Christmas from our Archives

PHOTOGRAPHIC REDUCTIONS of LARGE DOCUMENTS Cdv of Mercury 1874; fire bell warnings 1878
CHARLES DICKENS and CAPTAIN GOLDSMITH The Gadshill mail box 1859
CHRISTMAS DRINKS at the MAYPOLE Drunk and disorderly at New Town 1885
PRISONERS partying 1881 and SAILORS hugging the holly 1850
CHRISTMAS CONCERT Theatre Royal Hobart ca. 1958

A Christmas portrait by T. J. Nevin of a toddler holding a sprig of holly, hand coloured red and green
Verso bears Nevin’s Royal Warrant stamp ca. 1874
From © The Lucy Batchelor Collection 2009 ARR [PC]

1. The Hobart Mercury front page reduced to a cdv, 1874
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:

T. J. Nevin’s photographic feat, Mercury 23 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.

See the full page here of the Mercury, 23 December 1874
Read more here: Thomas Nevin’s Christmas feat 1874

Of personal interest on the front page of the December 23, 1874 issue of the Mercury which Thomas Nevin photographed as a Christmas cdv novelty was a small advertisement informing readers that the Royal Standard Hotel was to let by its new properietor John Elliott. Located next door to Nevin’s photographic business at 140 Elizabeth St., the Royal Standard Hotel at 142 Elizabeth St. was operated by victualler and government contractor James Spence since 1868. Public Works Department contractors regularly gathered at his hotel to air their “grievances received at the hands of the Public Works Department“. Thomas Nevin nominated James Spence in his aldermanic campaign to serve on the Hobart City Council in 1872. Spence’s promise to the citizens of Hobart, if elected, was to monitor excessive expenditure on upcoming water and road infrastructure projects. He suggested too – and this proved to be his undoing – that he would investigate and report corruption within government, whether local or colonial, as a whistleblower, or in his words, as “a dog on the chain.” Not only did Spence fail to gain a seat in the 1872 HCC elections, he became the subject of two court cases, accused of slander. Ridiculed in the press, he left Hobart, selling the Royal Standard Hotel to John Elliott in 1874 for £775 as Lot 1. Included in the sale was “a cottage and shop adjoining, and three weather-boarded houses in Patrick Street next to Lot 1” for an additional £175. (Mercury 22 Jan 1874 p 2). When Nevin produced his cdv of the Mercury‘s front page issue, December 23, 1874, Elliott’s notice of the lease on the Royal Standard appeared in the last column:


TO LET, the “ROYAL STANDARD HOTEL”, situate corner of Elizabeth and Patrick streets. Apply to J. ELLIOTT.

The Royal Standard Hotel to let, next door to Thomas Nevin’s studio
Source:Advertising (1874, December 24). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 1.last column

Read more about James Spence here: Contractors Thomas J. Nevin and “dog on the chain” James Spence 1872

2. Connections past and present
On January 18th, 2014, this weblog posted an article with reference to two of Charles Dickens’ letters complaining about his neighbour, retired master mariner Captain Edward Goldsmith at Gadshill, in the village of Higham, Kent (UK). The first letter dated 1857 concerned Captain Goldsmith’s monopoly of the water supply in the village, and the second dated 1859 concerned the location of the village mailbox outside Captain Goldsmith’s house. It took just a few months in 2014, from January when we first posted the reference to Captain Goldsmith and the Higham mailbox in Charles Dickens’ letters, to December 2014 when this now famous mailbox found restitution as a fully operational service of the Royal Mail. Perhaps we played a small part in bringing the mailbox back into service. Our generous Captain Goldsmith, without doubt, is the ancestor who keeps on giving.

Source: Marion Dickens and friends at Charles Dickens’s personal postbox, outside his Kent home, recommissioned ahead of Christmas. Photograph: Royal Mail/PA 2014

Read more here: A Christmas Story: Captain Goldsmith, Charles Dickens and the Higham mail box.

3. A few drinks on Christmas Eve 1885
Thomas Nevin’s photographic studio in the years 1880-1888 was located in New Town where he resumed commercial photography after his departure from the position of Office and Hall Keeper, Hobart Town Hall, in early 1881 and continued photographic contractual work with bailiff duties for the New Town Territorial Police and the Hobart Municipal Police Office. He listed his occupation as “Photographer, New Town” on the birth registration of his youngest daughter Minnie (Mary Ann Nevin) in December 1884. His adult children listed their father’s occupation as “Photographer” on their respective marriage certificates in the early 1900s including his affectionate name for their mother – “Lizza” – right to the last marriage in 1917 of their youngest son Albert Edward Nevin to Emily Maud Davis. Even at his death in 1923, Thomas J. Nevin’s occupation was registered as “Photographer” on the cemetery’s burial certificate.

On or about Christmas Eve, December 24th 1885, William Curtis, Thomas Nevin and and an unnamed “first offender” were celebrating the Season of Cheer with a few drinks when they were each fined 5s. for “drunk and disorderly conduct at New Town”.

Stereograph by Thomas J. Nevin of the Maypole Inn and Congregational Church behind, ca. 1870.
Verso inscribed by an archivist with location details. Sourced from eBay March 2016.

Read more here: A few drinks on Christmas Eve 1885 at New Town

4. The traditional sprig of holly
Carte-de-visite portraits were taken in the 1870s by Thomas J. Nevin at the request of clients and colleagues who wanted to gift their portrait as a Christmas Card. They were invariably posed holding the traditional sprig of holly, or whatever was grown locally that would represent holly, tinted red and green always as the two colours readily recognised as signifiers of Christmas.

Above: teenage girl holding a sprig, daubed red and green, ca. 1874
Portrait inscribed verso with the transcription “Clifford & Nevin, Hobart Town”
From © The G.T. Harrisson Collection 2006 ARR [PC]

Read more here: The red and green tinted sprigs and Wm Maguire

5. Thomas Nevin’s cdv of Hobart’s fire bell signals
Thomas Nevin’s photographic reductions of large printed documents to the size of a carte-de-visite – 54.0 mm (2.125 in) × 89 mm (3.5 in) mounted on a card sized 64 mm (2.5 in) × 100 mm (4 in) – “evoked much admiration” when reported in the press. His first noted experiment in 1870 was the replication to a pocket sized card of the Town Clerk’s poster which provided the public with information on how to interpret fire bell alarms.

Even though the electric alarm system might have been in operation in Hobart by the late 1870s, Mr. H. Wilkinson, Town Clerk, and Thomas J. Nevin, Office-keeper of the Hobart Municipal Council, considered it a necessary public service to publish a diagram in the Mercury Almanac for 1878 on New Year’s Day, January 1st,1878, showing the number of strokes of the fire bell for each sequence signifying the fire’s location, viz:from the intersection of Liverpool and Harrington streets in the north (2 strokes) and west (3 strokes), to the intersection of Harrington Street and Montepellier Road, i.e. Montepellier Retreat, to the south (4 strokes) and east (1 stroke) rising from New Wharf (now Salamanca Place) to Battery Point (5 strokes).


The city is divided into five parts, as shown below. After the general alarm for a fire has been rung, the proper signal will be given, being repeated five times, with an interval of one minute between each : –
West 3 Strokes.
North 2 Strokes.
Liverpool Street – Harrington Street
South 4 Strokes.
East 1 Stroke.
Battery Point and New Wharf;
5 Strokes.

Source:The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954) Tue 1 Jan 1878 Page 1 FIRE BELL SIGNALS, HOBART TOWN.

Read more here:Thomas Nevin’s photographic reductions of large documents 1870s

6. The Pretty Views of Hobart 1850
Venturing out into a Hobart Town garden from HMS Havannah anchored in port at Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) on 26th December, 1850, deputy adjutant Godfrey Mundy rejoiced at the sight of a full-grown holly:

Every kind of English flower and fruit appears to benefit by transportation to Van Diemen’s Land. Well-remembered shrubs and plants, to which the heat of Australia is fatal, thrive in the utmost luxuriance under this more southern climate. For five years I had lost sight of a rough but respected old friend — the holly, or at most I had contemplated with chastened affection one wretched little specimen in the Sydney Botanic Garden — labelled for the enlightenment of the Cornstalks. But in a Hobart Town garden I suddenly found myself in the presence of a full-grown holly, twenty feet high and spangled with red berries, into whose embrace I incontinently rushed, to the astonishment of a large party of the Brave and the Fair, as well as to that of my most prominent feature!

Common Holly 1864

Read more here: Captain Edward Goldsmith: imports to Tasmania, exports to everywhere, 1840s-1860s

7. In a party mood: Michael LYNCH, Christmas Eve, 1881
Sixty-five (65) year old cook, Michael Horrigan (or Lynch, Harrigan and Sullivan), transported as Michael Lynch per Waverley (1) in 1841, was feeling festive on Christmas Eve, 24th December 1881. He celebrated by breaking into the residence of Alexander Denholm junior at Forcett, south-east of Hobart near Sorell, helping himself to a gold watch and some very fancy clothes. In a party mood, and probably dressed to the nines in Denholm’s tweeds, he then sought out and made amorous sexual advances to Robert Freeman which landed him in prison for indecent assault.

Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923)
Date and Place: Hobart Supreme Court March 1882
Black and white copy of sepia print printed in cdv mount
Verso indicates alias, crime, date of transportation, photo or archival no. 466 etc
QVM:1985:P:89, QVMAG Collection, Launceston, Tasmania

Read more here:In a party mood: prisoner Michael LYNCH (as Horrigan, Harrigan or Sullivan), Christmas Eve, December 24th 1881

8. … And from the 1950s

Norma Witts, Santa Claus and children from the Norma Witts Dance School
Christmas Concert, Theatre Royal Hobart ca. 1958
Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin’s great grand daughter Kerry middle row third from left
From © KLW NFC Group Private Collection 2023