Prisoner Robert aka James OGDEN, photographed by Nevin 1875

Prisoner Robert Ogden (1861?-1883), known as James Odgen,
executed on 4th June 1883 at the Hobart Goal for murder.
Photographed by Thomas J. Nevin at the Hobart Gaol, 23 September 1875.

Source of image:
State Library of NSW
Digital Order No. a421036
Miscellaneous Photographic Portraits ca. 1877-1918
36. James Ogden
Call Number DL PX 158:
Photographs : 54 silver gelatin photoprints, 2 albumen photoprints ; 7.8-21.3 x 5.8-17.5 cm.

Tasmania Reports of Crime (police gazette), 13 April 1883


“Referring to murder of William Wilson, James Ogden, proper name Robert Ogden, and James Mahoney, alias Sutherland, have been arrested by P. C. Phillips. of the Campbell Town Municipal Police, and party. Ogden and Mahoney are also charged with the murder of Alfred Holman.”

This photograph – a standard 1870s carte-de-visite prisoner mugshot in an oval mount produced by Thomas J. Nevin – has escaped the attention of photo-historians of the 1870s Tasmanian prisoners’ identification photographs, the so-called “Port Arthur convict portraits 1874” labelled and catalogued as such in Australian national collections, viz. the National Library of Australia, Canberra, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston. It belongs to the same series of fine albumen prints in mounts of prisoners taken by commercial and police photographer Thomas J. Nevin for the Hobart Gaol and Hobart Municipal Police authorities from 1872 to mid 1880s.

Only 300 or so are known to have survived from the several thousand taken over the two decades by Thomas Nevin and his younger brother Constable John Nevin at the Hobart Gaol and Hobart Municipal Police Office, Hobart Town Hall.  Up to 25 duplicates were being taken on arrest and discharge of prisoners in NSW by 1872. A comparable number was produced in Victoria and Tasmania, and in each colony, the police used commercial photographers.

The photograph of Ogden is located at the State Library of NSW, catalogued as “No. 36 James Ogden,” Miscellaneous Photographic Portraits ca. 1877-1918 (DL PX 158). It bears no attribution, no studio mark or inscription, except the name of the prisoner on verso (though this is not explicitly stated), written no doubt by its donor to the SLNSW, John Watt Beattie. Most in this miscellany are portraits of notable men and women. No. 25 is catalogued as “Le Grande [sic] Bookseller Hobart, d. Nov. 1902 / J. W. Beattie, Hobart“. There is little doubt that it was John Watt Beattie, collector and dealer in convictaria in Hobart from the 1890s, and Tasmanian government photographer from 1895, who sent this 1870s prisoner mugshot by Nevin, along with dozens more that he had salvaged from the Hobart Gaol, initially as part of a travelling exhibition in conjunction with the fake convict ship Success. 
The cdv of prisoner Ogden found its way to the State Library of NSW, along with Beattie’s own photograph of the conchologist William Legrand. The Ogden mugshot belongs with the other Thomas J. Nevin photographs of Tasmanian prisoners catalogued in the David Scott Mitchell Collection, Mitchell Library State Library NSW. at PXB 274. An additional hand-coloured prisoner mugshot by Nevin, pasted next to the death warrant of Ogden’s accomplice, James Sutherland,  is also held in the David Scott Mitchell collection (at C 202 – C 203 – see below). Other Nevin materials held in the same collection include a published copy of Thomas Nevin’s father’s poetry: “My Cottage in the Wilderness” (1868) by John Nevin. These and other selections of Tasmaniana were collected and donated to David Scott Mitchell’s collection by Beattie in the early 1900s.

Prisoner photographs by T. J. Nevin 1870s
Mitchell Library State Library NSW. at PXB 274.

Beattie’s somewhat cavalier use of Tasmanian government property from 1895 is the seminal reason why so many hundreds of vignetted prisoner portraits taken by Nevin on contract in the 1870s were removed from the original Tasmanian Police prisoner records, files and registers, to surface decades later as artistic artefacts in libraries and museums, sourced as often as not from Beattie’s own shop in Hobart where he sold any item he could associate with the “Port Arthur” brand. Beattie’s name has become associated with early to mid-19th century photographic Tasmaniana to the point where he is often attributed as the original photographer, although this is chronologically impossible. Beattie was still a teenager living in Scotland when Nevin took this particular vignette of Robert aka James Ogden in 1875.

Police Records for Robert aka James OGDEN
These police records are sourced from the Tasmanian police gazettes 1870-85, published as Tasmania Reports of Crime, Information for Police; James Barnard, Government Printer.

The early police reports note that Robert Ogden was undergoing a sentence of 4 years passed on him 29 October 1870 at Green Ponds for being idle and disorderly and vagrancy. His age was indeterminate to police, sometimes described as 12, or 15, or 16, or “short for his age” . By the time he was executed in 1883, he was thought to be about 20yrs old.

19 January 1872
Absconded and arrested: Robert Ogden, aged 14.

27 January 1872.
A more detailed description of the two brothers, Robert and William Ogden, who were sometimes confused with each other by unsuspecting police. In this instance, Robert Ogden’s age has increased 2 years in one week..

6 December 1872
Robert Ogden arrested with his brother William, but Robert absconded again within weeks.

27 December 1872
Almost a year later, Robert Ogden’s age has decreased by one year.


3 October 1873
Absconded again, Robert Ogden is thought to be 14 yrs old, one year younger not older.

18 October 1873
Convicted of larceny, age put at 12 yrs old.

12 December 1873
Absconded, and then arrested in the same week. Robert Ogden is now described as 11 yrs old, perhaps because he was “short for his age”.


6 August 1875
Absconded, now described as a 12 yr old.

20 August 1875
On the run still, and wanted for larceny.

24 September 1875
Robert Ogden arrested, sent to the Hobart Goal, and photographed by Thomas J. Nevin


14 December 1878
Described as 18 yrs old, Robert Ogden was convicted for larceny for 3 months at the Hobart Gaol.


12 March 1879
Discharged 6 months later, aged 19 yrs.


8 May 1880
Arrested for stealing bread etc.


28 January 1881
Arrested again.

William Wilson, of Epping Forest (Tasmania). the murder victim, awoke to the sound of stones thrown onto his roof and went out to investigate. He was shot and died of his wounds. His hut – where his wife and children slept – was then set on fire. Ogden and Sutherland claimed they only intended it all as a joke.

3 April 1883
Inquests of the murder victims of Robert aka James Ogden and James Sutherland.

Police gazette, 13 April 1883

“Referring to murder of William Wilson, James Ogden, proper name Robert Ogden, and James Mahoney, alias Sutherland, have been arrested by P. C. Phillips. of the Campbell Town Municipal Police, and party. Ogden and Mahoney are also charged with the murder of Alfred Holman.”

The Mercury, 2 June 1883. Execution of Ogden and Sutherland determined, visited by Executive Council members who did not detect “the presence of insanity in either of them”.

Photographers at the Murder Scene

The Mercury, 8 May 1883:

The Anson Brothers – not unfamiliar to police as convicted felons themselves (in 1877 Joshua Anson was convicted for theft from his master photographer H.H. Baily, and sentenced to two years, Henry Anson was frequently arrested for drunkenness) – turned up at the burnt-out house of Ogden and Sutherland’s victim Mr Wilson just weeks into the aftermath of the murder, took photographs of the ruins – described as “a subject of mournful yet engrossing interest” by the Mercury report – and coolly advised the public that “handsome, interesting and valuable” copies were available from the photographers! The Ansons went further in pursuit of gain: they probably accessed the two doomed youths Sutherland (on left) and Ogden (on right) inside the Hobart Gaol only weeks before their execution to grab this image for sale and display in the window of their shop at Wellington Bridge, Elizabeth Street.

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
Ref: Q16478. Unattributed.

Thomas Nevin photographed Ogden’s accomplice, James Mahoney aka Sutherland in prisoner clothing, for two standard mugshots required as police records: one photograph is held at the National Library of Australia, the other – a hand-coloured cdv pasted next to Sutherland’s death warrant – is held at the Mitchell Library, SLNSW.