John Watt Beattie and the Nevin family legacy

Thomas J. Nevin was resident of 270 Elizabeth St. Hobart when he died in 1923. His first-born child, May Nevin (b. Mary Florence 1872-1955) resided with him at the time of his death (Post Office directories 1923). The house in which he died was the house where government lithographer and artist William Charles Piguenit (1836-1914) was born. It is now the site of the Elizabeth Matriculation College.

Funeral notice for Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
The Mercury 12 March 1923

The house where W. Piguenit was born and Thomas Nevin died, known as –
Top: Claremont House on the corner of Warwick St and New Town Road ca. 1836
British Museum Ref :Oc,B92.3
From Butler Stoney’s ‘A residence in Tasmania‘ (1856), p.31.
Bottom: From Old Hobart Town and Environs 1802-1855, C. Stone and P. Tyson, 1978.
Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2014

Claremont House, ca. 1900
ADRI: NS1013-1-1797
Source: Archives Office of Tasmania

Soon after Thomas J. Nevin’s death in 1923, five of his adult children – May, Thomas jnr, George, William and Albert – moved to a house in Newdegate St. North Hobart. They periodically attended the Methodist church located one street behind, in Swan Street, which was also attended by a friend of their late father’s, photographer John Watt Beattie. At the time of his death in 1930, John Watt Beattie lived at 28 Jordan Hill Road, minutes up the hill from the Nevin’s house in Newdegate Street.

The house at 23 Newdegate St , North Hobart, ca. 1930 with three of Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin’s grandchildren
Copyright © KLW NFC & The Nevin Family Collections 2006-2009 ARR.

The friendship between these two photographers, Thomas J. Nevin and John Watt Beattie extended back to 1887 on the death of Thomas Nevin’s father, John Nevin at the family house and farm adjacent to the Lady Franklin Museum at Kangaroo Valley (renamed Lenah Valley in 1922). It had long been a wish of John Nevin that the Franklin Museum be restored to its original purpose when first built on Jane Franklin’s land, named Ancanthe, as a library and botanical museum, but by 1887, it was little more than a storage shed for local orchardists and farmers. As a gesture towards reviving John Nevin’s wish, before his own death in 1930 John Watt Beattie approached the Hobart City Corporation with a proposal to house his vast convictaria collection in the Lady Franklin Museum at Kangaroo Valley (Lenah Valley) but the HCC declined.

The cottage that John Nevin built at Kangaroo Valley (by 1922 renamed Lenah Valley)
“T.J. Nevin Photo” inscribed on verso, ca. 1868.
From © The Liam Peters Collection 2010.

Beattie admired both John Nevin and his son Thomas Nevin for two reasons. John Nevin had a military and literary background. He had served in the West Indies and Canada with the Royal Scots 1st Regiment (1825-1841); he had brought his young family to Hobart as a Chelsea out-pensioner and guard with the 99th Regiment on board the convict transport Fairlie (1852); and he was a journalist, teacher and accomplished poet. His son Thomas James Nevin had been a commercial collaborator of the most notable and prolific photographers of the colonial period 1860s-1870s, viz. Alfred Bock and Samuel Clifford. But Thomas Nevin was important to Beattie for another reason: he also had first-hand experience as a photographer working with police and “convicts”, a term rather than “prisoners” which Beattie preferred and applied to Nevin’s identification photographs of prisoners (mugshots) when setting up displays in his “Port Arthur” convictaria museum to attract the tourist. In admiration of both father and son, Beattie forwarded his copy of John Nevin’s poem “My Cottage in the Wilderness” (1868) and several photographs of prisoners taken by Thomas Nevin (1875) to NSW collector David Scott Mitchell. These items were accessioned before 1907 and are still held in the Dixon and DSM Collection in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

John Nevin 1868 poem

“My Cottage in the Wilderness” by John Nevin, 1868.
Mitchell Library NSW
Photo © KLW NFC 2009 Arr.

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.
State Library of NSW
Miscellaneous Photographic Portraits ca. 1877-1918
36. James Ogden Call Number DL PX 158:

mitchellib-86

mitchellib-87

Prisoner photos by T. Nevin, Mitchell Library NSW (PXB 274)
Photos copyright © KLW NFC 2009 ARR.

THE BEATTIE MUSEUM
John Watt Beattie was a teenager still living in Scotland when professional photographers Alfred Bock, Thomas J. Nevin and Samuel Clifford were most active in Hobart, Tasmania during the 1860s and 1870s.

When Alfred Bock relocated to Victoria  from Tasmania in 1867, his junior partner Thomas J. Nevin acquired Bock’s stock-in-trade in the studio at 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart, which continued to operate as “The City Photographic Establishment.” And then, in turn, when Thomas Nevin was appointed full-time to the civil service in 1876 by the Hobart City Corporation at its nerve centre, the Hobart Town Hall, both Bock’s and Nevin’s commercial negatives and prints were acquired by Nevin’s collaborator and close friend Samuel Clifford who advertised this acquisition with a promise to the public that he would print any of Nevin’s commercial work on request from former private clientele. When Samuel Clifford closed shop in 1878, all this stock-in-trade including Alfred Bock’s and Thomas Nevin’s negatives were acquired by the Anson Brothers in Elizabeth St. Hobart.

Anson Bros studio on right, Elizabeth Street Hobart 1880s
Title: Old Mr. C. Davis and his son Charlie going home to dinner, July 1907
Publisher: [Hobart] : Anson, 1887?
ADRI: AUTAS001131820847
Source: Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts

By 1892, when John Watt Beattie joined the Anson Brothers, he therefore had at hand a vast supply of negatives and prints taken by Alfred Bock,Thomas Nevin and Samuel Clifford, and set about reprinting a great many – without attribution to either or any of these three – for sale at his studio in Elizabeth St Hobart, and display in his shop and “Port Arthur Museum” in Murray St. Hobart. In 1895, Beattie had gained official endorsement with an appointment as government photographer, principally in view of his use to the intercolonial tourism industry. His official status gave him access to prison documents from the Port Arthur penitentiary, the Hobart Gaol and the Municipal Police Office, Hobart Town Hall, where many of Thomas J. Nevin’s photographs of prisoners were taken for police records while on commission and in civil service between 1872-1886 (assisted by his brother Constable John Nevin at the Hobart Gaol in later years).

John Watt Beattie’s advertisement for his commercial Port Arthur Museum ca, 1900 located at 51 Murray St Hobart. Source: QVMAG 1986_P_1223

With similar insouciance when it came to official documents,  Beattie removed many of these prisoners’ mugshots which Nevin had supplied in multiple duplicate to the government as standard format carte-de-visite mounted photographs, both from prisoners’ record sheets held at the Sheriff’s Office, Hobart  Gaol, and from the Mayor’s Court records held by the Hobart City Corporation at the Town Hall. He used these in his displays of convictaria collections in Hobart, and reproduced a dozen or more of Nevin’s original negatives as lantern slides for use in his lectures on Tasmanian history, which he labelled as “Imperial Convicts” and “Port Arthur Convicts”, despite the fact the bulk of those men whom Nevin had photographed were photographed at the Hobart Gaol and Mayor’s Court, Hobart Town Hall as prisoners of the Colonial and not the Imperial Government (1871 onwards), and despite the fact that Nevin photographed offenders for the same reasons that police photograph offenders today – on arrest, conviction, trial, sentence, arraignment and discharge – and not at Port Arthur, which was where habitual offenders were sent after being “received” at the Hobart Gaol in the 1870s until transferred back to the Hobart Gaol once more by 1874 in the face of accusations of corruption levelled at the Port Arthur Commandant A. H. Boyd (1871-1873) by government MPs and public commentators alike who called for the prison’s immediate closure.

Beattie’s commercial imperatives regarding Port Arthur as a key to the growth of tourism to Tasmania from the 1890s astounded a visitor to Hobart in 1916 with the South Australian Commission. He became so affronted by John Watt Beattie’s commercialism when he “wandered into the Port Arthur Museum” in Hobart, the visitor was moved to write a letter to The Mercury newspaper. His letter was published on 3rd February, 1916:

He wrote:

“There are three rooms literally crammed with exhibits … The question which pressed itself on my mind time and again was, how comes it that these old-time relics which formerly were Government property, are now in private hands? Did the Government sell them or give them away? The same query applies to the small collection in a curiosity shop at Brown’s River. Whatever the answer may be, I hold the opinion that the Government would be amply justified in taking prompt steps to repossess them, even though some duplicates may be in the State Museum. Today the collection is valuable and extremely interesting. A century hence it will be priceless. It would surely be unpardonable to allow it to pass into the hands of some wealthy globe-trotter which is the fate awaiting it, unless action be taken to secure it to the State….”

This visitor on government business in Tasmania could hardly have envisioned that the State itself would never be able to do the collection justice, because Beattie had already violated the integrity of the originals, despite making “some duplicates” and lodging them in the “State Museum“, by which he meant the institution now known as the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. This was one means whereby the TMAG acquired their originals and duplicates of Nevin’s prisoner photographs and commercial prints, including a large number of stereographs. Apart from Nevin’s own stock which Samuel Clifford then the Ansons had acquired, two other sources are documented: estrays from the central police registry at the Hobart Town Hall (next door to the TMAG) where Nevin worked and resided in the years 1876-1880 and which housed the Hobart City Corporation, the Municipal Police Office and Office of the Inspector of Police, in addition to the Public Library. Beattie also sourced a number of prisoner photographs from the Sheriff’s Office at the Hobart Gaol when the old photographers’ room was demolished in 1915. The other source of the TMAG collection is the “borrowing” of originals and copies by staff ca. 1982-1987 at the TMAG in Hobart from Beattie’s donated collection located at the QVMAG, Launceston (viz. Elspeth Wishart) , further compounding Beattie’s suppression of photographic attribution to his earlier sources. The TMAG staff proceeded with their unsubstantiated (and highly subjective) suppositions based on Beattie’s donations, adding a flurry of nonsense in Nevin’s entry,  when their publication Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940 was printed in 1995 (Chris Long and Gillian Winter ed et al) . And just as the South Australian visitor suspected, more of these “Government property” photographs of Tasmanian prisoners ended up in the private collections of “wealthy Globe-trotters.”


DEATH OF MR. J. W. BEATTIE. (1930, June 25). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 7. 
Retrieved January 15, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29802442

Read the full obituary here [pdf]: –

“He had offered this collection to the Hobart Corporation, but the negotiations were not successful. It was his idea that the collection should find a resting place in the Lady Franklin Museum building at Lenah Valley.”

The bridge in the foreground crosses the rivulet. The Lady Franklin Museum sits below the site where John Nevin built his cottage in the 1850s (now demolished) on land in Trust to the Wesleyan Church adjoining the Museum and the house (pictured) above on the rise at 270 Lenah Valley Rd, built ca. 1890. Photo © KLW NFC Imprint 2012 ARR.

The farmhouse at 270 Lenah Valley Road (on a separate lot) is said to date from c.1890, though it is not yet heritage-listed. It is one of 61 buildings identified within the heritage inventory of the Lenah Valley Heritage Review. The house is stated to be of local heritage significance “as it dates from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century and demonstrates the previous rural character of the district” and the consultants recommended that the property be included in Heritage Register (Appendix 1) of Schedule F of the City of Hobart Planning Scheme 1982.

Paul Davies. Heritage Assessment. Proposed sub-division 270A Lenah Valley Road, Lenah Valley.
Nov 2011. Incorporated into Special Development and Environmental Services Committee Meeting (Open Portion of the meeting
) Hobart City Council. Monday 12 December 2011.

DRY PLATE PHOTOGRAPHY
A family member and photohistorian Jack Cato published an account in 1955 of John Watt Beattie’s use of dry plate photography, claiming that Beattie was the first “in Australia” to use gelatine dry plates in 1879; however, that was not exactly what had Beattie claimed. Beattie was quoted in the Mercury’s obituary as saying that on an excursion to Lake St. Clair – “That was the first time gelatine dry plates were used at the lake” – which was in reference to earlier excursions at Lake St. Clair where amateur photographer Morton Allport had produced images of members of his party and the surrounding landscape ca. 1863:

Boviak Beach, Excursion to Lake St. Clair February 1863 by Morton Allport
Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office: Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts
Also on TAHO at Flickr page

Above: Extract from John Watt Beattie’s obituary, The Mercury June 25, 1930, in which Beattie is quoted as saying that he was the first to use gelatine dry plates at the lake. When Jack Cato repeated this claim in 1955, he omitted the phrase “at the lake” and inflated the claim to affirm that Beattie was the first – in 1879 – to use gelatine dry plates in Australia.

Jack Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia 1955 2 edn 1977 Institute of Australian Photography
From Chapter xv – read the full chapter [pdf]

Neither claim was true. More than a decade earlier, in March 1866, professional photographer Alfred Bock was at the Port Arthur  penitentiary, 60kms south of Hobart, in the process of photographing the landscape and the prison’s officials when he ran out of dry plates, and sent an urgent telegram to professional photographer Samuel Clifford in Hobart to send him “24 dry plates – Panoramic” on the boat called the Shannon.

March 1866 Account of Private Telegrams
Date 27th March, No. 269, Alfred Bock to Mr Clifford Liverpool St. H. Town,
Send down 24 dry Plates Panoramic. by the Shannon,  at once. – Reply.

Source:
Tasmanian Papers 316 (microfilm)
Records of Telegrams sent and received between Hobart and Port Arthur 1863-1871
Mitchell Library, State Library NSW
Photos © KLW NFC Imprint 2013

And in the same year, 1866, Samuel Clifford produced his much praised dry plate photographs using Russell’s Tannin Process, which were exhibited at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition in 1866. The pseudonymous “Sol” remarked of Clifford’s expertise (in Dan Sprod 1977l; Joan Kerr 1992:164):

Surely no wet photography ever excelled these delightful representations of nature.

Franklin Square, photo by Samuel Clifford  processed with the Russell Tannin dry plate process 1866.
Blind stamp impress on border. NA UK Ref: CO 1069-621-05
Held at the National Archives UK. Also at Flickr.

It is a common misconception that dry plate photography using gelatine was neither known about nor used by Tasmanian photographers in the 1860s, even up to the mid 1870s. Spurling claimed to be the first to introduce it in 1879 (according to Long, TMAG 1995:106), and Beattie claimed to be the first to use gelatine dry plates “at the lake” – i.e. at Lake St Clair, also in 1879, yet publications such as The Photographic News and The Silver Sunbeam (Toller 1864), both read regularly by the Bock-Clifford-Nevin-Allport cohort during the 1860s, provided specific step-by-step guides. This extract is from van Monckhoven, Désiré van. A Popular Treatise on Photography. Translated By W.H. Thornthwaite. London, 1863.:

CHAPTER XII:
3. The Tannin Process
This dry process derives its name from the use of tannin-a bitter principle obtained from gall-nuts a preservative agent. To Major Russell is due the credit of having introduced it.
The glass to be prepared should be cleaned with great care, particularly from any greasy substances. This is conveniently done with a mixture of Tripoli powder, spirits of wine, and solution of ammonia. A tuft of cotton is dipped into this mixture and rubbed over its surface for a minute or so; then well rinsed in water and rubbed dry with a clean cloth.
The glass, just before being used, should be wiped with a perfectly dry and warm cloth, and then coated with the following solution:–
Nelson’s Patent Gelatine 20 grains.
Distilled Water 10 ounces.
Alcohol ½ ounce.
Dissolve and filter; this solution will keep good for a considerable time.
This gelatine solution is applied to the glass in the same way as ordinary collodion, taking care that the whole of the surface is covered, and that the back of the plate be net soiled. The superfluous liquid is received back into the bottle, and the plate set to dry, as shown at Fig. 69; when well drained, remove the accumulation of fluid very carefully from the lower edge of the plate by a piece of blotting-paper drawn along it. When the surface is dry, warm gently by the fire, and retain for use in a grooved box. As plates thus coated will keep good any length of time, any required number may be prepared, taking care that the backs of them are quite free from stains of gelatine.
The gelatinised glass is now coated with old iodised collodion in the usual manner, taking particular care that the whole surface of the plate be covered; it is then immersed in the silver-bath employed for the wet collodion process (page 34), and allowed to remain in it from three to five minutes.
Remove the sensitive plate from the bath, and wash it freely under a water-tap for about a minute, it will then be ready to receive the preservative solution, composed as follows:
Tannin 60 grains.
Distilled Water 4 ounces.
Filter through paper, and measure out two separate portions according to the size of the plate to be prepared, allowing about two drachms in each quantity for a stereoscopic plate. The first portion of tannin solution is poured over the washed coating of the sensitised plate two or three times, so as to remove the water adherent to it, then the other quantity is poured on and off, and the plate placed on end on a piece of blotting-paper, and allowed to dry in a perfectly dark and warm place.
After exposure in the camera, which averages from one to three minutes on a favourable day, and from four to eight minutes in dull weather, the picture is to be developed, for which purpose the following solutions are required:–
No. 1. Pyrogallic Acid 72 grains.
Alcohol 1 ounce.
Dissolve and keep in a stoppered bottle.
No. 2. Nitrate of Silver 20 grains.
Citric Acid 20 grains.
Distilled Water 1 ounce.
Dissolve and filter should any white or other precipitate be formed. To three ounces of distilled water add half a drachm of No. 1, and if the plate to be developed be a stereoscopic size, take three drachms of this solution and add to it from ten to twenty minims of No. 2; this forms the developing fluid.
The exposed plate is first moistened with distilled water, which must be done quickly and evenly, otherwise stains are produced, and then the developing fluid poured over its surface and kept slightly in motion. The development must be carefully watched, and if’ in a short time the sky comes out strongly, but, is not followed by the other details of the object, the plate was not long enough exposed, and the developing fluid must be poured back into the measure, and say ten minims of No. 1 added, so as to increase the quantity of pyrogallic acid. If the whole of the picture, however, appears to come out at once, a few drops of No. 2 is to be added, so as to increase the density of the sky.
When the picture is properly developed, it is fixed with a solution of hyposulphite of soda, washed and varnished as described for the wet collodion process.

Other photographers in the 1860s to use this method were Ernest Brougham Docker (1842-1923), judge and notable amateur photographer, who took lessons from William Hetzer and in 1858, with his father, began experiments with a wet-plate process.

Between 1860 and 1868 Docker was sensitizing his own dry plates by the tannin-collodion-albumen process, although dry plates were not widely used until the early 1880s. Joining the Royal Society of New South Wales in 1876, he used his own extensive collection of photographs for many illustrated addresses before it. He did much to promote photography through his articles in overseas and Australian journals, particularly in the British Journal of Photography, and as president of the Photographic Society of New South Wales in 1894-1907. (Australian Dictionary of Biography)

State Library of NSW
Call Number: PXB 199/no. 22
Caption: The Dartbrook, Scone, c. 1860. Ernest Docker. stereo albumen print. PXB 199/22

THE LEGACY
As Chris Long – with no hint of irony, given his admiration for Beattie’s landscapes – prevaricates in this statement about Beattie’s legacy in Tasmania Photographers 1840-1940 (TMAG 1995: 14):

Undoubtedly, Beattie was the greatest documentary photographer of his generation in Tasmania.  As such, he has been increasingly accorded the status of popular legend, and has been credited with many achievements which were not his own.

On the same page, to illustrate his point, Chris Long points to this photograph titled “Port Arthur during occupation A. D. 1860” reprinted by Beattie with no acknowledgment by Beattie to the original photographer, whom he claims was Samuel Clifford..

Several extant photographs of this and similar scenes of the Port Arthur penitentiary “during occupation” are held in public collections which, despite the title, show empty streets void of people.

This image at the Archives Office of Tasmania, unattributed and dated 1880, is the same as the two photographs (below) held at the State Library NSW, with the same title “… Port Arthur during Occupation“.

Photos © KLW NFC 2009 Arr
Anson Bros., Settlement of Port Arthur (Penal Settlement ) Past and Present.

The SLNSW has two copies of Anson Albums (PXD512/f4 and PXD513/f6) bearing this image, cross-referenced to the third reprint of the same image at PXD 511/f10. Very strange indeed is that this third print with the same title – which was printed by Beattie for the Ansons Brothers, reprinted from Clifford and/or Nevin’s original stereograph taken in the 1860s-1870s at Port Arthur – should turn up in an Anson album at the Mitchell Library, SLNSW with a faint pencilled inscription in modern hand  on the right-hand bottom corner below the image with this note:

Enlargement from a stereoscopic view by A H Boyd Esq.”

IMG_0205-1

Album: Anson Bros., Settlement of Port Arthur (Penal Settlement ) Past and Present.
The SLNSW has two copies (PXD512/f4 and PXD513/f6), cross referenced to the image with the A. H.  Boyd inscription at PXD 511/f10. Photos © KLW NFC 2009 ARR

The image of a building in this Anson album is not a carte-de-visite photograph of a man in prison clothing. Yet this same photograph was – and still is – THE ONLY PHOTOGRAPH in existence with A. H. Boyd’s name inscribed that is cited as supposed PROOF the non-photographer A. H. Boyd, Commandant at the Port Arthur prison 1871-73, took the very same photographs of prisoners, specifically those 84 mugshots held at the National Library of Australia which were originally taken by Nevin in the 1870s, accessioned by the NLA in 1982 from estrays donated by Dr Gunson (and an album by John McPhee in 1985) and correctly attributed to Nevin in the late 20th century by reputable photo historians who researched Nevin’s work over two decades, viz. Professor Joan Kerr, State librarian Geoff Stilwell and curator of Nevin’s exhibition in 1977, John McPhee. In all the years since, this very faint and very fake inscription (which was probably written onto the mount in 1984) has inspired liars, brawlers, and blog scraping plagiarists to claim some special “artistic” status to A.H. Boyd, whether his descendants with a desire to see their ancestor, much despised in his own life time, come up from history smelling like roses, or plagiarising “interpreters” at museums, libraries and heritage sites etc who have seen these weblogs about Nevin, and viewed them as gold on the street just there to be picked up and “unpicked” in the most gratuitously abusive and superficial manner (perennial student Julia Clark, NLA librarian Margy Burn et al). Not a single genuine and original photograph of A.H. Boyd or by A.H. Boyd has ever been published by these latter Boyd apologists. It is hardly surprising that Beattie’s cavalier disregard for his sources and his modus operandi as collector and historian, should have such appeal for opportunists with a comparable agenda.

This, then, is the legacy in the modern era of John Watt Beattie’s friendship with the poet John Nevin and his son, photographer Thomas James Nevin during the 1880s-1920s. It is without doubt a poisoned chalice.

Thomas Nevin’s biographers Geoff Stilwell (dec) and Joan Kerr (dec) (1992: pp 568-9)

John McPhee, curator of Nevin’s prisoner photographs at the QVMAG exhibition 1977

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