Hobart Town Hall interior 1879.
Artist unknown. Private Collection,
Copyrighted Antique Print Room
THE HOBART TOWN HALL RIOTERS
The Hobart newspaper The Mercury of June 26, 1879 was a special edition in many ways for photographer and Town Hall keeper Thomas Nevin. It contained a dramatic account of the riot at the Town Hall the previous evening, details of which may well have been supplied to the reporter by Nevin himself who was not mentioned as the Town Hall keeper probably because he was in the ante-room of the Town Hall keeping the source of the trouble, the Canadian renegade Catholic Pastor Chiniquy, hidden from view of riot leader O'Shea in the "Irish Corner" of the Hall. Chiniquy did not deliver his scheduled lecture that evening, nor the next.
The Mercury, 26 June 1879
Thomas J. Nevin would have taken a very keen interest indeed in the proceedings at the City Police Court on July 10th, 1879 when criminal charges were dropped against eight men alleged to have rioted at the Hobart Town Hall while the Canadian renegade Catholic priest Pastor Chiniquy attempted to give a lecture.
As the Keeper of the Hobart Town Hall appointed in December 1875, Thomas J. Nevin was responsible, among other duties, for the protection of the building itself. And for the duration of Chiniquy's visit to Hobart, Nevin was also appointed a Special Constable, one of several assaulted during the riots. So his involvement with these proceedings against the rioters was not only in the interest of damages to the Town Hall buildings, it was damages to his own person and the threat to the safety of his family who were residents that he was keen to see vindicated.
Interior of Hobart Town Hall ca. 1880
Unattributed, Archives Office of Tasmania
The eight rioters "were charged with riotously injuring a building", "riotously injuring the Town Hall" and specifically - "the breaking open of the ante-room of the Town Hall" . The charges would have incurred a severe penal code punishment of seven years' imprisonment and a trial at the Supreme Court. However, Attorney-General Giblin sought to substitute the charge with the lesser one of disturbing the peace, and at this sitting, reported in The Mercury on 11th July 1879, the charges were withdrawn entirely because of Giblin's concern with excessive costs involved in such a trial.
TRANSCRIPT (see end of this post for the full report)
CITY POLICE COURT,
THURSDAY, JULY 10, 1879.
THE TOWN HALL RIOTERS.-James Macdonald, George Cleary, John Scanlon, George Flynn, Brian Molloy, John Gleeson, sen., John Gleeson, jun., and Michael Gleeson, were charged with riotously injuring a building. Mr. W. R. Giblin prosecuted on behalf of the Superintendent of Police, by whom the information was laid ; and Mr. C. H. Bromby and Mr. A. I. Clark appeared on behalf of six of the defendants. Michael Gleeson and Cleary did not appear. The summoning officer said the former information had been issued in mistake. It should have been James Gleeson,
Mr. Giblin said he was instructed to appear on behalf of the Superintendent of Police for the Hobart Town Corporation. The information appeared to have been laid under a highly penal clause, vis., the 12th section of the 27th Victoria, No. 7, in which it was provided-" If any persons riotously and tumultuously assembled together to the disturbance of the public peace shall unlawfully and with force injure or damage" any building etc,, "every such offender shall he guilty of a misdemeanour and being convicted thereof, shall be liable to be imprisoned for seven years." The information having been submitted to him by the solicitor of the corporation, he had advised that this proceeding should not be gone on with ; and he had therefore to apply for permission to withdraw tho charge against the defendants, with a view to substituting a charge of disturbing the peace and assaulting constables in the execution of their duty, a charge which could of course be summarily dealt with by the bench. The present charge, if proved to the satisfaction of the magistrates, would necessarily entail the committal of the defendants for trial at the Supreme Court ; but it was not desired to take that form of proceeding, hence he wished to withdraw the information. The information was not drawn under legal advice, but in a very natural ignorance of the difficulties which would surround a prosecution of that nature.
Mr. Bromby said he appeared with his learned friend (Mr. Clark) to answer a charge of riot brought against their clients - an offence they had never committed, and they were naturally anxious to be vindicated from having committed it all . But as the learned counsel for the prosecution asked leave to withdraw the charge, he could say no more.
Mr. Tarleton: No charge being pressed, no defence can be heard. It is not for the Bench to put any obstacle in the way of the course that is proposed by the counsel for the municipality. I presume he has looked into the case in all its bearings and advised the course most expedient for the interests of justice, peace, and order, Therefore I shall not attempt to urge upon him to proceed with the case, but shall allow the information to be withdrawn, as he has desired.
Mr. Bromby suggested that the defendants were entitled to costs. They were most respectable citizens, and they had been taken away from their occupations only to find when they got there that the prosecutor was obliged to withdraw from the charge.
Mr. Tarleton: The bench has no power to order any costs. Let the defendants be discharged.
Hobart Town Hall with figure at front, possibly the keeper Thomas Nevin
No date, possibly 1876-80, unattributed, half of stereo?
Archives Office of Tasmania
Ref: PH612 high resolution image
Adjunct to Office and Hall Keeper, Nevin's other duties as Special Constable and police photographer at the Municipal Police Office, which was housed within the City Corporation's Town Hall buildings, were overseen by Superintendent Richard Propsting. It may have been Thomas Nevin who brought the charges in the first instance without seeking the City Corporation's legal counsel, as Attorney-General Giblin stated in proceedings that " the information was not drawn under legal advice" . Nevin would have reported the damage caused by the rioters, including their names to Supt. Propsting, who proceeded with the charges. Propsting's lack of control of the riots and mismanagement of police resources spurred endless criticism in the press, alleging incompetence and sympathy with those who howled down Chiniquy during the lecture. This one in the same issue of The Mercury, 11th July 1979 had reached Adelaide:
Outside opinion of the Police
The Mercury, 11th July 1979
Nevin's MPO supervisor,
Superintendent Richard Propsting
Unattributed, MPO 1879
AOT Ref: 30-282c
The riots culminated in three key events: the withdrawal of charges against the rioters in July 1879 and Propsting's somewhat sudden resignation from the police force a few months later. Nevin's dismissal from the position of Keeper of the Town Hall followed soon after in late 1880 on a trumped-up charge of drunkenness while on duty surrounding "The Ghost" incident. Other criticisms were levelled at Nevin, including one sneering article in The Mercury, 19th September 1879, which accused him of finding "too infra-dig" the job of watering the trees in front of Hobart Town Hall.
TESTING THE BY-LAW at the ALL NATIONS HOTEL
Click on images for large view
All Nations Hotel
Unattributed photographs 1870s,1880 and 1905
Source: State Library of Tasmania
Although retained as police photographer by the City Corporation on compassionate consideration for his family after his dismissal from the position of Town Hall keeper, Nevin's residual resentment at the law's laxity in pursuing the Chiniquy rioters led him to test the legislation pertaining to the rights of assembly, congregation and disturbing the peace on 28th February 1881 when he and two other men stood on the footpath outside the All Nations Hotel at the corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets, Hobart. Although reported by the police and requested to make a court appearance, the charges again were dropped at the Bench.
OBSTRUCTING THE THOROUGHFARE - Thomas Nevin, Thomas Paul and Thomas Hodgson were charged with having on the 28th of last month stood on one of the footways of a public street within the city, so as to prevent the free passage of others, and refused to pass on when ordered to do so by a constable.
Plea: not guilty. Mr. SARGENT for the defence.
Constable Beard deposed to the three defendants having ... standing at the corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets and causing other passers-by to go into the gutter. He asked the defendants to move on one side, when they said they were going away in a minute. When he returned in five minutes' time, Paul said, "Look out, here comes Beard again". Hodgson replied, "It don't matter; we're talking on business." He again asked them to move on, but they declined to do so, and ten minutes afterwards, when he again returned, he found them in the same place. Paul then wanted to know why he was disturbing them so much and could not go and look after other people; and Hodgson asked if he wanted to put them out in the road. Nevin said, "We'll not move till we're forced", and took a piece of chalk out of his waistcoat pocket, and marked with it on the footpath. He then stood on the mark and said he would continue to do so until he was taken into custody. Nevin then waved his hand to witness and told him to "move on".
TO Mr. SARGENT: The defendants were standing outside the All Nations Hotel. When he spoke to them the third time they moved about a foot from the kerbing. Could not say the width of the footpath. He ordered them all to move on. There was a good deal of traffic on this evening. Nevin was setting the police at defiance by his action. To the Bench: Mr. Hodgson is a contractor on the wharf, and the other two are in his employment. He did not listen to their conversation, or know what it was about.
Mr. TARLETON said that the Bench did not think it necessary to ask for any defence, as the by-law under which the charge was enacted, as its preamble explained, for the preventing of the congregation of idle and disorderly persons in the streets and public places, and was certainly never meant to prevent two or three respectable citizens talking over social matters or business affairs, as in this case. It would be a monstrous strain of the by-law to consider this a breach of it, and the information was therefore dismissed.
Thomas J. Nevin: Obstructing the Thoroughfare
The Mercury 8th March 1881
These and other by-laws were to become the testing ground as the Labor and Union Movement gathered strength through the 1890s Depression. "We, the Working Men of the City of Hobart Town" were how the supporters of Propsting identified themselves in The Mercury on 8th July 1879.
The Mercury July 1879
Reports of the Chiniquy Riots
Click on images for readable view
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