Two mugshots of Hugh COHEN or Cowen/Cowan 1878

These two images of Tasmanian prisoner Hugh Cohen (or Cowan/Cowen) differ slightly in details of his scarf arrangement and shirt collar. The two photographs as captures were taken at different sittings only a short time apart by Thomas J. Nevin, although printed in different formats. The negative and carte-de-visite vignette (on left) was taken and printed by Nevin at the Hobart Gaol on the prisoner’s arrival from the Supreme Court Launceston in early April 1878, when Cohen’s sentence of death by hanging was passed and was still current. The second negative was taken and printed in the oblong format in late April 1878 when Cohen’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. There was scarcely a fortnight separating the two photographic captures (see the newspaper reports below). The cdv was held at the central registry for prison documents at the Municipal Police Office, Town Hall, where Nevin was a full-time civil servant, and the oblong framed print was pasted to the prisoner’s revised criminal sheet after commutation, held at the Hobart Gaol, per notes appearing on the sheet.


Detail of criminal register, page 120, GD6719 TAHO.
Hugh Cowan, aged 62 yrs.

TAHO Records:
Sherriff’s Office, Hobart Gaol to 1890
Register GD6719, page 120, Hugh Cowen.

Hugh Cowan/Cohen, listed as John Cowen, aged 62 yrs old, arraigned for murder at the Supreme Court Launceston Tasmania beween 4 and 7 April 1878: sentenced to be hanged.
Source: Police Gazette printed as Tasmania Reports of Crime, Information for Police, Gov’t Printer, James Barnard.

The carte-de-visite of Hugh Cowan/Cohen/Cowen is held in the David Scott Mitchell Collection in a collection of nine vignettes of Hobart Gaol prisoners taken by T.J. Nevin between 1875 and 1879.

The verso of Cohen’s cdv bears a handwritten inscription copied verbatim either from the criminal record sheet or vice versa.

Hugh Cowen, F. S. Ld Dalhousie, S. Court, Launceston, 4.4.78 Murder -Life

T. J. Nevin photographs
Prisoners Wallace and Cowen,
SLNSW Mitchell Collection PXB 274
Photos copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2009-2013 Arr


January 2, 1878:

The Mercury2 January 1878

On Sunday last, a man named Joseph Barnes was shot dead on the Barton Estate, Macquarie River, by another man named Hugh Cohen. Today an inquest was held on Barnes’ remains before Mr Alex Finlay, and a verdict of wilful murder was returned against Cohen who was committed for trial on the coroner’s warrant.


At the inquest, Campbell Town
Hugh Cohen tried for murder
Excerpt The Mercury 2 January 1878

Hugh Cohen, judged guilty at inquest
The Mercury 11 January 1878

The whole story, as told by The Launceston Examiner, 5th April 1878

Before his Honor Sir Francis Smith, Chief Justice.
The Court opened at 11 a.m.
The hon. the Attorney-General,iMr Alfred Dobson, appeared on behalf of the Crown.
Hugh Cohen or Cowen, aged 62, was charged with having on thle 30th December last, at Campbell Town, wilfully murdered Joseph Barnes.
The prisoner pleaded not guilty.
The following jury were empannelled : James Lamont (foreman), W. Crabtree, D. Sutherland, W. White, W. Appleby, jun., W. H. Valentine, Thos. Bartlett, G. Coward, W. Atkinson, B. West, J. C. Greig, J. M’Bean. Mr R. B. Miller appeared for the defence.
The Attorney-General briefly stated the circumstances of the case, characterising the deed as one of more than ordinarily premeditated and cold-blooded murder. He then called –
Susan Parkhurst, wife of James Parkhurst, who deposed that she resided on the Barton estate; Joseph Barnes was her step-father; the prisoner lived on the Macquarie River about a mile or mile and a half from their house; on the 29th December prisoner came to her house, and said their bullocks had been in his garden and destroyed it, and he was going to take them away; her husband then came to the door and told prisoner he was very sorry the bullocks had got into his garden; prisoner said he would summons her husband to Campbell Town, and see what he could do with him ; her husband said he must leave them on the run where the garden was, as he wanted to use them in the morning, but he would see what he could do to replace what the bullocks had destroyed; prisoner then went away; on the following day, Dec. 30, prisoner came to their house about 8 a.m. with a gun in his hand; her step father met the prisoner as he was coming up to the door, and said “Good morning, Bluff ;” she went into a backroom where there was a hole in the door through which she looked; prisoner asked if Jim (her husband) was in ; Barnes said he was at Barton ; prisoner said her husband was a daylight robber, the bullocks had destroyed his garden, and robbed him; Barnes said Parkhurst could not help it, for he had no other run to put the bullocks on, and that Mr Fletcher, the manager of the estate, had authorised him to run his bullocks there; prisoner then held up the gun and asked Barnes if he saw it; Barnes said ” yes,” and prisoner said he would give Parkhurst the contents of it before night ; prisoner then got peaceable and came inside the house; a man named Worthington had been in the kitchen all this time; she then came into the kitchen, and prisoner said “good morning;” he then began stating all he would do to her husband because of the bullocks, and that he would summon Parkhurst ; Barnes said that would be the best thing prisoner could do to stop all rows; prisoner told Barnes to tell Parkhurst to come over to his place at 6 o’clock, and to come himself ; he then went away. Her husband came home shortly afterwards, and she told him what had occurred ; about 10 a.m. prisoner came back; her husband was in the yard ; the yard is not fenced round ; her husband was standing with Barnes near the bullock dray, to which the bullocks were still attached; as prisoner came up Worthington went into the yard from the  kitchen; she was standing at the door ; the prisoner, when about thirty feet from her husband, said “Come here, Jim, I want you”. ; her  husband walked over to prisoner, and some conversation ensued between them which she did not hear, but she saw prisoner lift the gun and say “I will blow a hole through you ;” her husband said something and walked back to the bullocks, and drove away with them; Barnes then walked over to prisoner and said – “Now, Paddy, don’t you think you ought to be ashamed of yourself, coming where there is a woman with a young family and putting them in bodily fear with fire-arms;” prisoner told him to stand off; Barnes said he would put prisoner and his gun in the river; Barnes had his hands in his pockets at the time ; prisoner again said, “Stand off, or I’ll shoot you” and lifted the gun to his shoulder; she screamed and ran back inside the house; she had only taken a couple of steps when she heard the report of the gun, and turned back into the yard; she saw her stepfather falling, and ran and caught hold of him, but the weight of his falling body drew her down on the ground also. At the time prisoner lifted the gun he was not more than six yards distant from Barnes; Worthington had been standing on the woodheap while these matters had been going on; she did not hear him speak to prisoner; her husband came running back on hearing the report, and made at prisoner to get the gun from him; prisoner seized the gun by the barrel and struck at her husband, who stepped back, and the stock struck the ground and split ; Worthington came up with a piece of batten and struck at prisoner. Prisoner had been a neighbor of theirs for nearly four years, and though there had been occasional rows they were on the best of terms. Prisoner was a quiet man when sober ; he was drunk on this day.
Cross-examined by Mr Miller-Prisoner’s wife had taken a bottle of brandy from our house on the Sunday morning before 6 o’clock; prisoner’s wife had previously asked me to obtain it for her; prisoner was a quiet man when sober, and had never had a quarrel with Barnes; up to the time prisoner threatened to shoot him they had never had an angry word; Barnes was advancing slightly to prisoner at the time ; in spite of the threat Barnes still advanced, and said he would put prisoner and his gun in the river; Barnes was still advancing when prisoner raised the gun. Prisoner had several times during the previous two months complained of the bullocks breaking into his garden, and had about six weeks previously complained of my husband shooting his dog. I and the three men did not attack the prisoner when he came. There was an axe on the place, I believe it was in the bullock-dray.
Samuel Worthington deposed that he was a laborer on the Barton estate, and on the 30th December was staying at the house of James Parkhurst, with whom he was working at the time. He corroborated the statement of the previous witness as to the condition of prisoner when he came to Parkhurst’s on the Sunday morning, and the position of the various parties in the yard the second time prisoner came; prisoner asked Parkhurst if he was going to look at his little bit of a garden that Parkhurst’s bullocks had upset ; Parkhurst said “No”; Mr Fletcher told me when I unyoked the bullocks to turn them out on the run;” prisoner said, “If you don’t come I’ll take it out of this,” lifting the gun; prisoner then asked Parkhurst to bring Barnes or witness to see what damage the bullocks had done; Parkhurst said ” No,” and prisoner presented the gun at a him; Parkhurst said he wasn’t afraid of prisoner shooting him and, picking up the bullock whip, drove off with the dray; Barnes asked prisoner what he meant by coming there frightening people with a loaded piece ; prisoner said that if Barnes came any nearer he would shoot him too; Barnes said he would throw prisoner and his gun in the river; Barnes was just making a step forward when prisoner shot him dead ; witness seized a piece of batten and rushed towards prisoner who was making a blow at Parkhurst with the butt of the gun, but struck the ground with it; witness struck prisoner wlth the batten, knocking him down; Parkhurst tried to obtain the empty gun from prisoner, and in struggling brought prisoner on his feet, and then wrested the gun from him; prisoner then ran away; witness identified the gun produced as the one prisoner fired; there had been no threatening of prisoner on the part of anyone previously.
Cross-examined by Mr Miller-I have known the prisoner for about four years; he is a quiet and hard working man when sober ; he had never quarrelled with Barnes in his life. I believe if Barnes had not interfered after Parkhurst went away with the dray, the prisoner would have gone away quietly.
The witness was examined at some length by his Honor as to the manner in which Barnes stepped when he said he would throw prisoner in the river, whether in a quiet or threatening manner. The witness said that Barnes still had his hands in his pockets, and had just lifted his foot to step forward quietly, when the prisoner shot him, and as he fell his hands were still in his pockets. Witness imagined from the expression Barnes used that if he had not been shot he would have tried to throw prisoner in the river; the river was only some 30 or 40 yards distant.
James Parkhurst deposed that he was a labourer, living on the Barton Estate; he knew the prisoner as living close by him for four years or more; he had al ways been on very good terms with the prisoner until last Christmas twelve month, when the prisoner came to his place with two guns, and had a few words with his wife; the prisoner complained about the 30th of December that witness had shot his dog, or was cognisant of the fact; witness knew nothing whatever about the dog; prisoner came to him on the Saturday previous to the 30th of December, and asked him to come down to his ground and see what damage the bullocks had done; he went down very early the next morning but prisoner and his wife were asleep; he did not speak to them then ; he had made preparations on the morning of the murder to go away to his work; just as he had got the bullocks yoked and ready to start, he saw prisoner coming up the track towards his place with a gun in his hand; he went forward to meet him’; prisoner said “What’s the reason you robbed me, Jim ?” he said “In what shape?” prisoner answered, “By turning your bullocks into my garden;”; he said” That is false”; with that the prisoner flew in a passion and levelled the gun at him; he said, that prisoner was frightened to fire; prisoner stepped back and levelled the gun at witness a second time; he turned round to walk away when his wife sung out, “He is shooting you” ; he turned round and saw prisoner with the gun levelled again; prisoner then lowered the gun and came towards him, who said,. “Keep away until you are sober.” Witness then walked away. When he got to the corner of his garden he heard Barnes say, “Paddy, you be ashamed of yourself coming here with a loaded piece, where there is a family of young children, putting them in bodily fear” ; witness then turned round and saw Barnes take two or three steps in the direction of prisoner, who said, “Stand off, or I”ll blow a hole through you”; with that he pulled the trigger and the gun went off…

Etc etc – the reporter’s account was very very long, running over several columns and pages in the Launceston Examiner – with the Judge considering all possible verdicts: murder, homicide, manslaughter, acquittal by reason of insanity – but the jury returned after only twelve minutes’ deliberation, with a verdict of “wilful murder”. The report ended with this paragraph:

The jury retired at 5.45 p.m. and twelve minutes afterwards returned into Court with a verdict of wilful murder against the prisoner. In answer to the usual question the prisoner said if the Judge was content he was satisfied, but he hoped his Lordship would have mercy upon him. His Honor said there was but one sentence allowed by law, that of death. The prisoner had after a patient trial been found guilty of wilful murder and that sentence imposed upon him the duty of passing sentence of death upon the prisoner. Whether that sentence would be carried out in the extreme limit rested with the Executive Council. He knew no reason why it should not be carried out, and he therefore advised the prisoner not to buoy himself up with any false hopes, but to seek the consolations of a minister of whatever religion he belonged to. The sentence he now pronounced was that the prisoner be taken from the place he stood in to the place whence he came, and from thence to a place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck till he was dead, and may God have mercy on his soul.

Read the full account in the Trove NLA digitised version
Cite: SUPREME COURT CRIMINAL SITTINGS. (1878, April 5). Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 – 1899), p. 2. Retrieved September 11, 2013, from

The Mercury April 8th, 1878

[From our Own Correspondent]
Before His Honor, the Chief Justice.

The additional witnesses in the charge of wilful murder against Hugh Cohen or Cowen, the result of which you have already received by telegram, were James Parkhurst, Melmoth Fletcher, jun., Con- stable Thompson, Sub-Inspector Palmer, and Dr. James Lever. No witnesses were called for the defence, but prisoner’s counsel, Mr R. B. Miller, made a long and interesting speech, in which he endeavoured to induce the jury to mitigate their verdict to one of manslaughter only, on the grounds that the prisoner was under the influence of liquor at the time, that owing to an old injury on the head his mental faculties were impaired, and that under the influence of these two things, and the provocation he received from Barnes, the prisoner pulled the trigger in a state of over excitement and fear, and really believed he was acting in self-defence. His Honor summed up very calmly and lucidly, and the jury after an absence of only twelve minutes returned a verdict of guilty of wilful murder. The Judge then passed sentence of death in the usual form holding out no hope of leniency from the Executive, and advising the prisoner not to buoy himself up with false hopes.
The prisoner, who had been very self-possessed during the trial, nodding to various acquaintances in Court, seemed stupefied when the sentence was pronounced.


The Launceston Examiner, 16 April 1878

The sentence of death passed upon Hugh Cowan, or Cohen, for the murder of Joseph Barnes has been commuted by the Executive to imprisonment for life.

Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office:

Transported for 7 years as Hugh Cowen, 34 yrs old. A hawker by trade, he was convicted in 1848 at Mayo for uttering base coin, arriving in Hobart in August 1852. His wife and family arrived in 1854 and he was granted a Certificate of Freedom in 1856. Convicted and imprisoned for life at the Hobart Gaol in 1878.

Cowen, Hugh
Convict No: 15411
Extra Identifier:
SEE Surname:
SEE Given Names:
Voyage Ship: Lord Dalhousie
Voyage No: 353
Arrival Date: 14 Aug 1852
Departure Date: 13 Apr 1852
Departure Port: Cork
Conduct Record: CON33/1/109
Muster Roll:
Appropriation List:
Other Records:
Indent: CON14/1/45
Description List: CON18/1/57
Remarks: Application to bring out family GO33/1/80 p983

Conduct Record: CON33/1/109 detail

Conduct Record: CON33/1/109

Description List: CON18/1/57

Indent: CON14/1/45