that borders on hysteria and screams through a psychosis, and for what? The promotion of this particular prison official Boyd as an “ARTIST”????? Or self-promotion by Clark, hoping to call herself one day Dr Clark? Her foolishness is narcissistic and not without pathos. See this article A Question of Stupidity and the NLA.

The association of the non-photographer A.H. Boyd with Nevin’s name is a PARASITIC ATTRIBUTION. It derives principally from a chain of references by late 1990s commentators (Long, Reeder, Ennis, Crombie) to a sentence in an unpublished children’s fictional tale about a school holiday at Port Arthur written in the 1930s by a niece of Boyd – a tale which does NOT mention Boyd by name, nor does it mention the photographing of prisoners. Chris Long (TMAG 1995) founded his belief in Boyd on this piece of fiction, created a “darkroom” and photographic paraphanalia as  Boyd’s and coupled it with the assertion that the Port Arthur prison official A.H. Boyd not only ordered equipment to take photographs of prisoners (as a sort of amateur one-off ethnographic portfolio), he photographed them himself, despite the fact A.H. Boyd was never known to be a photographer in his own life-time, and there are NO works in existence by A.H. Boyd. The extant 300 prisoner cartes are nothing more than random estrays of more than 3000 prisoners photographed by the Nevin brothers: they each  depict men who were habitual offenders and recidivists whose repeat offences earned them a further sentence and a mugshot by Nevin on incarceration, and over a decade from 1873 to 1884. Boyd left the position of Commandant at Port Arthur in December 1873, and played no role in the Colonial Government’s police and prison photography.

Thomas J. Nevin Tasmanian convict photos SLNSW