Constable W.J. Nevin at inquest 1882

The Nevin Brothers, Thomas (T. J. Nevin, 1842-1923) and John (W. J. Nevin, 1852-1891) served the Police and Prisons Departments of the Tasmanian government from the late 1860s to the late 1880s. Thomas was contracted as prisons and police photographer by the family solicitor, Attorney-General and later Premier, W.R. Giblin, from 1868, serving the New Town Territorial Police and the Municipal Police, as police photographer (1870s), and during the Chiniquy riots at the Town Hall as special constable (1879). He was also assistant bailiff in the City Police Court and Supreme Court (1880s).

The boy in this stereograph (figure on viewer’s left) is Jack Nevin, later Constable John Nevin (William John), younger brother of commercial and police photographer Thomas J. Nevin. Jack is pictured standing next to a prison official who was probably Mr T.P. Ball, Superintendent of the Prisoners Barracks in 1857 at the Campbell Street Gaol.

Location: W.L. Crowther Library
ADRI: AUTAS001125299420

Jack Nevin’s signature pose in this photograph – left hand on hip – also appears in a family group photograph taken a decade later:

This is a very young Jack Nevin ca. 1865, later Constable John Nevin in his favorite pose – left hand on hip – at the Hobart Gaol. Detail of stereo by his older brother Thomas J. Nevin (State Library of Tasmania)

Thomas nevin seated Jack Nevin top right

The Nevin Group Portrait ca. 1870s (detail):
Jack Nevin, top right, Thomas Nevin seated
From © KLW NFC & The Nevin Family Collections 2009 ARR

This is a detail of a group photo, taken in the early 1870s and reprinted at a later unknown date on newspaper, of Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin, both seated, with younger brother Jack Nevin standing in his signature pose, hands on hips again, on viewer’s extreme right.

Jack Nevin was his elder brother’s assistant at the Hobart Gaol, Campbell Street during Thomas’ commissions as police photographer in prisons and police courts. He helped maintain one of their photographic studios in New Town, assisting in the production of stereographs and studio portraits on cartes-de-visite intermittently from the 1860s. He was employed at the Hobart Gaol under the supervision of the keeper Ringrose Atkins from 1874, and became a Constable on salary at the male prison at Cascades and  H.M. Prison, Hobart in 1875, serving until his untimely death at age 39 in 1891. He died suddenly of typhoid fever on 17 June 1891, registered as “Goal messenger”.

Jack Nevin ca 1874-6
Photographed by his brother Thomas Nevin
From © The Private Collection of Denis Shelverton 2006-2009 ARR.

In this image reproduced on newspaper, his brother Thomas captured him in a relaxed standing pose leaning on a book (signifier of literacy), wearing a shirt, tie, fob watch, and three piece suit with velvet collars. In the later photograph (below) taken ca. 1880, Jack Nevin looks very relaxed and very savvy about the process of being photographed. His gaze is direct and very keen, his clothes suitable for everyday work in a foul place such as a prison. His salaried positions were primarily in administration, with a career path and ranking similar to the Keeper’s. Older brother Thomas Nevin had been a Keeper too of a public institution, at the Hobart Town Hall between 1876-1880, a special constable during the Chiniquy Riots of 1879, and assistant bailiff in the courts during the 1880s. Jack Nevin’s presence at the Gaol points to a close family involvement by both Nevin brothers with prisoner documentation – visual and written.


Constable W. J. Nevin ca. 1880.
Photo taken by his brother Thomas Nevin
© KLW NFC & The Nevin Family Collections 2009 ARR


This record of Jack Nevin’s application to the Constabulary Tasmania, signed by the Sheriff on 28th February 1877, not only gives details of Jack’s former employment at the Cascades Goal for Males between  August 1875 and April 1876, it details his physical characteristics: aged 25, single, height nearly 5ft 6″,  educated but not too well, a labourer by trade, a Wesleyan by religion and Belfast born, arriving free on the Fairlie (1852). He was of course no more than a babe in arms in 1852, noted on the ship’s sick lists, but this record shows no physical deformity or disease as an adult. These records are crudely categorical, as we know that Jack Nevin was highly literate, the son of a journalist and poet, and brother of a spelling bee whizz, his sister Mary Ann, and brother too of Thomas, a police photographer with powerful political mentors. Because he was an amateur rather than professional photographer, his trade is listed as “labourer”, i.e. no specialist apprenticeship or profession.

W.J. Nevin Applications to join the Constabulary Tasmania 1877 and 1881
Records Courtesy State Library of Tasmania

While a constable at the Cascade Gaol for Males, Constable Nevin was involved in an incident which was reported in The Mercury, 27 October:

Constable Nevin, Mercury, 27 October 1875

Constable Nevin, Mercury, 27 October 1875.


Tuesday 26th October, 1875
Before Mr. Tarleton, Police Magistrate
PEACE DISTURBERS. – Robert Evans and William Inman were charged by Constable Pearce, of the Cascades, with having disturbed the peace in Upper Macquarie-street on the 24th inst. The defendants pleaded “not guilty”. Constables Pearce and Nevin, of the Cascades, proved that the defendants were throwing stones and making a disturbance. The Police Magistrate said that in Upper Macquarie-street there existed the roughest of lads in Hobart Town. He would sentence both defendants to 14 days’ imprisonment, and warn them that on proof of a second they would probably be birched.

On 22nd December 1881, Jack Nevin’s second application – a renewal of the 1877 application – to the Constabulary Tasmania was again signed by the Sheriff. Aged 27, his details are more general on this form: religion is listed simply as “Protestant” and birthplace simply “Ireland” but he is still single – living with his parents at Kangaroo Valley – and still free of disease or deformity. His service at Cascades and the Hobart Gaol is listed, as is the lack of a trade.


View from the hill above Quarry to the Hobart Gaol
Courtesy Archives Office of Tasmania
Ref: 30-5718c. Unattributed, ca. 1885.

On the 14 May 1882, Constable W.J. Nevin was on duty at 11.45am when the guard in the sentry box on the hill at the Quarry behind the stone-shed near the Hobart Gaol failed to return. Nevin was dispatched to investigate and found the guard, Frank Green, dying of a gunshot wound. “I am shot, John” were Green’s dying words as Nevin lifted his head.

John Nevin Mercury 15 May 1882

Death by Gunshot Wound
The Mercury, 15 May 1882

Frank Green was 21 yrs old, rather tall, a Catholic, single, born in Hobart and a former sailor when he joined the Constabulary for the first time, signed in by the Sheriff on October 1st,  1878.

Frank Green application to join the Constabulary Tasmania 1878
State Library of Tasmania

At the inquest held at the Bird-in-Hand Hotel five days later, John Nevin was a key witness. The jury of seven reached a verdict of accidental death. Coroner Tarleton found the guard Frank Green had slipped when about to descend the hill and his double-barrelled breech loading gun had caught in a string on his coat, discharging a bullet through his abdomen and lung.

The Mercury 19 May 1882


The Electoral Roll of the Electoral District of North Hobart, year commencing 11th April, 1884, showed this entry:

NEVIN, William John
Place of Abode: H.M. Gaol
Nature of qualification: Salary
Particulars of Qualification: H.M. Government

Nevin, William John: Electoral Roll for North Hobart 1884.

Source: Archives Office Tasmania
mfmN206 Tasmania Electoral Roll
Vols: 1884-85;1886;1886-88

North Hobart electoral roll 1884

Source of Microfilm (shot from screen at NLA):
Archives Office Tasmania
mfmN206 Tasmania Electoral Roll
Vols: 1884-85;1886;1886-88

North Hobart electoral roll 1884

The Royal Arms insignia on this document and which appeared on all government documents in 19th century Tasmania also appeared on Thomas Nevin’s studio stamps printed on the verso of convict identification photos taken at the Port Arthur and Hobart Town gaols, and on several of his portraits of people who may have been prison officials. e.g James Boyd, and A. H. Boyd.

The Keeper of H.M. Gaol, Hobart, from the 1st January 1874 was Ringrose Austin Atkins (see record above). He was listed on the Electoral Roll for North Hobart for the year commencing April 11th, 1884 on “salary“, and resident at the gaol in Campbell Street. The gaol was conventionally known as the Campbell Street Gaol [CSG]. In the same year, 1884, William John Nevin was also listed on “salary” at H. M. Gaol, Hobart, and also resident there. His position is not listed, but  it is clear that he was in training as Keeper under Ringrose Atkins’ supervision. The term “Keeper” denotes a manager of an archive: it is still used as a position title at the Public Records Office of Victoria.


Family solicitor and mentor to the Nevin brothers, Attorney-General W. R. Giblin (1840-1887)
Portrait by Thomas Nevin ca. 1874
Courtesy of the Archives Office of Tasmania Ref: NS1013/1971

Map of the old Hobart Gaol
Photo © KLW NFC & The Nevin Family Collection 2008 ARR
Click on thumbnail for large view

CITY POLICE in UNIFORM, Hobart, late 1880s

Images courtesy Archives Office of Tasmania
Unattributed, ca. 1885
Refs: (top) NS1013-1-19 (below) NS1013-1c.