Prisoner George LEATHLEY

Extant examples of Thomas J. Nevin’s photographs taken in the 1870s of Tasmanian prisoners – or “convicts” which is the archaic term used in Tasmanian tourism discourse up to the present – number more than 300 in Australian public collections. These two different photographs of prisoner George Leathley are typical of his application of commercial studio portraiture. They were taken by Thomas J. Nevin between Leathley’s conviction for murder in 1866 and Leathley’s discharge with a ticket of leave in 1876. During those years, the earlier photograph, No. 14, was the first, taken in 1872 and reprinted in 1874, entered into the Hobart Gaol photo book as No. 226, pasted again onto Leathley’s criminal record sheet. The photograph with the recto No. 89, might evince an older George Leathley, taken in 1876 on his discharge. His original conviction in 1866 was death, commuted to life in prison. … More Prisoner George LEATHLEY

Prisoners Henry SINGLETON, Richard PINCHES and Robert BEW

According to the Tasmanian police gazette of 23 March, 1871, Henry Singleton absconded from the prison at Port Arthur, 23 March 1871, with two transport ships to his two names – as Henry Singleton per Lord Wm Bentinck, and as his alias Richard Pinches, per Lady Kennaway 2, also known with the moniker Harry the Tinker. Thomas Nevin photographed this prisoner at least twice, in 1873 and again in 1875. The questions posed by these two photographs centre on this man’s age and name at the time of transportation, his name and age when photographed in the 1870s, and his and his female companion’s literary tastes which warranted documentation when the police arrested him in a cave in May 1873 at Oatlands, Tasmania. … More Prisoners Henry SINGLETON, Richard PINCHES and Robert BEW

Prisoner William WALKER

William Walker was photographed at the Mayor’s Court, Hobart Town Hall by Thomas Nevin on discharge, 22 July 1874, having served 7 yrs of a 10 year sentence. But William Walker was convicted again 23 October, 1875, sentenced to 6 months for larceny, and incarcerated at the Hobart Gaol. His age was listed as 68 yrs; and his occupation as “painter”. … More Prisoner William WALKER

Heads of the People exhibition  NPG Canberra 2000

These three frames of 40 photographs in total were included in the exhibition Heads of the People, held at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, June to October, 2000, with a doubly erroneous attribution. Beattie’s name appears as the source, giving the impression that these are indeed HIS photographs, and that they were re-created by him “after” an earlier source, Adolarious Humphrey Boyd, the accountant and Commandant at the Port Arthur site from 1871-1873. Thomas J. Nevin was the original photographer of these 40 prints sourced from the QVMAG and exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, 2000. … More Heads of the People exhibition  NPG Canberra 2000

Laterality: the poses in Nevin’s portraits

The National Library of Australia holds a collection of carte-de-visite photographs of Tasmanian convicts, taken originally by professional photographer Thomas J. Nevin in the 1870s-1880s of men at trial in  the Supreme Court and adjoining Hobart Gaol, and of men released with conditions at the Town Hall Municipal Police Office. Of the eighty-two (82) images … More Laterality: the poses in Nevin’s portraits

Melville Street from the Hobart Gaol 140 years ago

This stereograph, and others taken at the same time and place of the Prisoners Barracks (see below) are held at the State Library of Tasmania, and although unattributed, they were most likely taken by Thomas Nevin working with Alfred Bock between 1863-1866 at their studio, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart. The Nevin brothers’ association with the Hon. W. R. Giblin and the Hobart Gaol continued throughout the 1870s and 1880s while Nevin was contracted to the Municipal Police Office as prisons photographer, both as a commercial photographer on tender, and as a full-time civil servant. His principal studio, The City Photographic Establishment, was located one block away, close to the corner of Melville and Elizabeth Streets directly to the west. … More Melville Street from the Hobart Gaol 140 years ago

Prisoner Bewley TUCK can speak for himself

Read this article by Carolyn Strange in which she points to the fictionalisation of the past as the dominant modality of museological practice at the Port Arthur Historic Site. Convict Bewley Tuck’s fictive “voice-over” tale stands in for a new “interpretative” identity between museum and tourist. Thomas Nevin’s photograph of Tuck (ca. 1870), however, is not a construct but an artefact of the convict’s reality as both convict and photographer experienced it. A documentary original photograph is not the same thing at all as a contemporary “interpretation” of it. As one visitor remarked to Strange on leaving the display, “I prefer the real thing.” … More Prisoner Bewley TUCK can speak for himself

Trademarks copyrighted for 14 years

Tasmanian photographers’ copyright of their work was regulated by the Registration of Trade Marks Act 28, No. 6, Victoria, from 1864. As this notice indicates, only two copies of their trade mark, applied to the “goods” they were intended to protect were required to be deposited with the Registrar. The applicant was issued with a one year Provisional Certificate, and if no objection was raised, the copyright endured absolute for a period of 14 years. Tasmanian artists wishing to register proprietorship of paintings, drawings, works of art, engravings and photographs were required to place their applications with Office of Copyright Registry of Victoria. … More Trademarks copyrighted for 14 years

Poster of Thomas Nevin’s convict portraits 1870s

Who were they? They were T.J. Nevin’s sitters for police records, mostly “Supreme Court men” photographed on committal for trial at the Supreme Court adjoining the Hobart Gaol when they were isolated in silence for a month after sentencing. If sentenced for a long term at the Supreme Court Launceston, they were photographed, bathed, shaved and dressed on being received in Hobart. These procedures, past and present, were reported at length by a visitor to the Hobart Gaol and Supreme Court in The Mercury, 8th July 1882: … More Poster of Thomas Nevin’s convict portraits 1870s

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prisoner records of Allan WILLIAMSON and William SMITH

The prisoner carte-de-visite of Allan Williamson pasted to the parchment record might have T. J. Nevin’s stamp on verso, but then again it may not, and for this reason: at least one duplicate of a prisoner’s mounted photograph was intended to be pasted to the prisoner’s record. More duplicates were made to be circulated to the police in the event of a warrant after the prisoner’s release. The photographer would not have wasted ink and time printing every carte on verso when the verso would never be visible. These cartes were co-owned by the government AND the photographer contracted on tender to produce them. Just one carte with the photographer’s official stamp verso per batch of 100 cartes was required by the the Customs and Patents Act. Primarily these cartes were legal instruments stamped with the government contractor’s Royal Arms insignia similar to the seal of the Hobart Supreme Court where many were taken. Their primary function was police records, unlike Thomas Nevin’s other cartes-de-visite of private citizens and those taken on commission, many of which bear his commercial stamps on verso or impressed on mount. No photographer’s stamp other than T. J. Nevin’s appears on these convict cartes-de-visite. … More Prisoner records of Allan WILLIAMSON and William SMITH

G.T. Stilwell’s letter to Mrs Shelverton 1977

Preparations began in early 1977 for the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery’s exhibition of Thomas J. Nevin’s convict photographs conventionally dated 1874 which were (re)discovered among the John Watt Beattie holdings acquired by the QVMAG shortly before Beattie’s death in 1930. Above: Geoffrey Stilwell Special Collections Librarian State Library of Tasmania Mercury photo The … More G.T. Stilwell’s letter to Mrs Shelverton 1977

Clifford & Nevin’s cartes:tints versus daubs

None of the men pictured is Thomas Nevin or his brother Jack Nevin or his father John Nevin. None of these cartes was ever held in Nevin Family Collections, and none was coloured in this way by Nevin or any of his family. The cdv of the two men was recently exhibited at the QVMAG and published in the catalogue The Painted Portrait Photograph in Tasmania (John McPhee 2007). … More Clifford & Nevin’s cartes:tints versus daubs

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