Parliament House Hobart 1873 Unattributed
State Library of Tasmania
Prisoner SMITH, William per Rodney 3
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin 1874
Verso stamped with Nevin’s Royal Arms government contractor stamp
How many people in Tasmania over the decade 1866 to 1875 were convicted of a crime, and how many were photographed? These tables from the Journals of the House of Assembly 1875-6 gives the statistics for the Decennial Returns of persons dealt with by the Superior Courts (first table) and a Comparative Table showing the number of offences, apprehensions, convictions and acquittals for the years 1872, 1873, 1874 and 1875.
The crime statistics per capita are staggering, confirming the often held hypothesis that Tasmania was a police state from its inception as a penal colony in 1804 to the final years of the 19th century.
Thomas J. Nevin began the systematic photographing of prisoners tried at the Supreme Court Hobart and committed at the adjoining Hobart Gaol, Campbell Street, from the second sitting of the court in July 1871. In that sitting he photographed John Appleby (photograph at the NLA); James Glenn (photograph at the TMAG) and Graham Joseph (photograph at the QVMAG and AOT). Between 1868 and 1875, a total number of persons convicted in the Superior Courts was one thousand and eighty-eight (1,088).
Further refining the time span when photography was introduced as a means of police surveillance, from 1871 to 1875, the total number of persons convicted in the Superior Courts totalled three hundred and forty-three (343). This last group was photographed by Nevin from the start of his commission as a commercial photographer under government contract. Most of the photographs he took of males in this last group, between 1871 and 1875, survive in public collections today for TWO principal reasons:
Proof that the 109 prisoners held at the Port Arthur prison had been transferred back to Hobart by mid 1873 so that the government could proceed with the closure of the Port Arthur site. This proof – in the form of criminal records carrying the vignetted photograph of the prisoner – was deemed necessary by the Legislative Council and Assembly because the Attorney-General W.R. Giblin was trying to stall the closure of the Port Arthur prison on account of his brother-in-law A.H. Boyd, who was the incumbent Commandant there from 1871. Giblin was attempting to ensure that Boyd continued to enjoy his high salary, life of ease, power, position and social status. However, by December 1873, Boyd was forced to resign under allegations of nepotism and corruption directed at his brother-in-law, A-G Giblin in the Parliament. Giblin had been Nevin’s family solicitor since 1868, when Nevin dissolved his business partnership with Robert Smith, and it was Thomas J. Nevin whom the Hon. W. R. Giblin approached for the job.
As assurance to the Parliament, one hundred and nine (109) names of convicts who were sent to Port Arthur from Hobart from the year 1871 at the discretion of the Hobart Gaol Sheriff Thomas Reidy were officially tabled in Parliament on July 15th 1873 as soon as the resolution was passed in the House of Assembly to immediately close the prison at Port Arthur and transfer the prisoners there back to the Hobart Gaol. Thomas Nevin’s earlier contract with the Lands and Survey Department dating from 1868 was extended to provide the Parliament with their photographs.
Of those one hundred and nine (109) “Port Arthur convicts”, sixty (60) had already been relocated to the Hobart Gaol where they were bathed, shaved, clothed in standard issue, and photographed by Nevin if he had not already photographed them at their Supreme Court committal from 1871 onwards. Those whose photographs did not exist prior to their relocation to the Hobart Gaol in 1873, and who were therefore photographed for the first time in 1873, had been convicted in the Superior Courts before 1871, i.e. in the 1860s-1870, and therefore before Nevin began his commission for the Colonial Government which had transferred the control of prisons from Imperial funding to Colonial funding in 1871 at exactly the time Nevin’s commission was issued.
The prisoners’ names on that list, tabled on 15th July 1873 tally exactly with the names of the prisoners whose photographs survive in public collections, e.g. the 84 names and “convict portraits” held at the National Library of Australia (84), most of which are the copies and exact duplicates of the same names of prisoner photographs held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (72), the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (56), the Mitchell Library SLNSW (13), and the State Library of Tasmania (10).
In summary, Nevin photographed the one hundred and nine (109) transferees from Port Arthur in 1873, some of whom had already been photographed on committal at the Hobart Gaol in 1871-1873 after their trial and held in cells specifically designated for them and while awaiting to be sent to 60kms away to the Port Arthur prison. For many they were being sent back there as recidivists originally transported to Tasmania (VDL) prior to cessation in 1853. Out of the total number – three hundred and fort-three (343) photographed between 1871 and 1875, a few were females. Their “mugshots” apparently have not survived from those years. The remaining photographs, ca. three hundred (300) were copied with numbers used by archivists up to the number 322 at a later date for archival and commercial purposes (e.g. for sale at the exhibition in Sydney in conjunction with convictaria from the prison hulk Success, 1916), but in 1873 duplicates (as distinct from copies) of Nevin’s originals were tabled and held in TREASURY, paid for out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, from which Nevin received commission as the government contractor. Other duplicates – at least four made from every glass negative – were held at the Hobart Gaol, at the central registry in the Town Hall Municipal Police Office, and circulated to territorial and regional police on the prisoner’s discharge on various conditions to work.
Tourism, pure and simple. The commercial (and amateur) photographer John Watt Beattie was commissioned as government photographer in 1892 to provide tourist memorabilia of Tasmania’s penal heritage, especially to interstate tourists in the hope they would visit Carnarvon, as the former Port Arthur prison site was renamed and revamped at considerable cost, and heavily promoted as Tasmania’s premier tourist attraction (nothing’s changed, it seems). Beattie salvaged Nevin’s 1870s’ prisoner vignettes, originals and duplicates, and glass negatives from a number of sources:
- the Treasury where Giblin had tabled and paid for them;
- the Sheriff’s Office at the Hobart Gaol where old criminal records carrying the pasted photograph remained intact;
- the old photographer’s room at the Hobart Gaol which was due for demolition in 1915;
- the Municipal Police Office at the Hobart Town Hall where Nevin was Office-keeper of the criminal registers from 1875;
- and from families, collectors, and auctions.
J. W. Beattie’s collections were accessioned at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery on his death in 1930, and exhibited in Launceston in 1934. These are the sources of the extant prisoner photographs, mistakenly catalogued as “Convict portraits, Port Arthur 1874” in the years 1916, 1958, 1977, 1985 and 1991, when they were extensively copied and circulated to other national museums and libraries. Estrays from a government source were donated to the National Library of Australia in 1964. If Beattie had not salvaged them, these early photographs of Australian prisoners would not have survived as they do today in public collections.
One obvious question remains: where are the rest of the “mugshots” of all the other persons convicted, apprehended, tried, and acquitted in Tasmania during the Nevin brothers’ involvement as police photographers. Constable John Nevin, Thomas Nevin’s brother, was his assistant in the Hobart Gaol from the mid 1870s to the mid 1880s. There would have been at least two thousand in existence by 1880. The 1890s prisoner mugshots have survived, and are held at the Archives Office of Tasmania (See GD128 Photographic record and description of prisoners) , but those from Nevin’s active involvement were largely destroyed because they pictured men with the dreaded and shameful connection to Port Arthur. From historians such as Robson (1983) and Alexander (2010), it is clear that the “stain” of convict heritage was keenly felt by Tasmanians as the 20th century approached: the majority of these same mugshots from the 1870s and 1880s were burnt, destroyed and even smuggled to Melbourne to be auctioned privately. The Lyons government (1923-1928) was principally involved in their destruction.
SUMMARY of STATISTICS
Journals of the House of Assembly and Legislative Council 1875-6:
- Four (4) persons were executed between 1868 and 1875. Thomas Nevin photographed Job Smith executed in May 1875. Copies or duplicates of his photograph are held at the National Library of Australia and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.
- Twenty one thousand, eight hundred and fifty six (21, 856) persons were tried in the Superior Courts between 1868 and 1875.
- One thousand and eighty-eight (1,088) persons were convicted in the Superior Courts between 1868 and 1875.
- Three hundred and forty-three (343) persons were convicted AND PHOTOGRAPHED by Nevin in the Superior Courts between 1871 and 1875.
Comparative table showing the number of offences etc
Source: Journals of the Tasmanian House of Assembly 1873-1875 (NLA Microfilm)
More detail: Tasmanian crime statistics 1866-1875
Source: Journals of the Tasmanian House of Assembly 1873-1875 (NLA Microfilm)
The list of 109 prisoners sent to Port Arthur from 1871 and tabled to return by October 1873 to the Hobart Gaol:
The list continued:
109 prisoners sent to Port Arthur from 1871 and tabled to return by October 1873 to the Hobart Gaol:
Will the Sheriff be good enough to inform me by what principle or rule he is guided in
selecting Prisoners to be sent to Port Arthur?
10th June, ’73
The transmission of Prisoners to Port Arthur is not regulated by any Executive rule, but the Sheriff in his discretion selects them from the following classes: –
1st. Men convicted before the Supreme Court.
2nd. Absconders from Gaols or Labour Gangs.
3rd. Men under Magisterial Sentences of 12 months and upwards.
4th. From men of the last class under shorter sentences if required to keep up the strength of the Establishment.
The Hon. F.M. INNES J. FORSTER
11 June, ’73.
NOMINAL RETURN of all Prisoners sent to PORT ARTHUR since its transfer to the Colonial
Government, showing their Ages, dates of Conviction, where Convicted, Crimes, and Sentences.
Names. Age. Date of Conviction Where Convicted. Crimes Sentences
Smith, Samuel or Ketts
Douglas, Robert or Welsh
Campbell, William alias Job Smith
Willis, Geo or Metcalfe
Jones, William alias Jas. Brocklehurst
Smith, John alias Wm Orrin
Blanchfield, Jas. W,
Smith, John alias Marsh
Rowe (or Roe), John
H.M. Gaol, &c., for Males, Hobart, 9th June , 1873
The Assistant Colonial Secretary Secretary
GOVERNMENT PRINTER, TASMANIA
The Hon. W. R. GIBLIN’S RESPONSE: the 60 prisoners returned to Hobart before July 15, 1873:
Mr. Gray asked the Honorable the Attorney-General if it is the intention of Government to comply with and carry out the Resolution of this House of 24th June last as to the Port Arthur Establishments.
Mr. Attorney-General replied: – It s. Sixty Prisoners have already been removed to Hobart Town; and it is intended to proceed with their removal as soon as arrangements for the proper custody and control of the Prisoners can be made on the Main Land [i.e. at the Hobart Gaol].
Hon. William Robert Giblin, Tasmanian Attorney-General and Premier
Photo by Thomas J. Nevin 1874.
Verso with T. Nevin stamp
TAHO Collection Ref: NS 1013/1971
Tasmanian Attorney-General and Premier
In J. W. Beattie’s Album, Members of the Tasmanian Parliament 1900
Photo KLW NFC 2014. TAHO Collection.
Order to table expenses spent on repairs at Port Arthur,
Journals of the House of Assembly July 1873 (NLA Microfilm)