The Supreme Court mugshots taken by T. J. Nevin from 1871 onwards

Professional and commercial photographer Thomas J. Nevin undertook the job of systematically photographing prisoners who were tried at the Supreme Court, Hobart from February 1872 at the behest of the Tasmanian government. His job description was to photograph as a priority those men who were sentenced to terms longer than 12 months. This was the standard police procedure per amendments to judicial and penal legislation adopted in Victoria and NSW in 1871-2, in force in Tasmania by 1872.

T. J. Nevin’s contractual arrangements with the Lands and Survey Department and the Hobart City Corporation (HCC) commenced in 1868. Attorney-General W.R. Giblin, also the Nevin family solicitor, extended Thomas Nevin’s contract to photograph prisoners in January 1872. Government printer James Barnard designed and registered Nevin’s Royal Arms studio stamp with the HCC Municipal Police Office. Thomas Nevin was the only commercial photographer in Hobart under contract for this work. He advertised his services with this stamp, with his full vocational title – “Photographic Artist” and with the two initials of his first names (Thomas James) “T. J. Nevin”, in all his circulars to clients, patrons, government, and newspapers. Only one trade sample was stamped on the verso to register batches of up to 100 photographs with Customs and the City Corporation’s Municipal Police Office. The design of the Royal Arms insignia used by T. J. Nevin was identical to the seal of the Supreme Court of Tasmania.


Above: Wall chart or poster of Tasmanian convicts produced by the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority ca. 1991 with photographs taken of “Supreme Court men” by Thomas Nevin from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Beattie Collection. Photo © KLW NFC 2009 ARR.

Who were they? They were T.J. Nevin’s sitters for police records, mostly “Supreme Court men” photographed on committal for trial at the Supreme Court adjoining the Hobart Gaol. They were isolated in silence for a month after sentencing. If sentenced for a term longer thatn three months at the Supreme Court Launceston, they were photographed, bathed, shaved and dressed on being received in Hobart. These procedures, past and present, were reported at length by a visitor to the Hobart Gaol and Supreme Court in the Mercury, 8th July 1882:

At the Bathurst-street end of the block are about 30 cells, built in three decker style. They are dark, ill ventilated, and stuffy, were originally intended for the use of convicts awaiting shipment to Port Arthur and do not appear to be fitted for other than temporary quarters … Opening into this yard [Yard 3] are a number of cells, kept as much as possible for Supreme Court first timers, in order to remove them, to some extent at least, from the contaminating influences of the old hands in crime … The next yard and block of cells are also set apart for the use of first timers , and the cells and yard in the next division are appropriated to the use of prisoners under examination or fully committed for trial. At the back of the block is a model prison, in which the silent system is carried out. The cells here are only used for “Supreme Court men,” who are confined in them for one month after sentence, which time they pass in solitary confinement day and night, with the exception of one hour during which they take exercise in the narrow enclosure outside the cells, pacing up and down five yards apart, and in strict silence. There can be no doubt this is, to some at least, a much-dreaded punishment.

Above: Supreme Court Men, Mercury, 8th July 1882

One of the two rooms used by the photographers at the Hobart Gaol was located above the women’s laundry and demolished in 1915.

This photograph of convict William Smith (below centre) is one of the several extant prisoner photographs which the government printer James Barnard stamped verso with the Royal Arms insignia and Nevin’s studio details signifying joint copyright under tender as prisons photographer for the Municipal Police Office and Prisons Department:

“William Smith – 6 years for burglary”

Recto and verso of convict Smith carte with Nevin’s Royal Arms stamp
Carte numbered “199” on recto
QVMAG 1985:p131 ; AOT Ref: 30-3244

William Smith per Gilmore 3 was sentenced in the Supreme Court Hobart on January 26th, 1859 for 14 years for Burglary, absconding etc

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

William Smith per Gilmore 3, was received at the Hobart Gaol from Port Arthur and discharged with a ticket of leave on 10 September 1873. Note that his age and physical measurements were not recorded at the Town Hall Police Office for publication in the gazette because no photograph existed prior to his release. When Nevin photographed him on arrest in April 1874, Smith was wearing a combination of prisoner and civilian clothing. He was also unshaved. The photograph exhibits a degree of liminality of the prisoner’s state: free on a ticket of leave but contained as a criminal in the open prison that was the island of Tasmania.

William Smith reoffended again in April 1874, sentenced to 12 months and photographed by T. J. Nevin on incarceration at the Hobart Gaol.

Wm Smith was discharged on 1st April, 1875.

Less than a month after his discharge, he became a suspect for a burglary at New Town:
“Suspicion attaches to William Smith per Gilmore 3 … ” published in the police gazette of 23rd April, 1875, accompanied with the notice of a warrant. The warrant included the photograph above by Nevin.

Police gazette notice: Wm Smith per Gilmore 3 Warrant for arrest 23 April 1875.

Thomas Nevin’s knowledge of Smith from face-to-face contact while photographing him in 1874 was used as an adjunct in the written description issued by police of Smith’s 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, police gazette notice of 9th July, 1875.

Thomas Nevin photographed William Smith again at the Hobart Gaol, this time wearing the standard prison issue of a grey uniform and black leathern hat. The journalist visiting the Hobart Gaol in 1882 noted this uniform with the hat in his report to the Mercury, (as above), on 8th July 1882:

Mercury 8 July 1882 “black leathern caps” 


In their dark-grey uniform and black leathern caps, with their criminal visages, shaven of the covering Nature had given to aid them in the concealment of their vicious propensities and villainous characters, they were, in truth, a forbidding, repulsive lot. Yet very far from unintelligent, at least, in some marked instances. A villainous shrewdness and a perverse cleverness writ in many a cunning, gleamy eye and heavy brow ; and a dogged determination to be read in the set of the jaw, and the style of the gait, were as the translated speech of artfully calculated, daring crime.

Recto and Verso of photograph of William Smith per Gilmore 3.
Photo by Thomas Nevin, July 1875
Stamped verso with Nevin’s studio stamp and Royal Arms
Mitchell Library NSW PXB 274
Photography © KLW NFC The Nevin Family Collections 2008-2010 ARR

Above and below: the second photograph of William Smith per Gilmore 3 taken by Nevin at the Hobart Gaol while the prisoner awaited committal for trial at the Supreme Court, on 9th July 1875.

William Smith per Gilmore 3.
Photo by Thomas Nevin, July 1875
Stamped verso with Nevin’s government stamp
Mitchell Library NSW PXB 274 No.1

The first photograph taken by Nevin of William Smith  is numbered “199″. This, the second of William Smith is numbered “200″ and it is another original photograph which bears Nevin’s stamp with the Royal Arms insignia on verso. It is held at the Mitchell Library, NSW, among others by Nevin acquired by David Scott Mitchell prior to 1907. The sequence of numbers is insignificant, whether transcribed from a police register, or whether devised by archivists in the 20th century. There is no real-time-based relationship between the photographs: in one William Smith is bewhiskered and wearing a patterned scarf (April 1874); in the other he is clean shaven and wearing a plain neckerchief and hat (July 1875). They were clearly taken at different times during Smith’s well-documented criminal career.


Name:Smith, William
Record Type:Convicts
Additional identifier:2
Arrival date:20 Aug 1843
Departure date:16 Apr 1843
Departure port:London
Ship:Gilmore (3)
Voyage number:216
Index number:66380
Document ID:
Conduct Record CON33/1/39
Description List CON18/1/36
Indent CON14/1/20
Muster Roll CSO83/1/1
Archives Office Tasmania

PROVENANCE of the PRISONER PHOTOGRAPHS (also known as “Convict Portraits”)
Many of these “convict portraits” held at the National Library of Australia were donated by Dr Neil Gunson as estrays from a defunct Government Department more than 40 years ago. They may have been Thomas Nevin’s duplicates but copies of the same images are held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and the Archives Office of Tasmania. This simple fact underscores the extensive copying which has taken place since the mid 20th century, principally from the QVMAG collection: 1958, 1977, 1982, 1985, 1987 and most recently for a digital database.

Although the Nevin brothers produced thousands of photographs of prisoners between 1872 and 1890, the bulk has been lost, destroyed or sold at private auction. The remaining 300 plus from the 1870s were selected or salvaged by John Watt Beattie ca. 1900 – 1916 to display in his convictaria museum for tourists; he selected only those prisoners whose sentences were severe enough to warrant a criminal sitting in the Supreme Court, the offender’s apparent notoriety the selling point. In this respect, they are not a random selection, nor a series. But they were not salvaged because they were an archive held at the Port Arthur prison; they were never held at Port Arthur during its operation as a prison, nor taken there. Thomas Nevin photographed the prisoner once as a single capture in Hobart, produced prints from his original glass negatives at his city studio and later at studios in the Hobart Gaol, Campbell St. and the Police Office and Mayor’s Court, Hobart Town Hall. He made at least four duplicates from the glass negative for circulation to other prisons and police offices in regional Tasmania, in addition to the copies needed to paste onto warrants, prisoner records sheets, and the central register held at the Hobart Town Hall.

The archivist who wrote “Taken at Port Arthur 1874” on the versos of many of these photographs used a generalised synoptic copy of the original historic copy of the police gazette records, omitting the date of any trial, the place of any trial, and the length of sentence, recording only the name of the prisoner, and the ship on which he arrived in Tasmania (called Van Diemen’s Land if prior to 1854). As all these Supreme Court men were second and repeat offenders, with many trials and discharges to their credit, the archivist recorded on the versos old information to heighten their appeal as early convictaria from Tasmania’s penal heritage.

For this reason, the inscriptions on the versos “1874″ and “Taken at Port Arthur” are two errors creating misinformation which has led to assumptions by State archivists, librarians, museum curators, catalogue technicians and general copyists in the 20th century. They are fake claims made in the name of tourism. The principal copyists were John Watt Beattie and Edward Searle ca. 1915, who removed the photographs from the original records – whether from the criminal’s rap sheet held in the Sheriff’s Office at the Hobart Gaol (ca. 1895), or from another of Thomas Nevin’s several duplicates made from his one capture on glass, held at the central Habitual Criminals’ Register devised at the Hobart Town Hall Municipal Police Office.

John Watt Beattie probably reprinted copies from Nevin’s glass negatives to sell as postcards in his “Port Arthur Museum”, located in Hobart, copies now held at the Port Arthur heritage site and obtained from the Ratcliff museum set up for the tourist trade in the 1930s. When Beattie died in 1930, the Launceston Council acquired these photographs from his estate, donating them to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston where most of the extant photographs of prisoners from the 1870s are now located. Some were acquired by the private collector David Scott Mitchell, who donated his collection to the State Library of NSW in 1907, now held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. Since none of the thirteen (and more) photographs by Thomas Nevin of prisoners held at the Mitchell has any wording relating to Port Arthur or the date 1874 on the versos, and since they were acquired in NSW before 1907, it is an absolute fact that the “Taken at Port Arthur 1874” inscription was the work of an archivist in Tasmania after 1907, and probably for inclusion in convictaria material which accompanied the intercolonial exhibition on the fake convict ship Success in Sydney, Hobart, Adelaide, and Melbourne.

Most but not all the photographs were catalogued and copied again in 1958, 1977, and 1985 at the QVMAG for distribution to the National Library of Australia, Canberra; the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart; and the Archives Office of Tasmania. In 1991 the QVMAG printed a poster of their prisoner photographs for the Port Arthur Historic Site, titled “WHO WERE THEY?” (see above). However, the prison site and penitentiary at Port Arthur, 60 kms south of Hobart, were not in anyway associated with the original commission of these 1870s photographs; the tourist promoter John Watt Beattie ascribed the name of Port Arthur and the wording “Taken at Port Arthur 1874” as pure hype to attract the tourist during the boom of the early 1900s when the first 20 minute film based on Marcus Clarke’s book (1874), “For the Term of His Natural Life” (1907) was released, and when the Tasmanian Government mounted an interstate campaign to promote Port Arthur, renamed as Carnarvon, as Tasmania’s major tourist attraction. Beattie was also capitalizing on Clarke’s book and its publication date, hence his use of the date “1874″.




Second sitting of the Supreme Court Hobart, 4th July 1871

One of the first prisoners photographed by T. J. Nevin at the Supreme Court Hobart was John Appleby, transported on the ship Candahar 1842.


John Appleby and Henry Taylor alias Bramall were among the first prisoners to be photographed by Nevin at the Supreme Court and Hobart Gaol. Appleby was photographed at the second sitting in July 1871. The vignetted copies below are held at the National Library of Australia.

John Appleby, per Candahar 1842, held at the National Library of Australia.
Photograph taken by T.J. Nevin, 4th July 1871


NLA Catalogue
Part of collection: Convict portraits, Port Arthur, 1874.; Gunson Collection file 203/7/54.; Title from inscription on reverse. Two copies of the same image, one of which has been hand coloured.; Condition: Foxing lower left and right and upper left.; Inscription: title and “71”–In ink on reverse.

Henry Taylor aka Bramall or Johnstone was tried at the Supreme Court Launceston on 17th October 1867, transferred to the Hobart Gaol and assigned to a gang working at the nearby Cascade factory. He was photographed among the first group which included Appleby in 1871. His photograph was hand coloured by Nevin’s studio and placed in the studio window to assist the public in recognition and recapture of the prisoner when he absconded on February 6, 1874 from a gang at the Cascade factory.

Auto adjusted to show the colouring, especially the prison scarf painted onto the prisoner’s neck.

Johnstone aka Bramall or Taylor absconded, reported February 6, 1874
Source: Tasmania Reports on Crime for Police Information

Third sitting of the Supreme Court Hobart 12th September 1871

SMITH, Henry

Thomas Nevin photographed Henry SMITH, per Rodney 2, Free in Servitude when he was sentenced to 5 yrs for housebreaking at the Supreme Court Hobart Town on 12 September 1871.

The print from Nevin’s negative is held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery:

Henry Smith, per Rodney 2
Photo by T.J. Nevin Sept 1871
QVMAG Collection Ref: 1985:P:0155

Below is a mounted original of one of Thomas Nevin’s several carte-de-visite duplicates, which he then prepared from the negative for pasting to the criminal’s record sheet at the Hobart Gaol and for circulation to regional prisons and the central city Municipal Police Office. It is held at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and reproduced in Isobel Crombie’s book, Body Culture in 2004 (page 39) but with the misattribution to the non-photographer A.H. Boyd, the result of the TMAG’s reliance on the author of their publication, Chris Long, Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940: A Directory (1995). Crombie assumed the photograph was taken as part of an anthropological “project” down there at Port Arthur for reasons best known to herself, but principally and probably because of Long’s unfounded “belief” in his photographer attribution to the Port Arthur officer A.H. Boyd, and so situated the photograph within a discourse of eugenics rather than police surveillance because of the error, the association, and the misattribution.

Click on images for readable versions

This mounted cdv used by Isobel Crombie in 2004 was acquired by the TMAG ca 1983 from the QVMAG where the photograph of Henry Smith was deposited after an exhibition at the Port Arthur site, instead of being returned to the original collection . Another copy or one of Nevin’s original cdv duplicates is held at the Archives Office of Tasmania, with correct attribution to Thomas Nevin, but with the same error of date (not 1874) and place of capture (not Port Arthur):

Archives of Tasmania
Henry Smith per Rodney 2
Photo by Thomas J. Nevin
Supreme Court Sept 1871
Ref: PH_PH30-3s_30-3260c

Many of the extant prisoner identification photographs taken by T.J. Nevin at Supreme Court sittings were taken in 1872. In 1873, the Supreme Court in Hobart sat four times, once per every 3 month quarter, and in Launceston, twice per year in each six month period. This was standard practice right through the years when Nevin was contracted to attend on and about each of those dates to photograph men at trial and sentencing. His last know date of employment working with police is 1886.

In every sitting of the Supreme Court in both Hobart and Launceston, the names of prisoners whose mugshots survive in public collections today also appear in the Supreme Court trials and sentencing records, hence the belief that Beattie or another archivist used some version of the Supreme Court trials to select the men whose photographs survive. If anyone should doubt the attribution of these prisoner photographs – whether the name of the original photographer (Nevin), the place and date of the photographic capture (Supreme Court, Hobart Gaol, MPO), and the purpose of the photograph (MPO Register) – he/she should apply themselves to matching these court records (now digitized at the State Library of Tasmania) with each extant photograph, as per our example set here, and take note: no prisoner photograph was taken at the Port Arthur site in the 1870s for the government by the accountant/Commandant and non-photographer A.H. Boyd (1871-73). These photographs (examples from early 1873) and many more taken at the 1872 court sittings were taken BEFORE July 1873 when two gross of glass plates (288) supposedly arrived at Port Arthur. The plates were privately ordered and used by Samuel Clifford for documenting the deterioration of the prison buildings, the surrounding landscape, and the groups of visiting VIPS.

At the discretion of the police and prison authorities, Thomas Nevin photographed these men again when they were released to work on various conditions (Free in Servitude etc), and who were then required to report on a regular basis to the Town Hall Municipal Police Office. When they re-offended, they were often photographed in street clothing on arrest, usually at their regional police station. When sentenced to longer than three months, the prisoner was transferred from the regional lock-up, eg. Launceston, to the city prison, the Hobart Gaol in Campbell Street where Nevin’s brother, Constable John Nevin, took several of the extant interesting “booking” mugshots.

SUPREME COURT, HOBART TOWN 18th-19th February 1873

From Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police 1873, James Barnard Gov’t Printer.


Henry BROWN, transported as BROADMORE, 8 yrs, held at QVMAG

Taken at the Supreme Court Hobart, 18-19 February 1873.

William MARSDEN, 5 yrs,held at QVMAG

Taken at the Supreme Court Hobart, 18-19 February 1873.

Charles GARFITT or GARFORTH, 8 yrs, held at QVMAG

Taken at the Supreme Court Hobart, 18-19 February 1873.

etc etc

Police gazette of 15th February 1873
Above: the front page gives instructions to constables on the proper way to detain offenders in other Australian jurisdictions who were wanted on warrant in Tasmania.
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police J. Barnard Gov’t printer