Convict photographs by T. J. Nevin at the Art Gallery NSW Centenary Exhibition 1976

AGNSW 1976 Centenary Exhibition
T. J. NEVIN 1870s photographs of Tasmanian prisoners
G. T. STILWELL State Library of Tasmania

Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
Photos copyright © KLW NFC 2013

Photographs of Tasmanian “convicts” – i.e. prisoner mugshots – taken by T. J. Nevin in the 1870s were exhibited at the Centenary of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney and at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne in 1976. The Exhibition Catalogue was written by Daniel Thomas Senior Curator and Curator of Australian Art, Art Gallery of NSW. The Tasmanian contributor was antiquarian Geoffrey Stilwell, a Trustee of the Centenary Celebrations of the Art Gallery of NSW and Special Collections curator of the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania.

Ian North, artist, Archibald finalist 2005
Title: Daniel Thomas at home, Northern Tasmania
Art Gallery NSW:

Daniel Thomas AM, Emeritus Director Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, retired in 1990 and now lives in Tasmania. From 1958 he was the curator in charge of Australian art, and later chief curator, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. From 1978 to 1984 he was the inaugural head of Australian art at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.


The Centenary Exhibition Catalogue 1976
These photos were taken at the National Library of Australia, 8th June 2017. The Exhibition Catalogue Australian art in the 1870’s / by Daniel Thomas – N 709.94 T455  is available through Trove.  Photos copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2017

Cover: Australian Art in the 1870s

Title page: “Australian art in the 1870s by Daniel Thomas. An exhibition to mark the centenary of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney: 25 June-2 August 1976; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne: 28 October-21 November 1976″

Page 27: list of three photography exhibits by T. J. Nevin Nos. 116-118


T. J. Nevin active 1870s
Tasmanian convicts (1874)
116. William Turner, Transported Lord Goderich (Boy’s ship), 1811-1841.
117. Nathan Hunt, Transported Elphinstone (Boys), 28.7.1842, Larceny
118. Thomas Harrison, Idle and disorderly.
Three photographs, carte-de-visite size 10.5 x 6.5 cm, 4½ x 2½ in, each inscribed (on back) as above, and printed T. J. Nevin, 140 Elizabeth Street, Hobart Town. From a set of over 40 convict portraits made in 1874.
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania

Page 41: Entry for T. J. NEVIN,

Paragraph on T. J. Nevin and his photographs of “still-living transported convicts“, p. 41 of the Exhibition Ctalogue for Australian art in the 1870s : an exhibition to mark the centenary of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney by Daniel Thomas 1976.


A Hobart photographer who in 1874 made a set of over 40 photographs of still-living transported convicts. They are included as an example of the strong interest in Australian history which is characteristic of the 1870s. These small photographs are also examples of the standard “Carte-de-visite” size used for almost all portraits in the 1850s and 1860s, but going out of favour after 1870 for the larger “Cabinet” size , 4½ x 6½ inches. After 1875 “Panels”. 8½ x 6½  inches also became common for family groups. Carte-de-visite and Cabinets of royalty, actresses, bishops, convicts and other celebrities were widely available and were collected in albums as well as portraits of one’s own family.

The Mugshots
Working on government contract and as full-time civil servant, Thomas J. Nevin photographed many hundreds of Tasmanian prisoners – or “convicts” as they are termed in art history and heritage tourism discourse – between 1872 and 1886, and not just the set of forty (40) indicated in this brief Exhibition Catalogue note dated 1976. The author(s) were referring to the set of 40 prints from Nevin’s glass negatives of prisoners arranged in three panels held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston. See this article – Thomas J. Nevin’s glass plates of prisoners 1870s.

Forty prints of 1870s Tasmania prisoners in three panels
Original prints of negatives by T. J. Nevin 1870s
Reprints by J. W. Beattie ca. 1915
QVMAG Collection: Ref : 1983_p_0163-0176

The originals of these forty (40) individual prints of Tasmanian prisoners, photographed at the Hobart Gaol by the commissioned photographer Thomas J. Nevin in the 1870s, were intended to be pasted to the criminal record sheet of each prisoner. It was customary to photograph a person before conviction and after it, and again on discharge, by order of the Tasmanian Attorney-General from 1872 onwards, and since the men whom Nevin photographed were repeat and habitual offenders, the same glass negative was used again and again. The plates were handled repeatedly to produce duplicates for distribution to regional prisons and police stations, and for the many administrative copies required by the central Municipal Police Office at the Town Hall, the Supreme Court and the Hobart Gaol.

The forty individuals whose police photographs from the 1870s were lined up in this manner and pasted to dark green cardboard were all chosen by convictaria collector John Watt Beattie in 1915 because they were repeat offenders convicted of serious crimes who had been arraigned in Supreme Court sessions in the 1870s and incarcerated at the Hobart Gaol, Campbell St. Beattie chose them because he wanted to sell their images to tourists at his convictaria museum located in Murray St. Hobart, and to include them in intercolonial exhibitions associated with the fake convict ship the Success. He falsely touted these men as representative of the pre-1853 convict transportation era, hence the labelling on each of these panels, “Types of Imperial Convicts” and “Photographed at Port Arthur“, when the reality was far less fascinating. By the 1870s, these men were common criminals and “prisoners”, not “convicts” and they were photographed on sentencing at the Supreme Court Hobart and Hobart Gaol, a judicial process funded and administered by the Colonial government, not the British government.

Although the Exhibition Catalogue assumes it was Thomas Nevin in the 1874 who “made a set of over 40 photographs of still-living transported convicts“, it was Beattie & Searle who collated the original prints which they removed from the prisoner rap sheets  in the early 1900s and created these panels from Nevin’s original first-captures on glass negatives of the 1870s. None of the forty prisoners featured in each of these three panels, however, was exhibited. Just three photographs from the QVMAG collections were selected for the Centenary Exhibition of the Art Gallery of NSW in 1976.

These three black and white copies (below) were made at the QVMAG in 1985 from Nevin’s original sepia prints, and placed online in the early 2000s. The original 1870s prints of these black and white copies were exhibited at the AGNSW in 1976 (listed on page 27 in the Exhibition Catalogue). The curator chose these three photographs possibly because the full frontal pose and the frank stare captured more of the prisoner’s “personality” than the conventional pose where the sitter’s sightlines were deflected either left or right, the pose typical of Nevin’s commercial studio practice and evident in the more than 200 (two hundred) prisoner cdvs held in the Beattie collection at the QVMAG. Not that the frontal frontal pose was uncommon in Nevin’s practice: these two cartes-visite of young women, for example, are equally compelling for their full frontal stare at the camera and photographer.

On left and verso below left: 
Plain oval mount, head and shoulders to below waist cdv: A teenage girl [unidentified] with ringlets, wearing a dark dress with wide stripes banded in white and white cuffs, holding a hand coloured posy of flowers tinted yellow. Her gaze is direct to camera. The verso of this cdv bears Nevin’s most common commercial studio stamp “T. Nevin late A. Bock” etc and dates to ca. 1871-1874. Courtesy of © The Liam Peters Collection 2010. All rights reserved.

On right and verso below right: 
Head and shoulders cdv on plain oval mount : A young woman [unidentified] with a chin dimple, wearing an elaborately frilled bodice, brooch on a ribbon wound round her neck and chain to the waist, hair curled in layers across the top of head, her stare dramatic, solemn and strongly directed at the photographer/camera. Studio portrait by Thomas J. Nevin ca, 1870-1875. Verso with the handwritten inscription in Samuel Clifford’s orthography: “Clifford & Nevin Hobart Town“. The original was taken by Thomas Nevin before 1876, and reprinted by Samuel Clifford until 1878, per his advertisement in The Mercury, 17th January 1876:

Mr T. J. Nevin’s friends may depend that I will endeavour to satisfy them with any prints they may require from his negatives.

Photos recto and verso copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2014-2015
TMAG Ref: Q1984.294

In addition, the three prints of prisoners exhibited at the Centenary of the AGNSW in 1976 were possibly chosen because they had escaped the rebranding on the versos with the inscription “Taken at Port Arthur 1874” for Beattie’s tourism trade of the 1900s and for the 1938 QVMAG exhibition which commemorated his death and bequest to the people of Launceston. A year after the 1976 AGNSW Centenary Exhibition, in 1977, many more of these “convict portraits” by T. J. Nevin from the Beattie collection were exhibited at the QVMAG, curated by John McPhee.

Prisoner William TURNER

Prisoner William TURNER
QVMAG Ref: QVM 1985: P: 90 or 1985_p_0090
Catalogue No. 116. William Turner, Transported Lord Goderich (Boy’s ship), 18/11/1841.

Verso: Prisoner William TURNER
QVMAG Ref: QVM 1985: P: 90 or 1985_p_0090
Catalogue No. 116William Turner, Transported Lord Goderich (Boy’s ship), (18/11/1841).

See more here of this collection held at the QVMAG
Read more about prisoner William Turner in this post here

Prisoner Nathan HUNT

Prisoner Nathan HUNT
QVMAG Ref: QVM 1985_p_0073
Catalogue No. 117. Nathan Hunt, Transported Elphinstone (Boys), 28.7.1842, Larceny 9-1-79

Verso: Prisoner Nathan HUNT
QVMAG Ref: QVM 1985_p_0073
Catalogue No. 117. Nathan Hunt, Transported Elphinstone (Boys), 28.7.1842, Larceny 9 -1-79

Read more about this prisoner Nathan Hunt here in this article.

Prisoner Thomas HARRISON

Prisoner Thomas Harrison
Catalogue No. 118. Thomas Harrison, Idle and disorderly. P.O. Sorell 3 months Jany 1875

Verso: Prisoner Thomas Harrison
Catalogue No. 118Thomas Harrison, Idle and disorderly. P.O. Sorell Jany 1875

Read more about prisoner Thomas Harrison here in this article

Collector and Trustee G. T. Stilwell

G.T. Stilwell (1931-2000)
Special Collections librarian and Allport Museum curator
State Library of Tasmania
Mercury photo 1990 (?)

The National Library of Australia’s online catalogue notes for Daniel Thomas’ AGNSW Centenary Exhibition Catalogue do not include the names of the individual artists whose works were shown in 1976. The State Library of Tasmania, however, lists T. J. Nevin’s name along with other Tasmanian artists in their catalogue notes for the publication Australian art in the 1870s – available via  Linc. The State Library of Tasmania’s online entry also mentions which items came from G. T. Stilwell’s private collection, viz:

Title: Australian art in the 1870s : an exhibition to mark the centenary of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney / by Daniel Thomas.
Author/Creator: Thomas, Daniel, 1931- author.
Publication: Sydney : Trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, [1976]
Physical description: 60 pages : illustrations ; 19 x 18cm.
Provenance: From the collection of Geoffrey Thomas Stilwell. Item IDs 146035183 & 146035233
Notes: “Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney: 25 June-2 August 1976; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne: 28 October-21 November 1976” –Title page.
Contains 12 illustrations out of the 143 listed in the exhibition catalogue.
Includes bibliography, index and short artist biographies.
Partial contents: Includes Tasmanian artists or works on Tasmania: Robert Beauchamp — Robert Dowling — J. Haughton Forrest — Henry Grant Lloyd — Louisa Meredith — T. J. Nevin — W. C. Piguenit — John Skinner Prout — James Scurry — Eugen von Guérard — Frederick Woodhouse.
ISBN: 0724010564 (paperback)
Art, Australian — Exhibitions.
Art, Modern — 18th century — Exhibitions
Art, Modern — 19th century — Exhibitions.
Art, Australian — 18th century — Exhibitions
Art, Australian — 19th century — Exhibitions.
Artists — Australia — Exhibitions.
Artists — Tasmania — Exhibitions.
Tasmania — Pictorial works.
Exhibition catalogs — Tasmania.
Exhibition catalogs.
Other Authors/Creators: Stilwell, Geoffrey Thomas, 1931-2000, former owner.
Contains : Dowling, Robert Hawker, 1827-1886. Unequally yoked.
Contains : Piguenit, W. C. (William Charles), 1836-1914. Mount Wellington from New Town Bay.
National Gallery of Victoria.
Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Record ID: SD_ILS:1216315

Researchers are indebted to the late G.T. Stilwell for his creation of the Stilwell Index during his service at the State Library of Tasmania. G.T. Stilwell also published a short biography of Thomas Nevin with J. S. Kerr outlining the Town Hall dismissal and the misattribution by Chris Long of Nevin’s convict portraiture to A.H. Boyd in The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, edited by Joan Kerr. (Melbourne: Oxford University Press 1992).

Photo copyright © KLW NFC 2010

Entry for Thomas J. Nevin, pp 568-9
The Dictionary of Australian artists : painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, edited by Joan Kerr.
Publisher: Melbourne : Oxford University Press, 1992.
Description: xxii, 889 p. : ill., facsims., ports. ; 27 cm.

Joan Kerr and Geoffrey Stilwell’s entry on page 568 of The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870 dismisses the claim made by Chris Long in the mid 1980s, published in 1995, that A.H. Boyd was the photographer of the cdvs known as the Port Arthur convict cartes, 1874, or that he was a photographer at all. They state:

Some of the seventy cartes-de-visite identification photographs of Port Arthur convicts taken in the 1870s (QVMAG) at about the time the settlement was closed (1876) have been attributed to Nevin because they carry his studio stamp. He possibly held the government contract for this sort of criminal recording work, although Long believes that he was merely a printer or copyist and suggests that the most probable photographer was the commandant A.H. Boyd. However, professional photographers were employed to take identification photographs in Australian prisons from the beginning of the 1870s (see Charles Nettleton) and while a collection of standard portrait photographs and hand-coloured cartes-de-visite undoubtedly by Nevin is in the Archives Office of Tasmania no photographs by Boyd are known.
Information: J.S. Kerr, G.T. Stilwell

Read more in these posts:

The G. T. Stilwell Private Collection Auction 2015
This oil on canvas of a native bird with mountain berries and native flora with  Mount Wellington in the background was painted by Florence Williams ca. 1873. It was estimated to sell for $6,000 – $10,000. The price realized, including buyer’s premium, was $93,000.

Description: Florence Williams. (British / Australia 1833 – 1915)
A native bird with mountain berries and native flora, backed by Mount Wellington oil on canvas
Signed with initials FW
Original gilt frame, the image 59.8 x 45.2cm.
Florence Williams was born in the UK and exhibited at the Royal Academy. Williams moved to Australia in 1863 and lived in New Town, Tasmania from 1873 – 1875, during which this work would have been painted.
Provenance: W.N. Hurst Hobart,
The Sale of Michael Sharland. 1987. Michael Sharland (Tasmanian. 1899 – 1987) wrote as “Peregrine” for the Sydney Morning Herald and Hobart Mercury. Sharland was a passionate environmentalist for the built and natural environment, author and ornithologist. He was the author of nine volumes concerning Tasmanian bird and wildlife, as well as the definitive “A Guide to the Birds of Tasmania” and the architectural classic “Stones of a Century”. He was Superintendent of Scenic Reserves from 1947 and The Scenery Preservation Board (later formed as Parks and Wildlife Service).

Lot closed – Price Realized incl. BP:$93,000
ESTIMATE:  $6,000 – $10,000

Auction notes sources;

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