Thomas Nevin’s Christmas feat 1874

A Photographic Feat
On Christmas Day, 25th December 1874, The Mercury newspaper (Tasmania) published a notice which served the dual purpose of praising Thomas Nevin’s photographic talents and suggesting by way of praise that the “literary curiosity” would make a great gift as a Christmas card:

Thos Nevin photographic feat Mercury 24 Dec 1874

T. J.  Nevin’s photographic feat, The Mercury 25 December 1874


A PHOTOGRAPHIC FEAT. – Mr T. J. Nevin, of Elizabeth-street, has performed a feat in photography which may be justly regarded as a literary curiosity. He has succeeded in legibly producing the front page of The Mercury of Wednesday, the 23 inst., on a card three inches by two inches. Many of the advertisements could be read without the aid of a glass, and the seven columns admit of a margin all round the card.

Below is a microfiche scan of the front page of The Mercury, Wednesday 23rd December 1874. It is a poor reproduction despite our 21st century technology, yet Nevin managed to photograph the full broadsheet onto a 3 x 2 inch card without sacrificing margins or legibility.

Front page Mercury Tas 23 Dec 1874

Scan of front page The Mercury 23rd December 1874
See the full page PDF:Nevin front page Mercury 23 December 1874

Five of the seven columns on the front page carried advertisements for sales and special offers by retailers for goods as diverse as Christmas cards, cakes, imported confectionery, Japanese silks, chaise carts, guns and “real turtle soup” made from “one of the finest and largest turtles ever imported into Tasmania” and only available at Webb’s Hotel.

This card and its duplicates may not have survived or even appear to be extant in public collections for several reasons: it would have been displayed in the windows of the Mercury newspaper offices, as well as in Nevin’s studio window, and as a result may have deteriorated to a state not fit to be assessed as either valuable or collectable by the narrowly-defined aesthetic standards of museums.  It most certainly carried verso Nevin’s government stamp current by 1874, the only one of his stamps bearing his full initials – ” T. J. Nevin” above the Royal Arms government insignia – since the journalist in his report has used the name with these initials which appear only on his Royal Arms stamp. Nevin used this stamp for commissions from the Lands and Works Department to photograph mining sites (TMAG collection), and from the Municipal Police Office (HCC) to photograph prisoners at the Port Arthur and Hobart Gaols (QVMAG, NLA and SLNSW collections). Duplicates of these same photographs were NOT stamped verso, which has caused attribution issues in recent times amongst librarians and museum workers etc who may only see one of Nevin’s unstamped duplicates rather than the stamped original of the same photograph carrying his official or government stamp. It was the original which was used to register copyright for  a whole batch or series taken in a single year and on commission, the usual photographic practice by governments, courts and councils in the 1860s and 1870s Tasmania. By 1876 when Nevin was a full-time civil servant with the HCC, his originals of prisoners’ mugshots were unstamped because they were pasted directly onto the prisoner’s criminal record sheet and owned exclusively, then as police mugshots are now, by the government, a cost defrayed by Treasury as disbursement from stationery expenses.

Children’s Portraits December 1874
Among his friends at the HCC were Thomas Nevin’s family solicitor, the Hon William Robert Giblin MHA, later Premier, and various serving officers such as William Thomas McVilly who was a constable and later clerk for the Lands and Works Department within the Hobart City Corporation, and Clerk of Papers of the Legislative Council by 1883. Nevin photographed two of William McVilly’s children, Laura and Richard, on the 18th December, 1874 (per date on verso). Both photographs were hand-tinted, and in Laura’s portrait, she is depicted holding a sprig of Christmas holly. The versos of these two photographs of Laura and Richard bear Nevin’s Royal Arms studio stamp used primarily to indicate photographs taken on commission for members and employees of the HCC and Municipal Police Office at the Hobart Town Hall.

Laura Blanche McVilly (1870-1931)

Date: 18 Dec 1874 
By: Nevin, Thomas J, 1842-1923
National Library of New Zealand Ref: PA2-1198
Inscriptions: Inscribed – Verso – Laura Blanche McVilly, aged 4 years 18 December 1874.

Nevin, Thomas J, 1842-1923. Nevin, T J (Hobart) fl 1867-1875
Portrait of Laura Blanche McVilly. McVilly, Richard William, 1862?-1949 :
Photograph albums and a group portrait.
Ref: PA2-1198. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Richard William -“Dick” McVilly (1861-1949 New Zealand)

Date: 1867-1875 By: Nevin, Thomas J, 1842-1923
National Library of New Zealand Ref: PA2-1196
Inscriptions: Inscribed – Verso – In ink : Jn Dick.

Nevin, Thomas J, 1842-1923. Nevin, T J (Hobart) fl 1867-1875 :
Portrait of Jn Dick. McVilly, Richard William, 1862?-1949 :
Photograph albums and a group portrait. Ref: PA2-1196.
Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The girl on the left is Laura Blanche McVilly (1870-1931). When her father registered her birth of 18th December 1870 in the district of Campbell Town Tasmania, his occupation was listed as Constable. Ref: TAHO

The boy in the middle is Richard William -“Dick” McVilly (1861-1949 – New Zealand). When his father registered his birth of 12th April 1861 in the district of Brighton Tasmania, his occupation was listed as Watch House Keeper. Ref: TAHO

The toddler on the right is unidentified and although noted as a girl, she might well be a boy, eg. their brother Albert Francis McVilly, born 1873. Male toddlers were commonly dressed in frocks. The toddler’s carte  bears Nevin’s most common commercial studio stamp, and may have been taken in 1875. When his (assuming this is a boy) father registered his birth of 23 July 1873 at Campbell Town Tasmania, his occupation was listed as clerk, information sent by letter to the registry. Ref: TAHO

These three children were born in Tasmania to parents William Thomas McVilly (1841-1914) and Sarah Francis (1839-?) who married on 20 December 1859, when she was 20 yrs old, and he was a 22yr old clerk. The three photographs appear in a photo album which belonged to the boy (centre), Richard William “Dick” McVilly, and is now held at the National Library of New Zealand, Wellington. Richard “Dick” McVilly spent a few years working on the Tasmanian Railway before settling in New Zealand where he became General Manager Of Railways NZ in 1919 (Otago Daily Times of February 10, 1919).

Nevin’s studio stamp with the Royal Arms insignia was also printed on the verso of this carte-de-visite of a child (held in the Lucy Batchelor Collection). Nevin or his studio assistants, possibly in this instance his wife Elizabeth, hand-painted the green and red motif of Christmas holly over some object held by the child. A similar bouquet is held by Laura McVilly in Nevin’s portrait of her dated 18th December 1874. The same sprig of holly motif appears on other extant cartes by Nevin, positioned in the hands of a teenage girl in one carte bearing the hand-written inscription verso “Clifford & Nevin, Hobart Town“, (Harrisson Collection), and in another, on the lapel of a young sailor (TMAG; SLTas). The carte of this (unknown) toddler would have been included in Nevin’s stock of Christmas cards for 1874, on sale at 140 Elizabeth Street along with the miniature reproduction of The Mercury‘s front page.

Detail:Nevin photo of baby Lucy Batchelor Collection

Detail of the holly motif

Nevin photo of baby Lucy Batchelor CollectionNevin photo of baby Lucy Batchelor Collection

Photograph of baby with Christmas holly
and its verso by T. J. Nevin, Christmas 1874
Scans courtesy of Robyn and Peter Bishop
Copyright © The Lucy Batchelor Collection 2009 Arr.

This photograph of a teenager holding a hand-tinted Christmas sprig of holly was inscribed verso in Samuel Clifford’s handwriting, “Clifford & Nevin Hobart Town.” It is one of several in private and public collections bearing this inscription, and may have been taken on Sam Clifford’s and Thomas Nevin’s travels in 1874, reported at length in the Mercury on their stop-over at Bothwell.

Scans courtesy of © The Private Collection of C. G. Harrisson 2006. ARR.

More photographic feats …
The technology to reduce large layouts to the size of a carte-de-visite was used by the photographer of this card for the Bunster and Young families, which includes fifty of their individual portraits (undated and unattributed).  Similar but larger composites were produced of the Aldermen and Mayor of the Hobart City Council to hang on the walls on the Hobart Town Hall where Nevin was Office and Hall Keeper between 1876-1880. Two decades later, in 1899, John Watt Beattie would produce a very big photographic reproduction of 259 portraits of the members of the Tasmanian Parliament from 1859-1895 in a single photograph, mostly using photographs taken by earlier photographers, minus their attribution.

Title: Photograph – various portrait of men (unidentified)
Description: 1 photographic print
Format: Photograph
ADRI: NS3210-1-27
Source: Archives Office of Tasmania
Series: Photographs of the Bunster and Young Families, 1850 – 1919 (NS3210)

In 1879, Tasmanian photographer Charles A. Woolley produced photographic copies of the London Times of 3 October, 1798, noted by the author of this letter to the Mercury, J. E. Calder (the Sergeant-at-Arms in 1876), as two and a half times less the size of the Mercury – 1806 square inches versus 753½ for the London Times. The historical subject of these pages was Nelson’s account of the battle of the Nile. Calder remarked that with the aid of a magnifying glass, the print on Mr. Wooley’s [sic] photograph was “beautifully distinct“.

Wooley January 9 Mercury 1879

The London Times 1798 and Charles Wooley [sic]
The Mercury, 8th January 1879.

The Commercial Xmas Card 1880s
Walker, James Backhouse (the collector, not the photographer)
Photograph of track and rocky outcrop, Mount Wellington? Tasmania.
University of Tasmania Library Special and Rare Materials Collection, Australia.

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