T. J. Nevin’s 1870s mugshots the inspiration for 21st century artworks

POLICE MUGSHOTS Tasmania 1870s by T. J. Nevin
ARTWORK 21st century based on 1870s mugshots
LISA SHAROUN 2015
KENNETH POMLETT 2013

Ancestors by Lisa Sharoun 2015
Visual Artwork: Ancestors. [Artefact] (2015)
Source: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/129233/
Creator: Scharoun, Lisa
Source: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/view/person/Scharoun,_Lisa.html
Personal communication 26 January 2020:
Copies courtesy of the artist for permission to display the artworks online

Professor Lisa Sharoun created the seven artworks based on T. J. Nevin’s 1870s mugshots titled Ancestors for inclusion in a group exhibition of University of Canberra academics from the faculty of Arts and Design. The exhibition took place at the Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra in 2015 with the broad theme around cultural heritage. Accompanying each piece was a citation from our online research about Thomas J. Nevin’s photographic work for police, plus acknowledgment of the public collections which hold copies of the photographs, eg. Archives Office Tasmania. These art pieces were not for sale and remain in the artist’s private collection.

The following description which accompanied each of the exhibition pieces (2015) is from the catalogue. These notes were sourced from QUT (2020) where Professor Sharoun is currently Head of School of Design in the Creative Industries Faculty.

Description
Research background
The images presented are inspired by photographic images of the prisoners of Port Arthur taken by the Tasmanian photographer Thomas Nevin in the 1870s. The photos were used as mug-shots, legal instruments taken for the police and not meant to be ethnographic artifacts. The images are, however, strikingly beautiful with the expressions and poses of the prisoners allowing us a window into the lives of these men. When Nevin’s photos were first exhibited together at the Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston in 1977 the curator, Mr. John McPhee, noted; ‘These photographs are among the most moving and powerful images of the human condition.’

Through the paintings presented, you can sense the emotions of these long-deceased spirits; their presence is represented as a ghostly imprint on the golden surface of this vast and beautiful land.

Research Statement
In the novel The Book of Laughter and Forgetting Milan Kundera wrote ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’ In this exhibition, I am presenting a collection of images that explore the concepts of power, servitude, memory and the ability to forget. From 1787–1868 thousands of men and women were transported in chains to a vast island on the other side of the world. This forced mass migration of the lower social classes of British society deeply influenced the spirit of the nascent Nation. When transportation to Australia effectively ended an attempt was made to erase the convict ‘stain’ from collective memory. Even the name of ‘Van Diemen’s Land,’ home to some of the harshest of the Australian prisons, was removed in order to change public perception of the place.

In her book Australia’s Birthstain, Babette Smith explains: ‘The penal colony had been the most talked about experiment in the world in its first 100 years and subsequently became the object of distortion, cover-up and, finally, silence in the second.’ The names, places and memories of the convict settlements were relegated to a troubled past, one that should never taint the promising golden future of the colony. Although there was a conscious effort to collectively forget the stain of convict servitude, its memory is unmistakably woven into the fabric of the Australian psyche. It wasn’t until the late 1970’s, when the government fully allowed families exposure to convict records, that Australians took a favorable look at past familial connections to the convicts. For the many years that the government censored, or in some cases destroyed, convict records family stories and histories became distant or lost altogether.

Kundera, M. (1980) The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, New York: A.A. Knopf.
Smith, B. (2009) Australia’s Birthstain: the startling legacy of the convict era. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

[Source: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/129233/. Accessed 12 May 2020]

[Above]:  Wall dsiplay of seven artworks by Lisa Sharoun based on photographs of Tasmanian prisoners (mugshots) taken for police by government contractor and commercial photographer Thomas J. Nevin, Hobart, 1870s.

From the exhibition, Ancestors. Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra 2015
Creator: Lisa SHAROUN
Source: personal communication (copyright permission)

[Below:]  Thomas Nevin’s 1870s photographs of five of the seven prisoners which provided inspiration for Lisa Sharoun’s portraits. Originals, duplicates and copies of these particular photographs are held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania; the Archives Office of Tasmania, Hobart; and the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

[Above:] Left to right:
Painted portrait of Tasmanian prisoner Thomas JACKSON 1870s
Painted portrait of Tasmanian prisoner William or John WOODLEY 1870s
Artist:  © Lisa Sharoun 2015 Private Collection

[Below:] Left to right:
Photograph of Tasmanian prisoner Thomas JACKSON 1870s
Photograph of Tasmanian prisoner William or John WOODLEY 1870s

  

Left: Photograph of Tasmanian prisoner Thomas JACKSON 1870s
Right: Photograph of Tasmanian prisoner William or John WOODLEY 1870s
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Black and white copies of sepia prints printed in cdv mounts
From the QVMAG Collection, Launceston, Tasmania
These prints are held at the QVMAG, Launceston, Tasmania

Prisoner William or John WOODLEY 

Photograph of Tasmanian prisoner William or John WOODLEY 1870s
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Albumen print in buff mount
This cdv is held at the National Library of Australia, Canberra
Read more about William or John WOODLEY here


Photograph of Tasmanian prisoner William or John WOODLEY 1870s
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Caption: “William Woodley convict, transported per Moffatt. Photograph taken at Port Arthur by Thomas Nevin“.
Paper copy of the cdv held at the QVMAG
Archives Office Tasmania Ref: PH30/1/3220

[Above:] Left to right:
Painted portrait of prisoner William WALKER 1870s
Painted portrait of prisoner Michael HARRIGAN 1870s
Painted portrait of prisoner Philip AYLWARD 1870s
Artist: © Lisa Sharoun 2015 Private Collection

[Below:] Left to right:
Photograph of prisoner William WALKER 1870s
Photograph of prisoner Michael HARRIGAN 1870s
Photograph of prisoner Philip AYLWARD 1870s
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)

[Below:]
Photograph of prisoner William WALKER 1870s
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Black and white copy of sepia print printed in cdv mount
From the QVMAG Collection, Launceston, Tasmania

Photograph of prisoner William WALKER 1870s
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Black and white copy of sepia print printed in cdv mount
From the QVMAG Collection, Launceston, Tasmania
Read more about William WALKER here

Photograph of Tasmanian prisoner William WALKER 1870s
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Caption: “William Walker convict, transported per Asia. Photograph taken at Port Arthur by Thomas Nevin“.
Paper copy of the cdv held at the QVMAG
Archives Office Tasmania Ref: PH30/1/3221

Photograph of Tasmanian prisoner William WALKER 1870s
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Albumen print in buff mount
This cdv is held at the National Library of Australia, Canberra

[Below:]
Prisoner Michael HARRIGAN or SULLIVAN
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923) 1880s?
Black and white copy of sepia print printed in cdv mount
Verso indicates alias, crime, date of transportation, photo no. 466 etc
From the QVMAG Collection, Launceston, Tasmania

This print is held in the QVMAG Collection

[Below:]
Prisoner Philip AYLWARD 1870s
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Black and white copy of sepia print printed in cdv mount
From the QVMAG Collection, Launceston, Tasmania
Read more about Phillip AYLWARD here

Black and white copy of cdv held at the QVMAG, Launceston


Photograph of Tasmanian prisoner Phillip AYLWARD 1870s
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Caption: “Arrived as a military pensioner per Blenheim. Tried Hobart 1872. Photograph taken at Port Arthur by Thomas Nevin“.
Paper copy of the cdv held at the QVMAG
Archives Office Tasmania Ref: PH30/1/3209

Watercolours by Kenneth Pomlett

“I never lost the look of the man” – K. Pomlett

Kenneth Pomlett at home with his watercolours of 1870s Tasmanian prisoners
Screenshot from YouTube video (below)

Uploaded to YouTube on 3 June 2013
Video by Soma Kondo

NB: audio is not clear.

Watch artist Kenneth Pomlett create his watercolours, and listen to his comments on the process. He points to the watercolours of Tasmanian prisoners on his wall, recounting his source as the small carte-de-visite photographs from the 1870s. Each painting took him about four hours. When exactly he produced them is not mentioned. He most likely discovered the photographs here online in our posts about each prisoner, their criminal offences in the 1870s, and the date on which Thomas J. Nevin photographed them. These six same watercolours left his possession at some point, to be snapped up at auction by Kim Sgarbossa. Read her account below.

Six watercolours by artist Ken Pomlett (2012?) of Tasmanian prisoners based on police mugshots taken by Thomas J. Nevin in the 1870s.
Copyright © Private Collection of Kim Sgarbossa

Kim Sgarbossa purchased these artworks at an auction and posted this photograph of them hanging in pride of place on her wall at home to the Facebook page, Tasmanian History, with these comments, dated 26 February 2020:

I rescued these gorgeous water colours by artist K. Pomlett. Not many people really like them but I love the history that comes with them and the lives of convicts in early Tasmania and they have pride of place in our home.
They are 6 convicts with their history. Bottom left is Thomas Francis … Duncan MacDonald born 1812, One eyed Dennis Doherty born 1814, James Harper born 1820, George White born 1821, Peter Killeen born 1806 … there was no interest so I just had to, not a popular pick up with my friends who think they are ugly but the history is priceless I love them … all I know [about the artist] is he’s a Tasmanian artist who I believe has a studio in the Huon. I looked him up and these paintings were in his studio wall so I’m not sure why they ended up in a box of frames at an auction …

The six prisoners featured in these paintings are as follows, from top left to bottom right:
Photograph of prisoner Duncan MACDONALD 1870s
Photograph of prisoner James HARPER 1870s
Photograph of prisoner Denis DOGHERTY 1870s
Photograph of prisoner George WILSON aka WHITE 1870s
Photograph of prisoner Thomas FRANCIS 1870s
Photograph of prisoner Peter KILLEEN 1870s
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)

Top line: left to right
Prisoner Duncan MACDONALD

Prisoner Duncan MACDONALD
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin
National Library of Australia nla.obj-142917917

Prisoner James HARPER

Prisoner James HARPER
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin
National Library of Australia nla.obj-142914518
Read more about James Harper here

Middle line: left to right
Prisoner Denis DOGHERTY

Prisoner Denis DOGHERTY
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin
National Library of Australia nla.obj-142914810
Read more about Denis Dogherty here

Prisoner George WILSON aka WHITE

Prisoner George WILSON aka WHITE
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin
National Library of Australia nla.obj-142919110
Read more about George White or Wilson here

Bottom line: left to right
Prisoner Thomas FRANCIS

Prisoner Thomas FRANCIS
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin
National Library of Australia nla.obj-142916416
Read more about Thomas Francis here.

Prisoner Peter KILLEEN

Prisoner Peter KILLEEN
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin
National Library of Australia nla.obj-142917714
Read more about Peter Killeen here.

Water colours sourced online from Kim Sgarbossa’ post to Facebook.
Photographs sourced from the National Library of Australia
Please note: the NLA has recently misattributed their collection
Research copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2003-2020

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