Two histories, two inscriptions: Tasmanian prisoners 1874

Thomas Nevin would have carried at least two copies on his person of the prisoner’s photograph, one loose and one pasted to the prisoner’s record sheet, in the event of attempted escape in transit. Other copies remained at the Office of Inspector of Police, Town Hall, Hobart. Dr Coverdale, the Surgeon-Commandant at Port Arthur who had replaced A.H. Boyd by January 1874 deemed this procedure sufficient for security as a dozen or so prisoners were evacuated every week back to Hobart by schooner as soon as he assumed office. Clearly, Dr Coverdale’s predecessor A. H. Boyd had nothing to do with this photograph of Job Smith, nor indeed with any other of these 1870s prisoner mugshots for the simple and very obvious facts that (a) Boyd was not a photographer and no photographs in any genre supposedly taken by him have been found extant nor ever will be found unless they have been faked, as for example, the image of the Port Arthur prison printed by the Anson Bros in 1889 (Kerr, Stilwell 1992); and (b) the commission awarded to Thomas Nevin to photograph prisoners was given in 1872 by the Attorney-General W. R. Giblin after the visit by senior prison official and politicians from Victoria to the Port Arthur prison. Just one image, reprinted many times, of Job Smith aka William Campbell is extant. Thomas Nevin photographed him once and once only, although at least three duplicates and copies are currently extant in State and National collections. … More Two histories, two inscriptions: Tasmanian prisoners 1874

Alfred Bock & Thomas Nevin at Port Arthur 1860s

PERSONAL: – Mr Alfred Bock, writing from Auburn, Victoria, intimates that he is not dead, neither is he “the late Mr. Bock”, as stated in a note under a picture of the late Mr Boyd in a recent copy of “The Tasmanian Mail.” He adds:- “I suppose by the ‘late Mr. Bock’ it means to refer to my father, but he never took a photograph in his life. The picture was actually taken by me on the occasion of my visiting Port Arthur at the request on the officers of the station for the purpose of painting a portrait of Mr Boyd for presentation to that gentleman; I think about 1863 or 1864; I am not quite sure as to the year. I should be glad if you could make the correction, especially as some of my friends have been inquiring about my decease.
More Alfred Bock & Thomas Nevin at Port Arthur 1860s

Dry plate photography 1860s

Published in London, The Photographic News contained a wealth of news and technical information about processes and equipment. The volume spans a year in the development of dry-plate photography, solar photography, photolithography, glass house construction and a thousand other items of interest in advanced photophysics and photochemistry. Alfred Bock and Thomas Nevin had reconstructed Bock’s glass house at their studio, The City Photographic Establishment, 140 Elizabeth-street, Hobart Town, by 1865, and produced some extraordinary solar photographs. Samuel Clifford, also a partner of Thomas Nevin, applied information from such a source to produce his much praised dry plate photographs using Russell’s Tannin Process, which were exhibited at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition in 1866. … More Dry plate photography 1860s

John Watt Beattie’s Museum ca 1916

“There are three rooms literally crammed with exhibits … The question which pressed itself on my mind time and again was, how comes it that these old-time relics which formerly were Government property, are now in private hands? Did the Government sell them or give them away? The same query applies to the small collection in a curiosity shop at Brown’s River. Whatever the answer may be, I hold the opinion that the Government would be amply justified in taking prompt steps to repossess them, even though some duplicates may be in the State Museum. Today the collection is valuable and extremely interesting. A century hence it will be priceless. It would surely be unpardonable to allow it to pass into the hands of some wealthy globe-trotter which is the fate awaiting it, unless action be taken to secure it to the State.” … More John Watt Beattie’s Museum ca 1916

Prisoner Wm FORSTER aka BROWN: The Bulletin, May 16, 1978

The article below appeared in The Bulletin, a weekly Australian magazine on May 16, 1978. The journalist’s name was not recorded. It was published a year after the initial exhibition of the Tasmanian convict portraits by Thomas Nevin, held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in 1977. The article detailed the criminal career … More Prisoner Wm FORSTER aka BROWN: The Bulletin, May 16, 1978

Sir Francis Smith, the death warrant, and the photographer

Although this photograph is accredited to J.W. Beattie (1859-1930) by the State Library of Tasmania, it is a reprint made several decades later than the original capture taken possibly in the late 1870s. Here the Tasmanian administrator, Attorney-General and Chief Justice, who was born in 1818, looks like a man in his fifties. He appears to be about 15 years older than his earlier 1860s portrait by Reutlinger (below) which portrays a man in his early forties. Sir Francis Smith would have been an old man of eighty years or so by the time Beattie produced his Members of the Parliaments of Tasmania series in 1895-1900, and clearly this is not a portrait of an eighty year old. It is yet another reprint by Beattie without acknowledgement to the original photographer. … More Sir Francis Smith, the death warrant, and the photographer

W. R. Giblin, Judge, Attorney-General and Premier

W. R. Giblin was Tasmanian Administrator for a month during 1886. He was also Attorney-General in August 1873, and Premier in 1878, and 1879 to 1884. Thomas Nevin’s commission to photograph prisoners at the Port Arthur and Hobart Gaols was underwritten by W. R. Giblin in August 1873 on gaining the portfolio of Attorney-General in the government changeover. … More W. R. Giblin, Judge, Attorney-General and Premier

Professor Joan Kerr 1992-4

Professor Joan Kerr (1938-2004) conducted research in collaboration with Special Collections Librarian at the State Library of Tasmania, G. T. Stilwell, on Thomas J. Nevin’s life and career for inclusion of an entry in her massive two volume biographical dictionary of Australian artists and photographers which she published in 1992 (page 568): Photo KLW NFC … More Professor Joan Kerr 1992-4

Anthony Trollope’s Port Arthur interviewee 1872

Anthony Trollope was accompanied by the Tasmanian Premier, the Hon. J.M. Wilson, and two lawyers: the Victorian Solicitor-General Howard Spensly and the Tasmanian Attorney-General W.R. Giblin. Also in the party at the request of W.R. Giblin was photographer Thomas J. Nevin. Giblin had acted as Nevin’s family solicitor since the dissolution of the firm Nevin & Smith in 1868. The Victorian Solicitor-General’s interest in prison security at Port Arthur extended to suggesting the photographing of prisoners by commercial photographers. In South Australia and Victoria, commercial photographers such as Frazer Crawford and Charles Nettleton respectively were engaged part-time on tender in prisons. … More Anthony Trollope’s Port Arthur interviewee 1872

Mugshots removed: Edward Searle’s album 1915

The National Library of Australia holds an album titled Tasmanian Views, catalogued in Searle’s name and dated ca. 1915. The album contains a series of contemporary snapshots taken of the Searle family while visiting the Tasman Peninsula, Maria Island, Norfolk Island, and New Norfolk, possibly accompanying Beattie on his various and highly productive photographic excursions. The family photographs are mixed in no particular order with scenic postcards bearing Beattie’s trademark, views and portraits of Antarctic expeditions, and reprints of 1860s-1870s photographs representing Tasmania’s troubled convict and Aboriginal past, all of which Beattie and Searle supplied in quantity for the 1900s tourist market, The inclusion of many family photographs in this album suggests it was intended for private viewing rather than public display, put together by Searle for his family as a memento of his four years’ employment at Beattie’s studio. … More Mugshots removed: Edward Searle’s album 1915

NLA ‘native’ convict 1874 with no attribution

Henry Cavanagh was sent to Port Arthur in December 1873. His name does not appear in the House of Assembly Journals, Nominal Return of Prisoners sent to Port Arthur since its transfer to Colonial Governmentin 1871, tabled in Parliament on 11th June, 1873. He was discharged before that date, on the 14th June 1872 after sentencing of one month in Hobart, and arraigned in Launceston nine months later, on the 3rd September 1873. He was received at the Hobart Gaol, sentenced to 6 years, and photographed there on 17th September 1873 by T. J. Nevin. He was a ‘native’, i.e. a locally-born prisoner, and too young to be a transportee among the thousands who arrived before 1853 when transportation ended to Tasmania. … More NLA ‘native’ convict 1874 with no attribution

The QVMAG, the NLA, Chris Long and A.H. Boyd

The Queen Victoria and Albert Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, seemed so intent on abrogating the name of Thomas J. Nevin as photographer from any association with its holdings of the “Port Arthur convicts” photographs which were exhibited there in 1977 as Nevin’s work that in a letter to a Nevin descendant date 17th November 2005, the technical officer showed considerable confusion and made contradictory and incorrect statements. … More The QVMAG, the NLA, Chris Long and A.H. Boyd

The journey from Hobart to Port Arthur 1873-4

The notice below was published in Walch’s Tasmanian Almanac in 1873, at a time when the Port Arthur prison site on the Tasman Peninsula, 60 kms from Hobart, was still in operation. The traveller from Hobart faced a frequently interrupted, long and uncomfortable journey, alternating between road and sea transport and an overnight hotel stay. … More The journey from Hobart to Port Arthur 1873-4

NLA’s ‘Intersections’ with convict carte by Nevin

There is no doubt that the early years of transportation to Tasmania’s Port Arthur prison have been the primary focus and fascination for historians. It feeds and feeds off the aggressive promotion of the prison site as the State’s key historic attraction. And it has become the convention and norm of writers to corral one or more of these prisoner ID photographs within their new texts that deal with those early years. Michael Bogle’s recent publication on convicts (2008), as an example, has Nevin’s negative (1875) of convict Charles Rosetta on the front cover, unattributed to Nevin, and wrongly dated to 1917 with attribution to the copyists Beattie & Searle, from the NLA. … More NLA’s ‘Intersections’ with convict carte by Nevin

Parkhurst Boys on board ‘The Fairlie’ 1852

On their arrival, 10 year old Thomas Nevin joined the small population of free settlers numbering 44,340 in the December 1852 Census. The convict population numbered 19,105 or 30% of the total census for that year. But by 1857, only five years later, with the cessation of transportation to Van Diemen’s Land in 1853, the convict population dwindled to just 3,008 or 3.7% of the island’s population. The numbers recorded for the Aboriginal population – estimates of 7000 in 1818 to 15 in 1857 – speak clearly of genocide. … More Parkhurst Boys on board ‘The Fairlie’ 1852

Prison photographers T. Nevin, C. Nettleton and F. Crawford

“‘I have the honor to inform you that in obedience to your instructions I visited the stockade on the 21st and the gaol on the 22nd inst. and likewise consulted the Sheriff and Superintendent of Convicts as to the best method of carrying out the wishes of the Government in regard to taking photographs of the prisoners in these establishments. I found in the stockade 147 and in the gaol 110 prisoners – of these say 120 in the stockade and 70 in the gaol, in all 190, would be such characters as the Sheriff or Commissioner of Police might desire to have photographs of for police purposes…” … More Prison photographers T. Nevin, C. Nettleton and F. Crawford

Execution of prisoners SUTHERLAND and OGDEN 1883

The colouring of these cartes served two purposes: to render a more accurate image reflective of reality, i.e. blue for blue eyes, blue for the prison issue scarf, especially when the man was wanted on warrant; and to profit from the sale of the hanged man’s image to the press and the public. These were called “ornaments of colour”, a term used in reference to Nevin’s tinting of prisoner photographs in the Mercury newspaper account of Nevin’s incident with the “ghost” (December 4, 1880).

More Execution of prisoners SUTHERLAND and OGDEN 1883

Convict Carte No. 1: George WHITE aka NUTT

The database image with verso at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery: note that the verso is inscribed with the conventional date of Nevin’s photographic registration (1874), the alias, and the ship on which Nutt was originally transported before 1853, but the transcription which appears on many other versos of convicts’ cartes – “Taken at Port Arthur” – is absent. Nevin may have photographed Nutt at Port Arthur between 23rd February and 8th May 1874; the former date being another sentence for Nutt for breaking the cell while trying to escape, the latter being one of the dates on which Nevin attended Port Arthur on police business. He was absent from Hobart when his father-in-law Captain James Day registered the birth of Thomas James Nevin jnr in May 1874. … More Convict Carte No. 1: George WHITE aka NUTT

Robert Hughes “The Fatal Shore” with mugshots by T. J. Nevin

One of those convict images – last on lower right – is of Thomas Harrison. It is the same image which was printed on the postcard to advertise the exhibition of the T. J. Nevin convict photos at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in 1977, curated by John McPhee. Of the more than 100 photographs of Tasmanian prisoners which were exhibited from the QVMAG collection taken by Nevin, why the curator McPhee and the authors of Nevin’s biographical entry Stilwell and Kerr (1922) made the choice of the photograph of Harrison is strange, since it is not typical of the majority of his prisoner photographs which demonstrate the same technical approach used in his vignetted commercial studio portraits of clients, patrons and family members. Possibly Harrison was chosen because of his defiant stare and tattered clothes, signifiers of desperation and social deviance. … More Robert Hughes “The Fatal Shore” with mugshots by T. J. Nevin

Archives Office of Tasmania convict photographs by T. J. Nevin

The colonial Government of Tasmania had adopted the practice of taking identification photographs and establishing an Habitual Criminals Register or Rogue’s Gallery in 1872 from precedents set by the British Prevention of Crimes Act of 1871, and incoming legislation in NSW and Victoria. The extant photographs are variously “booking photographs” or “mugshots” taken of men who were arrested, arraigned, sentenced, reconvicted and/or discharged during the 1870s and early 1880s. For the most part they were recidivists, habitual criminals and repeat offenders. Thomas Nevin took the majority of these photographs at the Municipal Police Office (PO on their criminal record sheets) at the Hobart Town Hall, and at the Supreme Court and Hobart Town Gaol. The AOT records were copied from the QVMAG collection in the 1970s, although some originals were acquired in the 1950s from the Radcliffe Museum at Port Arthur via the Department of National Parks which managed the site. The original 1870s-1880s prisoner photographs – both paper prints and mounted as cartes-de-visite – were salvaged by John Watt Beattie for reproduction and for sale to tourists at his convictaria museum in Hobart, removing many from their original record in the process. Others were sourced from records originally held at the Town Hall Municipal Police Office and from records held at the Sheriff’s Office, Hobart Gaol. Beattie bequeathed his large collection to the Launceston Municipal Council which was then acquired by the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (1930). … More Archives Office of Tasmania convict photographs by T. J. Nevin

NLA holdings of Thomas J. Nevin’s convict portraits

The National Library of Australia has a long history of attribution to commercial and police photographer Thomas J. Nevin for their holdings of 84 Tasmanian “Convict portraits 1874”. Information has been archived in these areas:

The Digital Collection displays 82 images (of 84) online;
The Pictorial Catalogue lists additional names and information; and
The Photographers’ Files include accession details, correspondence, and worksheets.
The Picture Australia site has so far harvested 157 convict photographs from the NLA Collection and the Archives Office of Tasmania with Nevin’s attribution. … More NLA holdings of Thomas J. Nevin’s convict portraits