Warwick Reeder: in search of an “author”

ATTRIBUTION issues re photographer T. J. NEVIN
WARWICK REEDER valuer at the NLA
QVMAG collection of prisoner mugshots 1870s

In his Masters thesis The Democratic Image (ANU 1995), Warwick Reeder assumed that the Commandant of the Port Arthur prison, A. H. Boyd was the photographer of all the Tasmanian prisoner identification photographs taken in the 1870s. Of the 300 plus “convict portraits” (the term used in tourism discourse) to survive which are held in public institutions, Reeder cites this photograph of prisoner Thomas Fleming (Fig. 84, on page 71, QVMAG collection) as an example. His argument, that none of the convicts in the QVMAG collection (72 cdvs) and the TMAG collection (59 cdvs) were released prior to 1874, is substantially incorrect, whatever he might mean by the notion of  “release”. A simple reliance on the vagaries which Chris Long published in 1995 regarding A. H. Boyd and T. J. Nevin ultimately led Warwick Reeder into making very dubious assertions in A. H. Boyd’s favour founded on little more than rumour and belief.

The Prints
Despite the labelling to enhance their sale prospects by Beattie in 1916, these prisoners were not supported by Imperial funds; their trial and incarceration were funded by the colonial government of Tasmania from 1871 onwards. They were photographed on contract by T. J. Nevin who was commissioned out of Treasury funds from 1872 when the systematic photography of prisoners was implemented in Victoria and NSW.

One of three panels holding forty prints of Tasmania prisoners from negatives by T. J. Nevin 1870s
Offered for sale by John Watt  Beattie ca. 1916
QVMAG Collection: Ref : 1983_p_0163-0176

These forty photographs in three frames were listed in Beattie’s Port Arthur Museum Catalogue (1916), as item no. 69:

68. Glass Case containing –

  • 1. Skull of the Macquarie Harbour Cannibal, Alex Pearce (Marcus Clarke’s “Gabbet.”)
  • 2. Two Sketches made of Pearce after execution.
  • 3. The Axe Pearce Carried, and with which the murders were committed.
  • 4. Bolts and Lock Taken from the Cell where Pearce was confined, Old Gaol, Murray street.
  • 5. “Sling Shot” taken from Matthew Brady, the celebrated Tasmanian Bushranger, when captured by John Batman in 1820. 

69. Three Frames containing 40 photographs taken at Port Arthur, showing types of Imperial Prisoners there.

The originals of these forty (40) individual prints of Tasmanian prisoners photographed at the Hobart Gaol by the commissioned photographer Thomas J. Nevin in the 1870s, were intended to be pasted to the criminal record sheet of each prisoner. It was customary to photograph a person before conviction and after it, and again on discharge, by order of the Tasmanian Attorney-General from 1872 onwards, and since the men whom Nevin photographed were repeat and habitual offenders, the same glass negative was used again and again. The plates were handled repeatedly to produce duplicates for distribution to regional prisons and police stations, and for the many administrative copies required by the central Municipal Police Office at the Town Hall, the Supreme Court and the Hobart Gaol.

Photographs from the glass negatives were produced in various formats, first as uncut and unmounted prints as in these 40 prints, and again in carte-de-visite format within an oval mount, a practice which persisted in Tasmania through the 1870s, 1880s and into the1890s. The same cdv was sometimes overlayed again in an oblong mount when the glass plate became too damaged for further use. All three photographic formats appear on the criminal record sheets of prisoners bound together as the Hobart Gaol record books dating from the late 1880s onwards, held at the Archives Office Tasmania. Some of the earlier gaol record books of the 1870s have survived, now mysteriously missing the prisoners’ photographs. One possible explanation is that convictaria collector John Watt Beattie and his assistant Edward Searle removed the photographs or even destroyed the sheets in the early 1900s while trying to save the photographs, the bulk of which ended up at the QueenVictoria Museum and Art Gallery from their acquisition in 1930 of John Watt Beattie’s estate.

The unmounted print of prisoner Thomas Fleming is on the top row, last image. Thomas Nevin produced at least four to six duplicates; one was printed in an oval mount and pasted to the prisoner’s rap sheet.

Unmounted print of prisoner Thomas Fleming
Taken at the Police Office Hobart by T. J. Nevin 1874
QVMAG Collection: Ref : 1983_p_0163-0176

Thomas Nevin’s photograph of Thomas Fleming
Recto and verso: the same image printed in an oval mount.
QVMAG ref: QVM: 1985: P: 67

Above: recto and verso of a mounted cdv taken originally by Thomas J. Nevin of prisoner Thomas Fleming, January 1874 at the Hobart Gaol on Fleming’s discharge. This black and white copy was created at the QVMAG in 1985 by Chris Long for reasons best known only to himself, since it serves no purpose.

Thomas Fleming per St Vincent was tried at the Supreme Court Hobart on 9 Sept 1867 for housebreaking and larceny, sentenced to seven years. He was born in Yorkshire , aged 38 yrs, 5ft 6ins, black hair, Free in Servitude. Two moles on left cheek. He was discharged from the Hobart Gaol on 7 January 1874, and photographed on discharge by police photographer Thomas J. Nevin. There was no photographer of prisoners by the name of A. H. Boyd in Tasmania. Boyd was briefly a Commandant at the Port Arthur prison (1871-73). He had nothing to do with the police mugshots taken by T. J. Nevin for the colonial government’s Attorney-General’s Department.

Thomas Fleming per St Vincent discharge, 7 January 1874.
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime for Police, J. Barnard, Gov’t printer

Fictions not Facts
Warwick Reeder’s use of these Tasmanian prisoner mugshots is through the gaze of the fine art dealer. Inevitably, he sees the extant examples as an “artist’s” personalised portfolio, even using the literary term “author” to mask the subjective preoccupation with “artist”. Had he started with the vocational term “police photographer” his focus would not have veered from Thomas J. Nevin.

ERRORS of FACT

1. wrong biographical data on photographer T. J. Nevin’s family and career;

2. citations and quotations from unread sources, such as Margaret Glover’s article (1979) which does NOT mention the unpublished children’s fiction by E.M. Hall (1930/;1942)

Hall’s fiction in turn does NOT mention, A.H. Boyd, nor prisoner photography, nor a “darkroom” although Chris Long does, turning “room” from E.M. Hall’s story into a “darkroom” , Reeder’s source for this fantasy, (TMAG 1995:82)

3. unseen description and reference to the so-called ONE photograph at the Mitchell, SLNSW, supposedly by Boyd which is unattributed, dated 1894, and not a photograph of a prisoner; this photograph of a building – not a man in prisoner clothing – is supposed to represent evidence of A.H. Boyd’s relationship to photography.

4. the assumption that a cargo of negative plates supposedly arriving at Port Arthur in 1873 were for the personal use of its Commandant A.H. Boyd, and that the same plates were used for the same prisoners whose mugshots survive, when in fact the extant examples of more than 300 are random estrays from a corpus taken by the Nevin brothers between 1872 and 1888.

5. repeated reference to the Assistant Colonial Secretary’s Travers Solly’s requests for prisoner photographs. The request was for those prisoners’ photographs taken by T. J. Nevin at the Hobart Gaol before the date of prisoners’ transfer to Port Arthur after 1871, copies of which had been sent to Boyd at Port Arthur, eg. the cited examples of the Gregson brothers, who absconded from Hobart and not Port Arthur, were photographed at the Police Office Hobart on February 18th 1874 after arrival from Launceston when arrested (see TAHO: CON37-1-1000498 and 9).

6. no understanding of police practices or prisoner documentation and relevant legislation by 1873, and no reference to the police records of the “convicts” who were just ordinary criminals, habitual re-offenders when photographed – not at the Port Arthur prison – but by government contractor Thomas J. Nevin at the Hobart Gaol, in the city’s courts, and at the central Town Hall Municipal Police Office.
etc etc

Reeder’s statement that Chris Long was the originator of the “belief” about A.H. Boyd, however, is correct and the most important statement made by Reeder in these few pages.

Although Warwick Reeder’s thesis is now decades old, these errors are still being circulated as currency in publications written by his supporters (e.g. Clark, JACHS 2010), so in a sense, Reeder has found the sort of “author” he was hoping would arise from the oblivion of his thesis. It’s unfortunate for his own reputation that he has to encourage acolytes to maintain the non-photographer A. H. Boyd as central to the “mystery” of the “author” of these prisoner photographs when the facts about Thomas J. Nevin’s work have always been so readily available. That Warwick Reeder was a valuer for the National Library of Australia explains in no small part who was responsible for their holdings of 84 “Portraits, Port Arthur convicts 1874” suddenly catalogued with a photographic attribution to A. H. Boyd in 2007.  It’s a cover-up of an error made by Reeder in his poorly researched Masters thesis, a cover-up which puts into question his credibility as a fine arts dealer.

Warwick Reeder’s thesis re T. J. Nevin:

Reeder, page 68: Reeder, Warwick (ANU thesis 1995), page 68. There is a deception here: the prisoners were photographed before being sent to Port Arthur and after arrival back at Hobart, and not en masse at Port Arthur; although Nevin attended the site during 1873 and 1874 on police business, he worked at the Hobart Gaol where these men were photographed, if a second offender sentenced for 3 months or longer and at the Town Hall police central registry where he photographed men discharged and released, all with various conditions (FS,TOL,CP etc).

Reeder, page 69: Reeder, Warwick (ANU thesis 1995), page 69.
Reeder cites Glover (1979) who does NOT cite E.M. Hall’s children’s fiction about Port Arthur (1930/1942) which does NOT mention prisoner photography, obviously having read neither. Details about Thomas J. Nevin are incorrect: his seventh and sixth child to survive was born in 1888. Nevin was the police and prisons photographer in the 1870s-80s (with his brother Constable John Nevin), his government contractor Royal Arms stamp showing joint copyright with the government was used under tender (one photograph stamped per batch of 100) until he gained full-time civil service at the Town Hall in 1876, and he was still working as a City and Supreme Courts bailiff serving warrants and taking offenders’ photographs in 1886. There is no “mystery” about the “author” of the prisoner mugshots, just poor research as Reeder musters the cliched art historian’s essentialist notion of “artistic” creativity.

Reeder, page 70: Reeder, Warwick (ANU thesis 1995), page 70.
ERROR: There is information about Milner at the State Library Tas.
FACTS: Chris Long was indeed the originator of this fantasy about A. H. Boyd (ca. 1984, published 1995). Reeder doesn’t understand that the men photographed as prisoners were in and out of prison on TOL and probation from the end of their first sentence in England prior to 1853 – usually 7 to 14 years. They were photographed by Nevin for the police in Hobart only as RE-OFFENDERS – and many had long criminal careers – as offenders are today, and for no other reason.

Reeder, page 71: Reeder, Warwick (ANU thesis 1995), page 71.
The extensive copying and numbering of the QVMAG collection bears no weight to his argument about either Boyd or Nevin (Reeder was a museum employee, hence the fascination). None of the numbers are police or prison registration numbers: they are accessioning file numbers by museum and library archivists in the 20th century, as well as curatorial numbering used when more than 50 were removed from the QVMAG, taken to Port Arthur for an exhibition in 1983, and deposited instead at the TMAG. The inscription “Taken at Port Arthur 1874″ on dozens of the versos is a confabulation of facts by Beattie et al to excite intercolonial tourism when dozens of these cdvs were exhibited in 1916 at Hobart, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in association with the fake convict hulk Success.

Reeder, page 72:Reeder, Warwick (ANU thesis 1995), page 72:
This is where Reeder creates an artist photographer of A. H. Boyd, and the real photographer, Thomas J. Nevin, as just a copyist. He also assumes he has broken the numbering code, without reference to any actual criminal register or police gazette of the day. Note the pathos mustered around Boyd’s untimely death: what Warwick Reeder fails to document is that A. H. Boyd was much despised in his day, and that no authentic public records associate him with personally taking prisoner photographs. Reeder’s logic goes something like this: Very Important Person requests his Subordinate one chain down in rank for a photograph of a lowly criminal in his care, therefore the Subordinate is the “author”: applying the analogy would be akin to saying that the Governor General requested from the NSW Premier a photograph of a known criminal in prison, therefore the NSW Premier was the “author” of the photograph, etc etc. It’s a managerial delusion about POWER that knowingly confuses ownership with authorship

Reeder, page 73:Reeder, Warwick (ANU thesis 1995), page 73:
There is no understanding here that several hundred photographs including duplicates were in circulation in the 1870s, and that the extant 300 plus are just central police office estrays, not some ethnographic archive or portfolio of an amateur whom Reeder would like to believe was A. H. Boyd.

Reeder, page 74:Reeder, Warwick (ANU thesis 1995), page 74:
Here lies reasons for the creation of A. H. Boyd as an “artist”: the homosocial identification of Reeder with Boyd is all about managerial POWER. It is subjective wishful thinking about the writer’s self projected onto his subject, with the concomitant dejection of the REAL artist/photographer Nevin (of course).

Reeder, footnotes, page 108:Reeder, Warwick (ANU thesis 1995), footnotes 51-64, page 108:
The ONE photograph at the SLNSW is unattributed, dated 1894, and not a photograph of a prisoner. It is a photo of a building. It was NOT taken by A. H. Boyd, it was taken by the Anson brothers. It has been doctored with a pencilled note to give him an attribution of ONE photo, probably by Chris Long in 1984! No other photos exist because Boyd was not a photographer.

Reeder, footnotes, page 109: Reeder, Warwick (ANU thesis 1995), footnotes 65-79, page 109: Glover’s article does not cite the fictional tale by E.M. Hall (1942) which was not a factual reminiscence. T. J. Nevin’s government contractor stamp also appears on prisoner mugshots at the SLNSW: why does Nevin have to be “author’? Why not just “police photographer”? Because this writer Reeder is an ART historian.

Above: print from T. J. Nevin’s original glass negative, taken on 7th January 1874 at the Mayor’s Court for the Municipal Police Office, Hobart Town Hall on the discharge of the prisoner Thomas Fleming (Police Gazette), referred to by Reeder on page 71. The QVMAG reproduced it in 1985 as a black and white copy cleaned of scratches and marks, using –

Camera: Canon
Model: Canon EOS-1D Mark II
File: 1985_p_0169

Please note: the article above was written prior to the passing of Warwick Reeder. It was not intended to show disrespect in any way. Our sympathy is extended to the family.

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