19th century prison photography: Tasmania 1872

When Thomas Nevin sat down to read The Mercury on the morning of 24th October 1872 and turned to an article reprinted from the London papers on “the valuable working of the Prevention of Crimes Act, or as it is better known, the Habitual Criminals Act” of 1871, he was more than aware of the use of photography by police. He had already taken photographs of prisoners at the Hobart Gaol at the behest of his solicitor and mentor since 1868, Attorney-General William Robert GIBLIN.

W R Giblin photo by T J Nevin

Left: Attorney-General W. R. Giblin,
Photo by T. J. Nevin ca. 1874
AOT Collection
Right: Convict Charles Downes
Photo by T. J. Nevin 13 Feb 1872
NLA Collection

The British Prevention of Crimes Act, tabled on 21st August 1871, Section 6, stipulated:

... regulations as to the photographing of all prisoners convicted of crime who may for the time being be confined in any prison in Great Britain or Ireland, and may in such regulations prescribe the time or times at which and the manner and dress in which such prisoners are to be taken, and the number of photographs of each prisoner to be printed, and the persons to whom such photographs are to be sent:

Section 6, full details:

6 Register and photographing of criminals

The following enactments shall be made with a view to facilitate the identification of criminals:
(1)Registers of all persons convicted of crime in the United Kingdom shall be kept in such form and containing such particulars as may from time to time be prescribed, in Great Britain by one of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State, and in Ireland by the Lord Lieutenant:
(2)The register for England shall be kept in London under the management of the commissioner of police of the metropolis, or such other person as the Secretary of State may appoint:
(3)The register for Scotland shall be kept in Edinburgh under the management of the secretary to the managers of the General Prison at Perth, or such other person as the Secretary of State may appoint:
(4)The register for Ireland shall be kept in Dublin under the management of the commissioners of police for the police district of Dublin metropolis, or such other person as the Lord Lieutenant may from time to time appoint:
(5)In every prison, the gaoler or other governor of the prison shall make returns of the persons convicted of crime and coming within his custody; and such returns shall be in such form or forms and contain such particulars in Great Britain as the Secretary of State, and in Ireland as the said Lord Lieutenant, may require; and every gaoler or other governor of a prison who refuses or neglects to transmit such returns, or wilfully transmits a return containing any false or imperfect statement, shall for every such offence forfeit a sum not exceeding twenty pounds, to be recovered summarily:
(6)In Great Britain the Secretary of State, and in Ireland the said Lord Lieutenant, may make regulations as to the photographing of all prisoners convicted of crime who may for the time being be confined in any prison in Great Britain or Ireland, and may in such regulations prescribe the time or times at which and the manner and dress in which such prisoners are to be taken, and the number of photographs of each prisoner to be printed, and the persons to whom such photographs are to be sent:
(7)Any regulations made by the Secretary of State as to the photographing of prisoners in any prison in England shall be deemed to be regulations for the government of that prison, and binding on all persons, in the same manner as if they were contained in the first schedule annexed to The Prison Act, 1865:
(8)Any regulations made by the Secretary of State as to the photographing of prisoners in any prison in Scotland shall be deemed to be rules for prisons in Scotland, and as such shall be binding on all whom they may concern, in the same manner as if the same were made under and in virtue of the powers contained in “The Prisons (Scotland) Administration Act, 1860:”
(9)Any regulations made by the Lord Lieutenant as to the photographing of prisoners in any prison in Ireland shall be deemed to be byelaws duly made by the Lord Lieutenant, and shall be binding on all persons, in the same manner as if the same were made under the authority of the Act passed in the session holden in the nineteenth and twentieth years of the reign of Her present Majesty, chapter sixty–eight:
(10)Any prisoner refusing to obey any regulation made in pursuance of this section shall be deemed guilty of an offence against prison discipline, in England within the meaning of the fifty–seventh regulation in the first schedule annexed to the said Prison Act, 1865, in Scotland within the meaning of the rules for prisons in Scotland, certified under the hand of one of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretaries of State, under and by virtue of “The Prisons (Scotland) Administration Act, 1860”, and in Ireland within the meaning of the fifteenth regulation contained in section one hundred and nine of the Act passed in the seventh year of the reign of His late Majesty King George the Fourth, chapter seventy–four:
(11)Any authority having power to make regulations in pursuance of this section may from time to time modify, repeal, or add to any regulations so made:
(12)Any expenses incurred in pursuance of this section shall be defrayed as follows: (that is to say,) The expense of keeping the register in London, Edinburgh, and Dublin shall, to such amount as may be sanctioned by the Treasury, be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament : The expenses incurred in photographing the prisoners in any prison shall be deemed to be part of the expenses incurred in the maintenance of the prison, and shall be defrayed accordingly. This section shall not apply to the prisons for convicts under the superintendance of the directors of convict prisons or to any military or naval prison.]

These regulations were observed by the police and prison authorities in Tasmania, whenever the circumstances permitted. The “dress” prescribed by regulations required two types of photographs: a “booking photograph” in which the prisoner wore his own civilian clothes, usually taken on arrest; and an incarceration photograph, showing the prisoner in standard issue prison uniform during his service of a sentence. Examples of both types of photographs, and of the same prisoner, are extant and bear Thomas Nevin’s official government stamp with the Royal Arms insignia (QVMAG; SLNSW; NLA). Nevin made at least three duplicates from his original glass negative of more than 3000 prisoners: one to be pasted to the criminal’s record sheet; one to be held at the Central Registry, Town Hall, and one or more to be circulated to police in the event of release or warrant for additional offences.

The article in The Mercury which Thomas Nevin read on the morning of 24th October 1872, detailed the role of prisoner identification photographs as an effective means of crime control:

The Mercury, 24 October 1872

TRANSCRIPT

… Here, again, we have a reduction of nearly one-fourth of the total amount, while the same return shows the valuable working of the Prevention of Crimes Act, or as it is better known, the Habitual Criminals Act. In 1869 crimes of violence had risen to a total of 441, while there was every probability of a still further increase. The strong representative powers vested in the executive police were immediately acknowledged by the criminal classes, for in the following year the number had fallen to 326, although for some years previous there had been a general advance. The system of supervision by the police, the accurate registration and photographing of prisoners, though still in its infancy, and requiring further development, has given the police a greater knowledge of the previous life of criminals and a considerable control over their actions, while the payment of the gratuity money to discharged prisoners …

The Mercury, 24 October 1872

Extract from The Mercury, 24 October 1872
From the London papers reporting the impact of police supervision
of prisoners and habitual offenders through the use of photography
.

Click on images for readable version

A Royal Commission into Penal and Prison Discipline in Victoria, which was reported in the Melbourne Argus on 31 May 1871, recommended in a report to the Governor that the central police office should keep a register of all persons convicted of a crime “containing full particulars for identification, as well as the gaol history, and photographic likenesses of each prisoner, taken when admitted and discharged. Copies of this register and of the photographs should be sent to all the gaols throughout the colony …”

Penal and Prison Discipline,
The Argus (Melbourne) 31 May 1871

The Tasmanian Colonial Government introduced formal amendments to the Police Act of 1868, with additions made according to the amendments to the Victorian Police Act 1873 per the Royal Commission’s recommendations of 1871 , by which time Thomas J. Nevin had photographed inmates at both the Hobart Gaol and the Port Arthur penitentiary, and continued to do so until the mid-1880s. His contract of 3x3x3 years with Attorney-General W.R. Giblin was effective from 1868, formalised by January 1873 and tabled as a full time civil service position on Thomas Nevin’s appointment to the positions of Office-Keeper and Hall Keeper for the Municipal Police and Mayorial Offices at the Town Hall in 1876. His contract expired in January 1881.

Thomas Nevin Office keeper Municipal Council HobartAbove: Thomas Nevin, Office-keeper for the Municipal and Police Offices of Hobart Town,
published in The
Mercury January 1st, 1878.

During those years Thomas Nevin was responsible for the Criminals Register at the Town Hall Office and its supplement of his prisoner ID (identification) photographs. Thomas Nevin’s younger brother and assistant at the Hobart Gaol, Constable John (W.J. or Jack) Nevin, continued with prisoner identification photography at the Hobart Gaol until his (Jack’s) death in 1891. Their job entailed the photographing of convicted males at least twice: on admission to the Gaol, and on release from custody. Prisoners with prior convictions were also photographed while incarcerated and awaiting trial, a duty performed by a prison official specifically appointed. Constable W.J. (John) Nevin, Thomas Nevin’s brother performed this duty prior to each criminal sessions to assist his brother prepare the lists and the required quantities of plates, chemicals etc. Once released, the ex-prisoner was required to report regularly to the central Police Office at the Hobart Town Hall where the Registers were kept updated. This procedure was adopted as early as 1871 with the commencement of the transfer of prisoners from the Port Arthur penitentiary, 60 kms from Hobart, to the city prison in Hobart, and escalated in May 1873 with the tabling of a report of the remaining prisoners due for transfer from Port Arthur by Attorney-General W.R. Giblin in Parliament.

THE CASE of CHARLES DOWNES

Prisoner Charles Downes, transported on the Rodney 2, was photographed by Nevin at the Supreme Court, Hobart Gaol on 13th February 1872 when Downes was sentenced to death, but reprieved to life imprisonment for the rape of a 9 year old girl in 1875. This duplicate of Nevin’s original photograph is held at the National Library of Australia, incorrectly catalogued with the date “1874” and the place “Port Arthur.” Downes’ name too is incorrectly spelt as “Dawnes“.

National Library of Australia Catalogue
nla.pic-an24612634 PIC P1029/6 LOC Album 935
Charles Dawnes, per Rodney 2, taken at Port Arthur, 1874
1 photograph on carte-de-visite mount : albumen ; 9.6 x 5.7 cm.
Part of Convict portraits, Port Arthur, 1874 [picture]

The Archives Office of Tasmania also holds a copy or duplicate with the prisoner’s name spelt correctly as “Downes”, with Nevin’s correct attribution, but with incorrect details pertaining to the date and place of photographic capture. The mount is numbered “44”.

POLICE RECORDS
Between 1871 and 1875, the police gazettes show just THREE records for Charles Downes per Rodney 2.

1. His arrest for petty larceny on 23 August 1871, published 1st September 1871:

Charles Downes 1 Sept 1871 arrest

Charles Downes was arrested by the Hobart Town Municipal Police for the theft of a mason’s hammer and new spade, the property of Henry Surman. The notice was published in the police gazette, 1st September 1871.

2. His release from the Hobart Gaol, 29 November 1871.

Charles Downes larceny 29 Nov 1871

Click on images for readable version

Charles Downes, discharge published on 29 November 1871.

3. His conviction for rape and death sentence

Within weeks of his release, Downes offended again. On 13 February 1872, he was convicted for rape of a 9 year old at the circus on the Domain.

Charles Downes death 13 Feb 1872

The gazette was prepared by the Municipal Police Office for their Central Registry, located at the Hobart Town Hall. It was printed weekly by the government printer James Barnard, and formally titled Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police.

NEWSPAPER REPORTS

Details of the crime were made public in The Mercury, 15 December 1872.

Mercury report of Charles Downes sentence 15 Feb 1872

The Mercury 15 February 1872

Charles Downes was found guilty on a charge of feloniously assaulting Dorothy Smith, aged 9 years, in Stacey’s revolving circus in the Queen’s Domain, and remanded for sentence.

Public outrage at capital punishment, sparked by the execution of Job Smith whom Nevin had photographed under the alias of William Campbell (NLA and TMAG Collections), referred to the reprieve granted to Charles Downes, as well as Marsh and Henry Page, in letters to The Mercury, May 29th 1875. This letter expressed disbelief in the inconsistencies of the sentences:

Capital Punishment: Marsh, Page and Downes reprieved,
Job Smith executed.
The Mercury 29 May 1875

Charles Downes was granted a reprieve. He died in custody at the Hobart Gaol. The inquest into his death was published in The Mercury 13 August 1878.

Death of Charles Downes,
Inquest reported in The Mercury, 13 August 1878

TRANSPORTATION RECORDS

At the Archives Office of Tasmania:

  1. Names
19837 Downes Charles 20 Dec 1851 Rodney (2) 24 Sep 1851 Queenstown
  1. Conduct records

Convict Records show Charles Downes was tried and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 1847 at Guildford (UK), was convicted for theft of a leaden weight and minor thefts of turnips and chickens for shorter periods, and arrived in Hobart on the Rodney 2 on 20 December 1851. He received a conditional pardon (CP) and ticket-of-leave (TOL) in August 1853.

Someone has written on this record this information –

Tried SC Hobart 13th February 1872. Rape. Death
described committed to imprisonment for Life. PA. Hb 2/4/1877

  • and signed and dated the annotation at Hobart, 21 April 1877. This annotation was probably made for the compilation of the Criminal Register at the Municipal Police Office, Town Hall, in the same year 1877, in which The New York Times published an article (March 25 1877) from The London Times reporting the publication of a Register of Criminals for the years 1869-1876.

New York Times 25 March 1877

Charles Downes, per Rodney

Complete page of Downes’ transportation conduct record
Archives Office of Tasmania
Click on image for readable version

See more of Nevin’s mugshots in RELATED POSTS main weblog