Prisoner John WILLIAMS and his scar 1874

The police gazette description on discharge of this prisoner John Williams noted a scar – “cicatrix on right side of chin”. A strong black mark running from the prisoner’s mouth down his chin on his left side rather than his right in the positive print looks to be an ink mark over the scar, possibly drawn by a viewer years or decades later. The scar appears on the viewer’s right and therefore on the prisoner’s left when facing the photograph, perhaps because the police gazette notice was written from the photograph in the absence of any prior record –  note the lack of detail on the conduct record below. Then again, the glass negative might have been used by the writer of the police gazette notice, fresh from the sitting, in which case the writer was probably the photographer Thomas Nevin or his assistant, his brother Constable John Nevin at the Hobart Gaol. The glass negative would therefore show the black mark extending from the prisoner’s mouth to his chin on his right side, correctly so as the police gazette states, as in this flipped version … More Prisoner John WILLIAMS and his scar 1874

Rogues Gallery: the QVMAG collection

These police mugshots taken by police and commercial photographer Thomas J. Nevin in the 1870s-80s at the Port Arthur prison, the Hobart Gaol (assisted by his brother Constable John Nevin) and the Hobart Municipal Police Office (Mayor’s Court, Hobart Town Hall) are held in the John Watt Beattie Collection at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania. Most are Nevin’s originals and duplicates produced in mounted carte-de-visite format; some were reproduced from Nevin’s glass negatives by Beattie for sale and exhibition in Hobart at his museum and in Sydney at the Royal Hotel in conjunction with convictaria from the prison hulk Success (1916). An exhibition of these photographs by T. J. Nevin was held at the QVMAG in 1977. … More Rogues Gallery: the QVMAG collection

Prisoners Wm MEAGHER, Wm LEE and Chas ROSETTA 1870s

William Meaghers was transported to NSW in 1838 on board the Bengal Merchant. Originally from Dublin, he was court martialled in Quebec, Lower Canada on 26 September 1836. In Paramatta, NSW, he was sentenced to 14 years for housebreaking on 10 December 1842 and transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) on board the Sir J. Byng, arriving on 23 September 1843. He was married with two children. No date of birth appears on his arrival record, however, police records show he was 56 yrs old in 1871, so he was born ca. 1815, and was ca 59 years old in 1874 when Nevin photographed him. The NLA misattribution to Searle and the date of photographic capture catalogued as 1915 would mean that the prisoner William Meaghers, born in 1815, had to be a 100 year old man; clearly, the prisoner was photographed in his fifties on the occasion of his release, in 1874. … More Prisoners Wm MEAGHER, Wm LEE and Chas ROSETTA 1870s

From glass negative to print: prisoner Bewley TUCK

At least forty more unmounted photographs of prisoners taken by T. J. Nevin in the 1870s which were collated by John Watt Beattie in three panels ca. 1915 are held in the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, together with seventy or so cdvs in oval mounts, the remainder of part of more than three hundred in oval mounts which were originally bequeathed  from the estate of convictaria collector and government photographer John Watt Beattie to the QVMAG in the 1930s. When several dozen mounted and unmounted cdvs were removed from Beattie’s original collection at the QVMAG and taken down to the Port Arthur prison heritage site for an exhibition as part of the Port Arthur Conservation Project in 1983, they were not returned to the QVMAG. They were deposited instead at the TMAG . Given the scratches, crossed out inscriptions and general damage, the glass negative from which this print was made would have been used extensively to reprint the prisoner’s photograph for prison records as each offense and charge was recorded. The print, unmounted such as this one, would have been pasted to his rap sheet, and more would have been reprinted from the original glass plate several times over the prisoner’s long criminal career. Examples of both types of prisoner mugshots – mounted and unmounted – attached to prisoners’ rap sheets are held at the Archives Office of Tasmania in prison photo books. … More From glass negative to print: prisoner Bewley TUCK

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

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