Saturday, June 9, 2007

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

The Archives Office of Tasmania digitized and displayed online 92 copies of the carte-de-visite photographs of Tasmanian convicts held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in the 1970s. Webshots show they were captioned "Photograph taken at Port Arthur by Thomas Nevin" and some are dated 1874 or earlier. Few were taken at Port Arthur, and many were taken over a period of years in the 1870s-1880s. The date and place of the AOT caption reflects the error about Port Arthur as the place where all of these photographs were taken, made by an archivist in the early 1900s, probably by Edward Searle while working in John Watt Beattie at his museum and studio in Hobart between 1911-1915. Similarly, the date "1874" does not reflect the prisoner's actual criminal history on the date he was photographed. The photographer attribution to Thomas J. Nevin, however, is correct.

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).

The weekly police gazettes detailing the records of the men, their age, appearance and sentencing were called (until 1884) Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, James Barnard Government Printer. The original prisoner ID cartes - Nevin made at least four from each negative - were pasted to the criminal's record sheet, collated with police records for the police gazette, pasted into the police and gaol registers, and circulated to other prisons and regional police stations on the prisoner's discharge.

Here are two examples of Nevin's photographs of prisoners and their records from the police gazettes chosen at random which detail the exact time and place of the photograph:

1. Charles Steventon was convicted of larceny and photographed by Nevin at the Police Office Hobart on January 4th, 1873.






POLICE RECORDS



Charles Steventon was discharged to Hobart on 27th July 1872



Record of Charles Steventon's sentence tabled in Parliament 9th June 1873



Charles Steventon convicted at Hobart on 4th January 1873



Charles Steventon was discharged from Hobart Town on 4th November 1874 and he would have been photographed again on this date.

2. Charles Brown, 22 years old, aka William Forster, wanted for absconding, was photographed by Nevin when Brown surrendered himself to the Hobart Gaol and charged on January 9th, 1874. See this article here about mismatched records.



Charles Brown surrendered himself to the Hobart Gaol, 9th January 1874.





Current estimates at April 2009 of the total number of Tasmanian prisoner photographs still extant in various formats produced from Nevin's original glass negatives as prints, as vignetted cartes-de-visite, as duplicates or as copies in public collections, several of which bear verso the government printer's Royal Arms seal and Nevin's name are as follows:

  • Archives Office of Tasmania holds 92 copies from the QVMAG
  • Archives Office of Tasmania holds 10 originals from the Radcliffe Museum
  • National Library of Australia holds 84 copied from the QVMAG collection
  • Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery holds 112
  • Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery holds 58, originally borrowed from the QVMAG's Beattie Collection for exhibition at Port Arthur in 1983 (E. Wishart et al).
  • Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site holds 3
  • Port Arthur Historic Site holds a few reproduced as tourist postcards
  • The Mitchell Library State Library NSW holds 13
  • Private collectors have indicated 15

Several of these items are duplicates made by Thomas Nevin at the time of photographic capture from his glass negatives; copies were made and/or circulated to other public collections from the QVMAG collection in 1958, 1977, 1982, 1985, 1991 and more recently for online display at the AOT as well as at the TMAG, QVMAG and NLA. As several images of the same man are extant, some with aliases, the actual number of convicts represented is difficult to determine. More are being discovered in archives or donated by the public on a regular basis. The numbers appearing on recto or verso of the cartes held in various public collections range from 1 to 316. Some cartes of two different men bear the same number, eg. the number 3 appears on Moran's carte at the NLA, and on Tuck's carte at the QVMAG and AOT.


Visit the Archives Office of Tasmania and enter "Nevin" in the Description box.
For the webshots of the collection made for the Archives Office of Tasmania in the 1970s from the QVMAG collection, click here at Flickr.