Thomas Nevin setting the police at defiance 1881

ALL NATIONS HOTEL Elizabeth and Collins St
HOBART TOWN HALL Thomas J. Nevin 1879-1880

Photograph – All Nations Hotel, Hobart.
Archives Office Tasmania [unattributed, no date]
View online: LPIC147-3-172

Testing the By-Laws at the All Nations Hotel
Thomas J. Nevin was retained as police photographer and assistant bailiff by the Hobart City Corporation on compassionate consideration for his family after his dismissal in December 1880 from the full-time civil service position of Town Hall keeper. He subsequently continued with photographic contracts for the Territorial Police from his studio at New Town, and worked as assistant bailiff to detectives. His dismissal from the Town Hall position was ostensibly for inebriation while on duty, later discovered to be based on false complaints made in retaliation for reporting a particular constable asleep and drunk on duty. There were in fact much larger extenuating circumstances leading to his dismissal. The Hobart City Corporation had stopped payments to civil servants in the aftermath of the public outcry at police mismanagement of the Chiniquy riots in 1879, and a failing economy underscored by corruption within government ranks and over-expenditure on railways led to default of the Supply Bill. With payments stopped to the Civil Service, Thomas Nevin’s position at the Town Hall had become untenable, both in terms of his family’s upkeep, and maintenance of the Town Hall building.

In addition to complaints, there was residual resentment by Thomas J. Nevin and others at the law’s laxity in pursuing the Chiniquy rioters when charges were dropped against the ringleaders in July 1879 by Magistrate Wm Tarleton at the Bench.

Magistrate W. Tarleton
Cartoon by Thomas Midwood [ca. 1880]
[William Tarleton] “Five Shillings or Seven Days in Default” T.M.
State Library of Tasmania Link:

By early 1881, just weeks after his dismissal from the Town Hall keeper position, Thomas Nevin found himself in a situation to test the legislation pertaining to the rights of assembly, congregation and disturbing the peace. On 28th February 1881, Nevin and with two others, Thomas Hodgson and Thomas Paul, were standing on the footpath outside the All Nations Hotel at the corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets, Hobart, when they were reported by the police for obstructing the thoroughfare. In the Police Court, they presented as “respectable citizens … talking over business affairs” before Magistrate Wm. Tarleton, who saw no harm and dropped the charges.

Portion of Town Chart of Hobart, showing situation of the valuable property known as “The All Nations Hotel” and “Eldon Chambers” corner of Collins and Elizabeth Streets, Hobart
Publication Information: [Tasmania? : s.n., 1905?]
View online:

Archives Office Tasmania
“All Nations Hotel” corner of Elizabeth St and Collins St Hobart (SW aspect)
Item Number: NS392/1/741
Creating Agency: Cecil Percy Ray (Photographer) (NG392)

The All Nations Hotel, corner of Elizabeth and Collins Street, Hobart; 
Demolished, replaced by The Commercial Bank, corner of Elizabeth Street and Collins Streets, Hobart
Item Number: PH30/1/438. State Library of Tasmania.

Appearance in Court as “Respectable Citizens”
Thomas J. Nevin had acquired extensive experience working with police by 1881. From 1872 while still a commercial photographer, he worked on government contract in local courts and gaols, providing photographic records of prisoners to the Hobart Municipal Police Office and the Tasmanian colonial government’s Prisons Department. In the years following his appointment to the Hobart City Council as  Hall and Office Keeper at the Hobart Town Hall (1876-1880), he was sworn in as a Special Constable during the Chiniquy riots. On several occasions he had to deal with inebriated constables on night duty who put the security of the Town Hall  at risk. His younger brother Constable John Nevin (1851-1891) was resident messenger and his brother Thomas’s photographic assistant at the H. M. Gaol, Campbell St. until his death from typhus there in 1891. Between them, the Nevin brothers were well-acquainted with the town’s by-laws and members of the constabulary who worked the streets applying them. Not surprising therefore, that Thomas J. Nevin assumed he might have some authority and rank over constables on the beat. When approached by Constable Beard, he not only challenged the constable, he told Beard to “move on.” Although charges were brought, Wm Tarleton on the Bench dismissed them.

Thomas J. Nevin: Obstructing the Thoroughfare
The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. )  Wed 9 Mar 1881  Page 2  CITY POLICE COURT.


OBSTRUCTING THE THOROUGHFARE – Thomas Nevin, Thomas Paul and Thomas Hodgson were charged with having on the 28th of last month stood on one of the footways of a public street within the city, so as to prevent the free passage of others, and refused to pass on when ordered to do so by a constable.

Plea: not guilty. Mr. SARGENT for the defence.

Constable Beard deposed to the three defendants having … standing at the corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets and causing other passers-by to go into the gutter. He asked the defendants to move on one side, when they said they were going away in a minute. When he returned in five minutes’ time, Paul said, “Look out, here comes Beard again”. Hodgson replied, “It don’t matter; we’re talking on business.” He again asked them to move on, but they declined to do so, and ten minutes afterwards, when he again returned, he found them in the same place. Paul then wanted to know why he was disturbing them so much and could not go and look after other people; and Hodgson asked if he wanted to put them out in the road. Nevin said, “We’ll not move till we’re forced”, and took a piece of chalk out of his waistcoat pocket, and marked with it on the footpath. He then stood on the mark and said he would continue to do so until he was taken into custody. Nevin then waved his hand to witness and told him to “move on” .

TO Mr. SARGENT: The defendants were standing outside the All Nations Hotel. When he spoke to them the third time they moved about a foot from the kerbing. Could not say the width of the footpath. He ordered them all to move on. There was a good deal of traffic on this evening. Nevin was setting the police at defiance by his action. To the Bench: Mr. Hodgson is a contractor on the wharf, and the other two are in his employment. He did not listen to their conversation, or know what it was about.

Mr. TARLETON said that the Bench did not think it necessary to ask for any defence, as the by-law under which the charge was enacted, as its preamble explained, for the preventing of the congregation of idle and disorderly persons in the streets and public places, and was certainly never meant to prevent two or three respectable citizens talking over social matters or business affairs, as in this case. It would be a monstrous strain of the by-law to consider this a breach of it, and the information was therefore dismissed.

Thomas J. Nevin: Obstructing the Thoroughfare
 The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. )  Wed 9 Mar 1881  Page 2  CITY POLICE COURT.

These and other by-laws were to become the testing ground as the Labor and Union Movement gathered strength through the 1890s Depression. “We, the Working Men of the City of Hobart Town” were how the supporters of Superintendent Richard Propsting – the man held chiefly responsible for police mismanagement of the Chiniquy riots – identified themselves in The Mercury on 8th July 1879:

The Mercury 8th July 1879 p. 3


We, the undersigned Working Men of the City of Hobart Town, hereby respectively address the City Council on behalf of the Superintendent of Police, Mr. Richard Propsting, and beg to state that in our opinion he is in every way qualified to hold his present position.
We therefore most earnestly request that the Council will not remove him from that position, but show him by their support that he still enjoys their confidence.

Photograph – Richard Propsting
Item Number: PH30/1/282 
Start Date: 01 Jan 1870
Source: Archives Office of Tasmania

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