The sweetest young brother: thirteen year old Jack Nevin 1865

NEVIN, William John (1852-1891) aka Jack, younger brother of Thomas
NEVIN, Thomas James (1842-1923) family photographs of younger brother Jack
NEVIN, William John (1878-1927) nephew of Jack, son of Thomas and Elizabeth NEVIN.

Of all four siblings – from the eldest Thomas James to his sisters Rebecca Jane and Mary Ann – William John Nevin, known to the family as Jack, was the youngest child with the most to gain from his family’s decision to uproot their lives in County Down, Ireland and start again in the remote British penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land. A babe in arms when they arrived at Hobart in July 1852, and a toddler by the time his father had built their cottage at Kangaroo Valley adjacent to Jane Franklin’s Museum in 1854, Jack Nevin at 13 years old was a beautiful boy, the perfect choice for his older brother Thomas to practice full-length studio portraiture.

Subject: William John Nevin (1852-1891), known as Jack to the family.
and known as Constable John Nevin from 1870 to his death in 1891.
Photographer: older brother Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Location: City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart Town, Tasmania.
Date: ca. 1865, Jack Nevin here is barely a teenager, 13 years old.
Details: full-length carte-de-visite, albumen print, sepia toned. Verso is blank.
Studio decor features the shiny leather slipper chair.
Source: Sydney Rare Books Auctions 2019
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2020 Private Collection. Watermarked.

The life and death of W. J. Nevin (1852-1891)
Known as Jack to the family, William John Nevin entered the civil service from his eighteenth birthday in 1870 in the capacity of warder at the “Cascade Asylum” according to his obituary. It was formerly known as the Cascade Female Factory, South Hobart, but by 1869 the site housed the Invalid Depot, the Boys Reformatory Training School and the Cascade Gaol for Males. Jack Nevin continued service there until he was transferred to the Hobart Gaol, Campbell Street in 1877. He remained in service on salary in administration as gaol messenger, wardsman and photographer until his death from typhoid fever in 1891, aged 39 yrs, while resident at the gaol. His length of service with H. M. Prisons was twenty-one years. According to his obituary published in the Mercury on 18th June 1891, he was a well-respected civil servant who left no family but a large circle of friends.

1852: born January (?) at Newtonards (near Belfast), County Down, Ireland in January
1852: babe in arms on board the Fairlie, reported on sick lists in June
1852: arrives at Hobart in July 1852 on the Fairlie with parents and three siblings
1854: settles with family on farm at Kangaroo Valley Hobart (Wesleyan Trustees)
1858: schooled by his father John Nevin snr and older siblings
1865: death of older sister Rebecca Jane Nevin (1847-1865)
1870: joins civil service as wardsman at Cascade Asylum, Gaol and Reformatory
1871: best man at the wedding of his brother Thomas James Nevin to Elizabeth Rachel Day
1874: assists with transfer of prisoners at Port Arthur to the Hobart Gaol and Cascade Asylum
1875: death of his mother Mary Anne Nevin nee Dickson (1810-1875)
1875: constable duties and keeper trainee, Hobart Gaol
1876: on duty at Hobart Hospital and Cascades during funeral of Truganini
1876-1886: assistant photographer to his brother Thomas Nevin at Hobart Gaol
1878: witness at marriage of aunt Mary Sophia Day (his mother’s sister) to Captain Hector Axup
1878: death of older sister Mary Ann Carr nee Nevin (1844-1878) from childbirth (Victoria)
1881: renewal of application to join police administration
1882: witness at inquest of Constable Frank Green
1882: elector support for Hon. Dobson in General Election
1882: resident at the Hobart Gaol on salary to H. M. Prisons Dept.
1882: registered to vote in Denison election
1887: death of father John Nevin snr (1808-1887) at Kangaroo Valley, Hobart
1887: Hobart Gaol messenger
1889: witness at inquest into death of prisoner James Thornton at H. M. Gaol
1890: wardsman at the Royal Hobart Hospital
1891: own death from typhoid at the Royal Hobart Hospital
1891: his body misidentified at the morgue, buried in the wrong grave, re-interred at Cornelian Bay cemetery

While on duty …
These were some of highs and lows of William John Nevin’s civil service in prison administration:

Signed 24th November 1881, Constable (Wm) John Nevin’s renewal of application to the Constabulary Tasmania.
Records courtesy State Library of Tasmania

1872-1883: the Ogden brothers:
Two of the most recalcitrant boys during John Nevin’s early years as wardsman at the Boys Reformatory Training School and Cascade Asylum were brothers Robert aka James and William Ogden. Their transgressions which began with absconding, being idle and disorderly and larceny progressed over a decade to murder. Early police reports noted that both Ogden brothers were undergoing a sentence of 4 years passed on 29 October 1870 at Green Ponds for being idle and disorderly and vagrancy. Every 18 months or so, they continued to abscond, their ages indeterminate to police, their identities sometimes confused one for the other, described as 10, 12, 15, or 16 yrs old, or “short for his age”, and sometimes reported as older in 1873 than in 1875 etc.

Tasmania Reports of Crime for Police, 3 October 1873
Absconded again from the Cascade Reformatory, Robert and William Ogden.

By the time he was executed in 1883 for the shooting murder of William Wilson with his accomplice James Sutherland, Robert Ogden was thought to be about 20 yrs old. Constable John Nevin had witnessed this youth’s progression from petty crime to murder, and no doubt attended Ogden’s execution at the Hobart Gaol in the course of his duties. He may have assisted his brother Thomas Nevin take this photograph of Robert Ogden in 1875 for police and prison records, or indeed, taken it himself.

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.
Source of image: State Library of NSW
Digital Order No. a421036
Miscellaneous Photographic Portraits ca. 1877-1918
36. James Ogden
Call Number DL PX 158:

1876: burial of Truganini:
Constable John Nevin was on duty at the burial of Trucanini, regarded in that era as the “last Tasmanian Aboriginal”, on 10th-11th May 1876 at the Cascade cemetery. Trucanini [var. Truganini] died on 8th May, 1876, aged 73 years. Her body was guarded by a constable at the city hospital “to prevent any mutilation or snatching” until just after 11pm on Wednesday evening, 10th May 1876 when she was secretly removed from the hospital and transported personally to the Cascades by the Superintendent of the Cascade Gaol and Reformatory, the much reviled former Commandant of the Port Arthur prison, A. H. Boyd. He had suddenly appeared at the hospital and demanded her body be handed over to him, much to the surprise of staff on duty and the undertaker next day who arrived and left with an empty coffin. During the long night of Wednesday May 10th and the morning of Thursday May 11th until the time of her burial at midday, Trucanini’s body, now at rest in the Cascade Chapel, was guarded by Constable John Nevin. The Sergeant-at-Arms, Mr. Calder, did not arrive till the proceedings were over.

The public expected a funeral procession would take place at noon, and that a hearse carrying Trucanini’s body would proceed from the hospital where a crowd waited, not knowing they had been deceived. This angry report appeared in the Mercury the following day, 12th May, and another which attempted an explanation, on the 13th May 1876.


Trucanini died early on Monday afternoon, and her body was at once removed to the hospital, a constable being specially told off to watch over it, and prevent any snatching or mutilation. There was, of course, considerable anxiety felt as to where the remains were to be deposited, and when the funeral was to take place ; but it was Wednesday night before the Press was made acquainted with the decision of the Government, and not till yesterday morning was the information conveyed to the public. It was then done in such a manner as clearly to show that an attempt was to be made to deceive the public. The note from the Colonial Secretary, which appeared in yesterday’s issue, after stating that the Government had refused the body to the Royal Society, ran thus :—”The Government have given orders for the decent interment of the corpse ; but, to prevent a recurrence of the unseemly scenes which were enacted in March, 1869, it has been deemed expedient to inter the body at the Cascades, in the vacant spot immediately in front of the chapel. The funeral will take place at noon to-morrow.” The inference drawn from such information, when it was well-known that the body was at the hospital, was that the funeral would take place from that institution at noon, and that there would be a hearse, with the usual procession of mourners ; for there were many citizens who, prompted by a desire to show respect to the deceased, would have followed her remains. Towards noon numerous inquiries were made at the hospital, and up to one o’clock people were standing at street corners on the route which it was thought the cortége would take, waiting to see it pass ; but the Government had taken as much pains as possible to deceive them. It appears that at 11 o’clock on Wednesday night, Mr. A. H. Boyd, Superintendent of the Cascades Gaol and Reformatory, went to the hospital, armed with an authority from the Government, and demanded the body of the deceased Queen. It was, of course, given up, though the officials were taken completely by surprise, and evidently had never dreamt that any such demand would have been made upon them at that unseemly hour. At all events, the body was placed in the cart, and in the dead of the night, when all good citizens had retired to rest, it was borne through the streets of the city up to the Cascades institution. In this way, by a stratagem for which there was not the least necessity, and which does no credit to the Government, was the public frustrated in their desire to see proper respect paid to the last member of a now extinct race. To show how secret this removal of the remains was, and the duplicity which it was considered necessary should be practised, no intimation of it was conveyed to the undertaker, Mr. Hamilton. He, therefore, acting on instructions received, went to the hospital yesterday morning with the coffin, and was as much surprised as anyone when he found what had taken place. There is no palliation for the conduct of the Government in this matter. The remains were sufficiently protected by the presence of a constable, and the deliberate deception practised upon the public in the way we have described merits the strongest condemnation.

Source: FUNERAL OF QUEEN TRUCANINI. Mercury 1876, May 12  p. 2.Link:

1882: Death of Constable Frank Green
On the 14 May 1882, Constable W. J. Nevin was on duty at 11.45am when the guard in the sentry box on the hill at the Quarry behind the stone-shed near the Hobart Gaol failed to return. He was dispatched to investigate and found the guard, Frank Green, dying of a gunshot wound. “I am shot, John” were Green’s dying words as Nevin lifted his head. Frank Green was 21 yrs old, rather tall, a Catholic, single, born in Hobart and a former sailor when he joined the Constabulary for the first time, signed in by the Sheriff on October 1st, 1878. Frank Green had accidently shot himself. He died in John Nevin’s arms. The press reported the incident on 19th May:

TRANSCRIPT newspaper extract 19 May

… At a quarter to 12, by which time it was usual for the guard to be at his post, Green was not present there, and the officer in charge, Mr. White, despatched Constable Nevin to see what detained him. Constable Nevin ascended the hill, and at the sentry-box situated at the corner of the workings, a little more than midway up the incline, found Green lying on the ground with his feet on the threshold of the box, and his rifle about a yard distant from him. The constable knelt down to lift up the head of the prostrate man, who said , “I am shot; let me alone. ” Nevin then ran down and acquainted those in the yard with the accident, and Green was then conveyed to the hospital, where he lingered for half an hour, and then expired. It was found that he had been shot through the abdomen and lungs …

At the inquest held at the Bird-in-Hand Hotel five days later, Constable John Nevin was a key witness. The jury of seven reached a verdict of accidental death. Coroner Tarleton found the guard Frank Green had slipped when about to descend the hill and his double-barrelled breech-loading gun had caught in a string on his coat, discharging a bullet through his abdomen and lung.

TRANSCRIPT Coroner’s verdict 20 May

Mr. Tarleton, the Coroner, held an inquiry on the body of the man Frank Green, who was accidentally shot on Tuesday, while on guard over prisoners working at the quarry. From the evidence taken, it appeared that the wind was blowing very hard at the time and no one heard any report of a gun, but a constable named W. J. Nevin, finding that Green did not come forward to do his accustomed duty at twenty minutes to twelve, when the men were marched to dinner, called out, and receiving no reply, went in search of him. He found Green on his side, with a discharged gun on the ground near him. In reply to Nevin’s question, he said ,”Oh Jack, I am shot,” and when Nevin attempted to lift him up he said, “For God’s sake, let be.” He spoke with great difficulty, but never said anything to lead Nevin to suppose it was anything but an accident. Dr. Holden said the muzzle of the gun must have been close to the man’s body when it went off. The jury returned a verdict of death from accident.

Further report of the Coroner’s findings on the death of Constable Green
The Tasmanian (Launceston) Sat 20 May 1882 Page 547 TASMANIA.

Death of W. J. Nevin: 18th June 1891
By 1884 William John Nevin was registered as an elector resident on salary at H. M. Prison, Hobart.He was residing full-time in the foul environment of the Hobart Gaol, a hot-spot of contagion during those years just as prisons today are sites of rapid infection from the current COVID-19 pandemic. He died from a typhus infection while on duty.

The Deaths in the District of Hobart for 1891 registered Constable John Nevin’s death on 17th June 1891 at the Hobart General Hospital (born Ireland) with typhoid fever as the cause of death, his age listed wrongly as 43 years [sic -39 years on burial record] and rank or profession as Gaol Messenger. But on the Register of Burials No. 8253 of 17th June 1891 his age was listed as 39 yrs, and his occupation as “Wardsman”. This might suggest that he was engaged in bed-side nursing at the Hobart Hospital, possibly in a prisoners’ ward in similar capacity to the position of hospital sergeant which Dr Bingham Crowther filled in May 1878 when employed by the Southern Artillery. Between the 1850s and 1880s it was a characteristic of hospitals to employ men, referred to as “wardsman” to carry out bedside nursing (Collins and Kippen 2003). A few years earlier, in 1889, John Nevin had attended the inquest as a witness of the death of a recently incarcerated prisoner in his care, James Thornton who died of cancer.

Obituary for Constable John Nevin, brother of photographer Thomas J. Nevin
Source: Tasmanian News (Hobart, Tas. : 1883 – 1911) Thu 18 Jun 1891 Page 2 LOCAL AND GENERAL


Obituary.—This morning the remains of Mr John Nevin, an old and well-respected Civil Servant were buried, he having died of fever in the Hospital yesterday. The deceased, who was 39 years of age, arrived here from Ireland when a child in arms. When 18 years of age he entered the Civil Service in the capacity of warder at the Cascade Asylum. After some years of service there he was appointed messenger at the gaol, which position be held up to the time of his death. He leaves no family, but a large circle of friends will hear of his death with regret.

Source: Tasmanian News (Hobart, Tas. : 1883 – 1911) Thu 18 Jun 1891 Page 2 LOCAL AND GENERAL

And then the unthinkable happened

The confusion over John Nevin’s age was the fault of the morgue at the Hobart Hospital. They had sent the wrong body to the Cornelian Bay Cemetery. John Nevin’s body was sent and buried in a pauper’s grave instead of another man who was to be buried as a pauper. The mistake was discovered by the undertaker only after the cemetery burial had taken place. Funeral mourners had to wait several hours while John Nevin’s body was exhumed from the pauper’s grave and re-interred. The shocking details of the body swap were revealed in this article published a day after his funeral:

John Nevin was buried twice: the body swap
Source: Zeehan and Dundas Herald (Tas. : 1890 – 1922), Friday 19 June 1891, page 2


Hospital Scandal
(From our own Correspondent)
Hobart, June 18.
A remarkable case of mistaken identity or carelessness occurred today at the Hobart Hospital. Mr. A. Clark, undertaker, received orders for the internment of the body of John Nevin, who for many years was employed in the Hobart gaol, but who died recently in the Hospital from typhoid fever. The funeral was fixed for 10 o’clock this morning, and the Governor of the gaol had made arrangements for the presence of himself and staff at the funeral. Upon proceeding to the Morgue, undertaker Clark found that Nevin’s body had been removed, and another one left in its place. Enquiries elicited the information that a pauper funeral had taken place some hours earlier, the undertaker for which had taken Nevin’s remains in mistake for that of the pauper. The authorities immediately telephoned out to the cemetery, ordering the body to be exhumed and returned to the hospital. This was effected after nearly two hours delay, the friends in the meantime waiting, and the remains of Nevin was reconveyed to the cemetery.
When Mr Clark discovered the mistake he was prevailed upon to take the body that was left, but this he refused to do. It would appear that the person whose business it is to attend to the morgue has multifarious duties to perform, the consequence being that supervision is most defective. No doubt this matter will be enquired into by the Hospital authorities.

Source: Zeehan and Dundas Herald (Tas. : 1890 – 1922), Friday 19 June 1891, page 2

Nephew by the same name: William John Nevin (1878-1927)
Naming children with exactly the same three names – first or Christian name, middle name, and surname – as the name of one of their parents, or in this case, with exactly the same three names as one of their uncles – was common practice in the late 19th century, or at least it seems the tradition the Nevin family followed when the birth of Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin’s first son, second child Thomas James Nevin (1874-1948) was registered in 1874 with the same name as his father, and the birth of his fourth child, third son William John Nevin (1878-1927) was registered in 1878 with the same name as Thomas’ younger brother, William John Nevin (1852-1891).

This leather wallet embossed in gold lettering with the initials and name “W. J. Nevin” might have originally belonged to Thomas Nevin’s brother William John Nevin, and on his death in 1891, passed down to his son, nephew of his brother by the same name, William John Nevin, who died in a cart accident in 1927. The Prince Albert fob chain too, worn by Thomas’s brother Jack in the portrait taken ca. 1876 was passed down to his nephew.

Brown leather wallet embossed “W. J. Nevin” 1880s-1927
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint Private Collection

William John Nevin (1878-1927), son of Thomas & Elizabeth Nevin
Nephew of William John aka Jack Nevin
Verso inscription “William J. Nevin, Furniture Removalist”
Unattributed, no date, ca. 1926? Died in a cart accident, 1927.
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint Private Collection


Apart from the photograph (at top) taken in 1865 by Thomas Nevin of his younger brother William John Nevin (1852-1891), six are extant and perhaps there are more, yet to be identified. Most are held in private collections except for this stereograph taken at the Hobart Gaol ca. 1865.

The first of these is a stereograph, unattributed and taken together with another stereograph of the prison buildings ca. 1865-68 in the grounds of the Hobart Gaol, Campbell Street. This view included two figures – a teenage boy and an older man wearing a top hat. The boy may have been a very young William John Nevin accompanying the unidentified photographer, and the man with him may have been a prison official. The boy’s stance is the clue here to his identity – it’s Jack Nevin’s favorite pose with left hand on hip, his signature stance when photographed, for example, at his brother Thomas’ wedding (group photograph below).

Jack Nevin at the Hobart Gaol 1860s

View of the prisoners’ barracks, Campbell Street
Publication Information: ca. 1865
Physical description: 1 stereoscopic pair of photographs : sepia toned ; 9 x 18 cm. (mount)
W.L. Crowther Library, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office

The second photograph is a full-length portrait of William John Nevin, 16 years old, taken by his brother Thomas J. Nevin in early 1868 during the visit to Hobart Tasmania of Alfred Ernest Albert, the Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria on board the Royal yacht HMS Galatea. The typical pose and dress of young William John aka Jack Nevin, choices made whenever he was photographed while still a youth, were with left arm bent, hand on hip, clean shaven (until his twenties when he favoured a moustache), a three piece suit with fob chain, and jacket with velvet revers (lapels). The little bowler was brand new, placed next to two decorative pot plants. The decor in the studio at this time – January 1868 – featured the heavy plinth with plaster panels inset with a wreath which Thomas Nevin acquired from Alfred Bock’s auction and which appears in one of his photos of the Bayles sisters. The large lozenge patterned carpet softened with white edges and floral centre appears in several of these Nevin & Smith portraits.

Subject: William John Nevin (1852-1891), known as Jack to the family;
also known as Constable John Nevin from 1870-1891
Photographers: Thomas J. Nevin (older brother) and Robert Smith, as the firm NEVIN & SMITH
Location and Date: 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart, Tasmania, January 1868.
Details: verso stamped with Prince of Wales blazon of three feathers, coronet and Ich Dien;
“From Nevin & Smith late Bock’s, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart Town”
Source: Private Collection, Sydney Rare Books Auction, June 2019

The third is a group photograph taken at the wedding of older brother Thomas J. Nevin to Elizabeth Rachel Day, 12th July 1871, at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kangaroo Valley, Hobart, Tasmania. The bride and groom sat down for the capture while younger brother Jack Nevin, clean-shaven and barely 19 years old, struck his signature pose, left arm bent and hand on hip, on viewer’s extreme right. The other members of this group may have included Mary Sophia Day, Elizabeth’s younger sister, and photographers Alfred Bock and Samuel Clifford. Jack Nevin was by this date a civil servant, employed at the Cascades Asylum and Invalid Depot which housed the Boys’ Reformatory Training School and Cascades Gaol for Males.

Subject: Wedding party photograph, Thomas and Elizabeth Rachel’s wedding 12 July 1871
Jack Nevin, top right, Thomas Nevin and Elizabeth Rachel Day seated
Three unidentified couples, unknown photographer
Location and Date: Nevin’s studio at Hobart or at New Town, 1871
Details: unmounted, uncut sepia paper print, poor condition
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint Private Collection 2009 ARR

This unmounted print was for private family viewing, and has survived, albeit badly damaged, in descendants’ collections.

The fourth photograph is a vignetted carte-de-visite of William John Nevin, face and upper body only, taken by his brother Thomas J. Nevin a few years later when Jack was approaching his 21st birthday. He smiled as he was captured, perhaps because of the informal setting. It was his brother standing there in front of him giving him instructions or even passing a few humorous observations, rather than another photographer in a more formal setting.

Subject: William John Nevin (1852-1891), known as Jack to the family.
and Constable John Nevin from 1870 to his death in 1891.
Photographer: older brother Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Location: City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart Town, Tasmania.
Date: ca. 1872, Jack Nevin was approaching his 21st birthday
Details: vignetted (cloudy background) carte-de-visite, albumen print, sepia toned.
Unusual for the period, Jack was captured smiling
Verso carries Thomas Nevin’s most commercial studio stamp, T. Nevin late A. Bock
Source: Sydney Rare Books Auctions 2019.
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2020 Private Collection. Watermarked.

The fifth photograph of William John Nevin was taken by his brother Thomas at the Elizabeth Street studio ca. 1874-1876. He was now in his mid twenties. The setting was formally composed and the resultant photograph was produced as a standard studio portrait, typical of Thomas Nevin’s commercial practice in this decade. This print on flimsy paper was not mounted as a carte-de-visite, perhaps because of flaws in the printing. Jack wore a shirt, tie, fob watch, and three piece suit with velvet revers. He posed beside the ever-present table with the griffin-shaped legs, his hand resting on a book, the usual signifier of literacy in 19th century portraits.

Constable W. John (Jack) Nevin ca 1874-6
Photographed by his brother Thomas J. Nevin
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint and Private Collection (Shelverton family) 2006 ARR.

A MAN of the WORLD ca. 1880-85
The last photograph to have survived in family and private collections (to date) of William John Nevin was taken by his brother ca. 1880-1885 as a mature adult in his  thirties. He was by now resident full-time at the Hobart Gaol, a wardsman, messenger and photographic assistant to his brother on weekly visits during Oyer sessions at the Supreme Court in Campbell Street, next to the Hobart Gaol.

Subject: Constable W. J. (Jack) Nevin ca. 1880-1882.
Photographer: older brother Thomas J. Nevin
Location: Thomas Nevin’s New Town studio
Details: verso is blank
Copyright © KLW NFC Private Collections 2009 ARR

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