A first-class faithful Likeness, February 1873


Woman posed sitting with bag and umbrella
Thomas J. Nevin’s commercial studio stamp ca. 1871
Images courtesy Marcel Safier © 2006.

Small businesses in Tasmania were affected by an economic downturn in 1872, precipitated by excessive costs involved in railway construction, a decline in population, and corruption and nepotism within government. Photographers such as Cherry and Spurling were forced to the brink of bankruptcy. Others offered a reduction in prices “to suit the times” as Thomas Nevin put it, in this advertisement in The Mercury on 1st February, 1873:

From the Hobart Mercury, 1st February 1873



Returns his sincere thanks to his friends and the public for past favours, and having made a considerable Reduction in his Prices to suit the times, he solicits a continuance of their patronage, and invites attention to his circulars, showing particulars of the small cost for a first-class faithful Likeness.


Source: Hobart  Mercury, 1st February 1873

The colonial government offered contracts by tender to small businesses for the provision of goods and services to offset hard times. Personal friendships, mutual business support and Lodge affiliations ensured priority and preference. In Thomas Nevin’s case, his family solicitor, Attorney-General W.R. Giblin, and his Loyal United Brothers membership played a key role in the offer to provide the Municipal and Territorial Police, and the Prisons Department with identification photographs of convicted criminals. “A first-class faithful likeness” is exactly what the police wanted of the prisoner and ex-convict population.

The date and wording of this advertisement, February 1873, heralds an importrant addition to Thomas Nevin’s studio stamps designs, from the earlier commercial stamps which featured a kangaroo atop a leather belt encircling the words  T. Nevin, late A. Bock to this studio stamp with the full initials “T. J. Nevin“, the use of “photographic artist” as a vocational term, together with the imprint of the government insiginia, the British Royal Arms featuring a lion and unicorn rampant that appeared on all Tasmanian colonial government documents in the 19th century. This was the stamp he used for commission as government contractor between 1872 and 1876 while still operating a commercial business from his studio in Elizabeth St.

Versos of the cartes below of prisoner James Mullins and William Smith
Photos copyright © KLW NFC 2010 ARR
Mitchell Library SLNSW (PXB 274)

The Royal Arms insignia was in use by T. J. Nevin on his studio stamp by February 1872, which he continued to use until 1876 when appointed full-time to the civil service as police photographer and Town Hall Office-keeper responsible for the Police Photo Books. From 1876-1880 his joint copyright on prisoner ID photographs ceased and so did the printing of his studio stamps on the verso of prisoner mugshots; the government owned his photographic work outright, and continued with the arrangement until 1886 while Nevin combined prison photography with duties as assistant bailiff serving warrants.

The two photographs of prisoners, James Mullins on left and William Smith on right, which bear T. J. Nevin’s government contractor stamp with Hobart Supreme Court insignia.
Photos copyright © KLW NFC 2010 ARR
Mitchell Library SLNSW (PXB 274)

Notice of Mullens’ sentence, two years hard labour,
Hobart Mercury 16 July 1875.

Prisoner James Mullins, also spelt Mullens aka Conlan or Leary, was sentenced for larceny 1875 and absconding 1876 from Hobart Gaol. His photo by Thomas Nevin (stamped verso), was taken on 16 July 1875 at the Hobart Gaol and held in the Mitchell Collection, State Library of NSW. Prisoner William Smith was photographed twice by Nevin on different occasions in 1874 and 1875. Both cartes bear Nevin’s official Royal Arms stamp (QVMAG and Mitchell Library Collections).

The warrants circulated to gaols and police stations in the event of an absconder contained not only the original photographic image taken on the prisoner’s incarceration while awaiting the criminal sessions, but also a physical description with details of features and colouring, no doubt supplied by Thomas Nevin from his face-to-face encounter with the man. Descriptions such as this one of prisoner Johnstone aka Bramall or Taylor were published in the weekly police gazettes, compiled at the Town Hall Municipal Police Office. This image of Johnstone aka Bramall and others (eg. Job Smith) was hand-coloured by Thomas Nevin or his assistants in the interests of realism and probably displayed in his shop window at 140 Elizabeth St. to aid the public in recognition. Colouring the eyes, hair, cheeks and prison issue neckerchief underscored Nevin’s claim to render “a first-class faithful likeness” See this article here.

In the same issue of the Mercury, 1st February 1873, Thomas Nevin’s patron, client and friend Samuel Page, who operated the Royal Mail coach between Hobart and Launceston, and transported prisoners from Launceston and regional lockups to the Hobart Gaol on government commission, also advertised a reduction in the price of fares to the general public. Like Thomas Nevin, who provided Samuel Page with commercial photographs of his coach and horses for advertising (examples held at the QVMAG), a reduction in prices was affordable for both because of government commissions.

Samuel Page 1 feb 1873 ad

On and after FRIDAY, 17th January
instant, the Fares will be REDUCED as under-
mentioned: –

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