Monday, April 27, 2009

The QVMAG convict photos exhibition 1977

These are some of the original documents and press release prepared for the 1977 exhibition of commercial and police photographer T. J. Nevin's prisoner mugshots at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania, catalogued as "Convict portraits, Port Arthur 1874" in public collections:

Above:Letter to Specialist Collections Geoff Stilwell at the State Library of Tasmania from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery curator John McPhee, dated 24th February 1977.

Dear Geoffrey, Enclosed is a photostat of a convict history sheet, featuring a photograph. I think we have a couple of these.
Should you be interested in including them in your exhibition or any of our T.J. Nevin photographs, do let me know.
Best wishes, John

Geoffrey Stilwell in turn forwarded this letter with biographical information about Thomas J. Nevin to John McPhee, dated 4th April 1977:

Above: Letter from Geoff Stilwell to John McPhee, curator, QVMAG, dated 4 April, 1977.

Above: curator John McPhee
ABC TV snapshot 26 June 2009

Dear Mr McPhee,
At last I have some biographical details about Thomas Nevin though I am afraid these are somewhat late for your exhibition. These were mainly supplied by his granddaughter Mrs Shelverton.

Thomas Nevin was born on 28 August 1842 near Belfast, Northern Ireland (Mrs S[helverton]). He was the son of Private John Nevin and Mary his wife whom he accompanied on the convict ship Fairlie which arrived at Hobart Town in July 1852. John who was one of the guards of this vessel was also accompanied by his other children Mary A. and Rebecca both under fourteen and Will[iam] J under a year old (MB2/98).

The following marriage notice appeared in the Mercury of 14 July 1871.

NEVIN-DAY - On Wednesday, 12th July, at the Wesleyan Chapel, Kangaroo Valley, by the Rev. J. Hutchison [sic], Thomas, eldest son of Mr. J. Nevin, of Kangaroo Valley, to Elizabeth Rachael, eldest daughter of Captain Day, of Hobart Town.

Kangaroo Valley is now know as Lenah Valley. From about 1876 to 1880 he lived at the Town Hall, Hobart as caretaker. Two of his four sons were born at the Town Hall residence. He had in addition two daughters one of whom was Mrs Shelverton's mother.*

According to Mrs Shelverton he died about 1922, she is not sure of the date, and was buried at Cornelian Bay. The tombstone has now fallen over.

Yours sincerely, [signed] G.T. STILWELL Librarian, Special Collections

Both letters are from the files of G. T. Stilwell, courtesy of the State Library of Tasmania. Surprisingly, this information was not only forwarded to the QVMAG for their files, but addressed directly to John McPhee, yet his latest exhibition catalogue for the QVMAG exhibition, The Painted Portrait Photograph in Tasmania (November 2007-March 2008), which included a coloured carte with the Clifford and Nevin Hobart Town inscription on verso (p. 63), makes the erroneous statement that the arrival date of T. J. Nevin in Tasmania is not known (p.103)!.

Photos © KLW NFC 2009 ARR

Above: John McPhee's brief biography of Nevin, p. 103, published in the QVMAG exhibition catalogue, The Painted Portrait Photograph in Tasmania (November 2007-March 2008) with several incorrect statements which McPhee (and his editor) should have checked before publication. The following are established facts:

1. Nevin arrived with his parents and three siblings in Tasmania free to the colony on board the Fairlie in July 1852;

2. Nevin leased Bock's studio from fellow Wesleyan Abraham Biggs (Victoria). He sublet the former studio of Bock's in 1876 but maintained his studio at New Town, first established in 1864, where he resumed professional photography between 1881-1888.

3. Nevin worked as a commercial and government photographer until the late 1880s;

4. Three of Nevin's seven studio stamps make no mention of A. Bock;

5. Nevin produced an equally large number of stereographs, held at the TMAG. Many more were reprinted by Samuel Clifford from Nevin's commercial negatives from 1876, and thereafter by the Anson Bros and J.W. Beattie;

6. and 7. The photographs of convicts or "prisoner portraits" were legal instruments taken for the police to be used daily; they were not produced as ethnographic doco-artefacts of criminality for the middle-class gaze;

8. Nevin's position of keeper at the Town Hall included photographic services rendered to the Police Office on the premises, specifically the production of mugshots;

9. Nevin was not arrested the night he was detained by Detective Connor on suspicion of practicing spirit photography.

10. Nevin was not the person dressed as a ghost in a phosphorescent-coated white sheet. The name "George" was uttered when constables set off on the chase after the "ghost"; Edwin Midwood, Nevin's colleague at the Town Hall police office was the likely "ghost" though never apprehended or charged.

Thomas J. Nevin was also a special constable, a commercial designer for press advertisements with H.H. Baily, a Wesleyan and a Loyal United Brothers Lodge member.

The notice (below) appeared in the Hobart Mercury on March 10th, 1977, announcing the opening at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery of the first major exhibition of "convict photos" taken by Thomas J. Nevin, with the date "1874" written on the versos in the 1900s.

Convict photos at Launceston
Hobart Mercury March 10th, 1977

Most of these prisoner ID photographs were acquired by the QVMAG in 1927, as part of photographer John Watt Beattie's (1859-1930) collection from his estate and convictaria museum in Hobart. Beattie's sources in turn were the police gazettes, photo books and prisoner registers held at the Town Hall Municipal Police Office, where Nevin worked full-time 1876-1880, and from the Sheriff's Office and Supreme Court at the Hobart Gaol where his brother Constable John Nevin was his assistant. Beattie had ready access as official government photographer ca. 1900s to these documents.

Beattie also had access to Nevin's commercial negatives when he joined the Anson brothers studios in 1892. The Ansons had acquired Nevin's negatives from their purchase of Samuel Clifford's photographic stock which was advertised at auction in the Mercury, 16th March, 1878. Two years before that date, on 17th January, 1876, Samuel Clifford placed a notice in the Mercury, stating that he had acquired the interest in T.J. Nevin's negatives, and would reprint them for Nevin's friends and patrons on request. Nevin's civil service as bailiff, keeper and police photographer at the Hobart Town Hall from that date precluded income derived from active, independent commercial practice.

The collection of convict photographs featured in this exhibition remained intact at the QVMAG (witnessed*) until ca. 1984. A large old leather-bound photo album of 70 or so prisoner photographs was sent first to the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne (before 1985 - communication per the curator), and then to the National Library of Australia in Canberra where the album was intact in 1996 (witnessed*), rectos and versos photocopied) and was still intact in 2000 (witnessed*).

The QVMAG prisoner photographs are largely Thomas Nevin's originals and duplicates which were taken of men sentenced at the Supreme Court adjoining the Hobart Gaol (Campbell Street Hobart) and then circulated to police and regional prisons including Port Arthur. They were duplicated for the central criminal registry at the Town Hall Municipal Police Office on the prisoner's discharge. But many have been copied and circulated and accessioned in the last thirty years: the Archives Office of Tasmania has both originals and copies (92 online as at April 2009); the National Library of Australia has both originals and copies, including an early donation of twelve (12) or so similar photographs, estrays from a government archive and part of the Gunson Collection (80 were listed online in April 2009); the Mitchell Library NSW holds thirteen, some stamped verso with Nevin's government contract studio stamp (with Royal Arms insiginia); the Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site in Hobart next to the old Gaol has a few, including one pasted to a criminal record written on parchment; and a few are held in private collections. The numbers which appear on the loose mounted cartes-de-visite mugshots range from 1 to 322, and are clear evidence of extensive copying by archivists from Beattie's time onwards. The two major cataloguing events at the QVMAG which affected the versos of their collection were in 1958 and 1985, visible as stamps and inscriptions on the versos, eg:

Prisoner Thomas Fleming
Print from Nevin's negative, taken at the Hobart Gaol on the prisoner's discharge, 7 January 1874.
QVMAG Collection Ref: 1985:P:0169

Source: Police gazette, Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police J. Barnard Govt Printer

Fleming was tried at the Supreme Court Hobart of 9 September 1867, sentenced to 7 years, and photographed by Nevin prior release from the Hobart Goal, in the first week of January 1874. He was NOT photographed at Port Arthur.

Prisoner Thomas Fleming
Mounted carte-de-visite by Thomas Nevin from his negative

Above: recto and verso of T. J. Nevin's mugshot of Thomas Fleming, QVMAG Collection with three archival inscriptions from different periods:

1."Taken at Port Arthur 1874" dates from Beattie's time, ca. 1916. These prisoners were photographed in Hobart and not at Port Arthur. Beattie hyped these cartes as convictaria of notoreity for sale to tourists at his convictaria museum in Murray St. Hobart.
2.The square stamp dates from 1958 catalogued at the QVMAG as 1958:78:22
3. QVM 1985:P:67 is the third catalogue date - 1985 at the QVMAG

This prisoner photograph of William Smith with T. J. Nevin's government contract studio stamp with the Royal Arms insignia is held at the QVMAG.

Above: Another photograph of the same prisoner William Smith, wearing the prison black leathern cap and grey jacket issued at the Hobart Gaol. This photograph with Nevin's Royal Arms stamp is held at the Mitchell Library NSW. The official stamp of T. J. Nevin, Photographic Artist, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart Town, was used to register his government commission to provide identification photographs of prisoners, most with Supreme Court records who were incarcerated and released from Tasmanian prisons, January 1871-3; the copyright endured 14 years from the second year of registration (1874). Nevin's earliest prisoner identification photographs were taken in 1871, as soon as the prison system was transferred from Imperial to Colonial government control.

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, acquired over fifty (50) of Nevin's convict photographs (apart from his commercial cartes and stereographs) from several sources. Some were estrays from the Town Hall Police Office (next door), some were lantern slides reproduced from the original glass negatives by Beattie for his lecture tours on Tasmanian history, and some were duplicates donated by Beattie from his convictaria museum ca. 1916 (noted by a South Australian visitor in The Mercury February 3rd, 1916). Some were copies by the Ansons Bros dating to ca. 1878. And some were copies acquired and accessioned from the QVMAG collection ca. 1985-87, deposited at the TMAG instead of being returned to the QVMAG.

The TMAG erroneously attributed their convict photographs to the Civil Commandant at Port Arthur A.H. Boyd (May 1871-December 1873, ADB). Boyd's function as the former accountant at the prison was to sign for the purchase and delivery of goods into and from government stores. Boyd had no reputation in his life-time as a photographer, and there are no extant photographic works by A.H. Boyd. The "Port Arthur convicts" as the men whose images survive in this collection are called at the National Library of Australia, were not photographed by Boyd, nor were they photographed at Port Arthur. The majority were habitual criminals, repeat offenders and recidivists whose criminal careers at large in the open prison of the island of Tasmania earned then a further sentence and a mugshot, taken by Thomas Nevin at the Hobart Municipal P.O. (Police Office) and Mayor's Court at the Hobart Town Hall, and at the Supreme Court and adjoining Hobart Gaol. The Boyd misattribution was published in the TMAG publication Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940: A Directory (1995:36) and was thereafter mistakenly assumed to have some credence by later authors on this subject of "Port Arthur". The Boyd shibboleth was based on nothing more than a sentence in a short story about a children's holiday at Port Arthur, written by a niece of Boyd, unpublished and submitted by her in typescript to the State Library in 1942: the story mentions neither Boyd by name nor the photographing of prisoners. It is generically FICTION, yet has been used as if it is a document of historical fact. There are no official documents which associate Boyd as a photographer of prisoners.

QVMAG convicts cartes list by Nevin 1977

Photo © KLW NFC 2009 ARR

Above: The QVMAG lists of 72 convict cartes from the 1977 exhibition,worksheets acquired here in 2005, courtesy of the QVMAG. The physical number at the QVMAG now totals 112. The list here might give the impression that there were 199 items, listed by the number written on the carte itself, eg. George Nutt or White, no. 1, but in fact the person at the QVMAG who prepared this list ran a sheet with numbers from 1 to 199, and inserted the prisoner's name by the number on the carte, totalling 72. What is missing therefore, are cartes with numbers on recto or verso which were circulated to the NLA, AOT and TMAG, and those that bear numbers greater than 199, and there are quite a few; for example, the NLA carte of convict Henry Cavanagh is numbered "306" on verso. He was photographed by Nevin on admission to the Hobart Gaol on 17th September, 1873.

At present (April 2009), the QVMAG states they hold 112 physical copies of the original cartes: 72 were exhibited at the QVMAG exhibition with Nevin's attribution in 1977. Another 40 were included in the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition, Heads of The People, Canberra, 2000 with Beattie's attribution, despite the fact that Beattie had arrived in Tasmania in 1878, and did not join the Ansons as a photographer until the early 1890s. Beattie was never involved in the actual photographing of prisoners for the police; he merely exhibited or copied those mugshots he found in the police, courts and prison registers, divorcing them in the process from their contemporaneous written references, and reprinted several for sale as tourist tokens.

Above: Press release for the QVMAG Exhibition 1977

John McPhee, curator of the QVMAG exhibition of Thomas J. Nevin's Port Arthur convict portraits in 1977, announced in his press release (above) that these photos have "a quality far beyond that of records" - i.e. police records - and that these photographs -

"... are among the most moving and powerful images of the human condition." They also "represent the 19th century's great interest in phrenology and the belief in various other quasi-scientific methods of identifying the criminal 'type'".

This statement was certainly true by 1882 when a reporter for the HobartMercury (8th July 1882) wrote a lengthy account of his visit to the Hobart Gaol, detailing the layout and the procedures, past and present, fr om the prisoner's reception, bath and issue of clothing, the areas isolated specifically for men awaiting Supreme Court trials, and the general physicality of the prisoners' features:

In their dark-grey uniform and black leathern caps, with their criminal visages, shaven of the covering Nature had given to aid them in the concealment of their vicious propensities and villainous characters, they were, in truth, a forbidding, repulsive lot. Yet very far from unintelligent, at least, in some marked instances. A villainous shrewdness and a perverse cleverness writ in many a cunning, gleamy eye and heavy brow ; and a dogged determination to be read in the set of the jaw, and the style of the gait, were as the translated speech of artfully calculated, daring crime.

The Mercury, 8th July 1882

Old police identification photographs taken on arrest, arraignment and discharge, commonly called mugshots now, are enjoying a renaissance of interest in this decade of the 21st century. Even though they were legal instruments taken for the police to be used daily, they became doco-artefacts of criminality for the middle-class gaze in the age of Bertillonage and the portrait parlé in the 1900s. They can be seen on the walls of art galleries, and in coffee table glossy volumes such as Pellicer's Mugshots (2009). But what of the photographer? Anonymity was de rigeurin the job, although Nevin's work with police was common knowledge in the 19th century. It is only in the late 20th century and continuing today that acknowledgement of his work has been compromised by the error made by Chris Long and those who have "believed" in his belief about Boyd based purely on a piece of fiction. Because of this dead-end misattribution, the Nevin brothers' total involvement in police photographic work in Tasmania from ca. 1865 to the mid 1880s has yet to be fully appreciated.

Bertillon mugshots 1888

Photo © KLW NFC 2009 ARR

Above: from Mugshots 2009 by Raynal Pellicer: on the left, Bertillon's own front and profile mugshots used to demonstrate the non-commercial photographic pose for criminals he advocated to the Paris police, 1888, and on the right the Commissioner of Police, 1903, trying out the system of Bertillonage for himself.

*Witnessed in the course of research 1977-2007
First published 27th April 2007. Updated May 2009. Last update August 2010

Monday, April 20, 2009

Prisoner William HAYES

William Hayes' prison ID photograph was among the first taken by Thomas J. Nevin at the Hobart House of Corrections (Hobart Gaol) when William Hayes was discharged from a 2 year sentence for indecent assault in the week ending 24 April 1872.

The same image in these two cartes was printed at different times from Nevin's original glass negative. In the first carte, Hayes' image was straightened, eliminating the lean to the right in the carte below. Hayes' petty minor offences between 1873-1875 after release from the Hobart Gaol were tried in Launceston, where the reprint of his ID photograph was sent in 1874.

NLA catalogue notes: (incorrect information)
Title William Hayes, per Asia, taken at Port Arthur, 1874 [picture].
Date 1874.
Extent 1 photograph on carte-de-visite mount : albumen ; 9.4 x 5.6 cm. on mount 10.5 x 6.3 cm.

The carte below lacks a number and bears the inscription on verso, per NLA catalogue notes:

Title from inscription on verso (incorrect information)
Inscription: “William Hayes, per Asia, taken at Port Arthur”–In ink on verso.
Condition: Foxing.



William Hayes' prison ID photograph was among the earliest taken by Thomas J. Nevin at the Hobart Gaol when William Hayes was discharged from a 2 year sentence in the week ending 24 April 1872.


William Hayes was discharged after a week as a pauper from the Brickfields Invalid Depot on 25 March


Two years later, Hayes was imprisoned for 14 days for "Threatening" and discharged at Launceston on 1st May 1874. Nevin reprinted his negative of Hayes for the Launceston courts and for the central Office of Inspector for Police in Hobart.

A few months later, in July 1874, he was imprisoned for one month for resisting a constable and discharged in August 1874.


A year later he was imprisoned for 3 months for threatening to stab with a discharge from Launceston on 22 September 1875.

Nevin's original cdv of William Hayes (per Asiatic) was reprinted again for Hayes' discharge 22 September 1875 from a 3 month sentence, at the Launceston Police Office.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Prisoner Henry CAVANAGH

NLA Catalogue (incorrect information)
Title Henry Cavanagh at Port Arthur, Tasmania, 1874 [picture]
Date 1874.
Extent 1 photograph : albumen ; 10.5 x 6.5 cm.
Published in 1909

Henry Cavanagh was sent to Port Arthur in December 1873. His name does not appear in the House of Assembly Journals, Nominal Return of Prisoners sent to Port Arthur since its transfer to Colonial Government in 1871, tabled in Parliament on 11th June, 1873. He was discharged before that date, on the 14th June 1872 after sentencing of one month in Hobart, and arraigned in Launceston nine months later, on the 3rd September 1873. He was received at the Hobart Gaol, sentenced to 6 years, and photographed there on 17th September 1873 by T. J. Nevin.

The numbering on the verso of this carte, according to the NLA notes is "306". This is an archivist's number which could date from 1909-1916, sourced from John Watt Beattie's "Port Arthur Museum" located in Hobart (and not at Port Arthur), or from the 1930s when the QVMAG acquired Beattie's Collection, or from the 1960s with the Gunson Collection acquisition by the NLA, or from the 1980s when the QVMAG copied and/or distributed more than seventy (70) of these cdvs of Tasmanian prisoners to the Port Arthur site, the NLA, the AOT, and the TMAG etc.


Henry Cavanagh from Victoria, 18 years old, charged at Burnie, Tasmania on 4th May 1872, with being on premises for an unlawful purpose, was discharged from the Hobart Gaol on 14 June 1872.

But a year or so later, Henry Cavanagh, aged 19 yrs, was arraigned at the Recorder's Court Launceston on 3 September 1873 and sentenced to 6 years for stealing a posted letter and uttering. He was admitted to the Hobart Gaol (Campbell St Gaol) and photographed by T. J. Nevin on 17th September 1873.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"In a New Light": NLA Exhibition with Boyd misattribution

In November 2000,the National Library of Australia in Canberra exhibited 22 mugshots in carte-de-visite format from their holdings of 78 [84] of Tasmanian prisoner ID photographs which were originally and correctly attributed on accession into their holdings as the work of professional photographer and government contractor Thomas J. Nevin (1842-1923). The exhibition was called IN A NEW LIGHT: A Love of Order. The exhibition in summary form is still online.


Above: webshot of front page In A New Light: A Love of Order.
Below: the four cdvs included of "convicts" in the online exhibition.

This section online, called A Love of Order, which includes the four Tasmanian prisoner images above is fronted with the A.H. Boyd misattribution in this statement:-
In 1874, A. Boyd, the Superintendent at the Port Arthur penal settlement, embarked on a comprehensive documentary project—for official reasons presumably, he photographed all the inmates living at the settlement. Each man was photographed in exactly the same way, posed in front of a neutral backdrop and depicted from the same vantage point.
Clearly, nothing was offered to substantiate the claim that A. H. Boyd "embarked on a comprehensive documentary project—for official reasons presumably" since no evidence could be found to support it. A. H. Boyd did no such thing. Behind this statement lies the story about the Colonial Secretary of Tasmania requesting photographs from Boyd of the Gregson brothers who were working in a gang at the city Domain, not at Port Arthur,  when they absconded on January 9th, 1874 and were arrested at Launceston one month later. There is nothing in the memo from the CS to Boyd which indicates Boyd as the photographer of any prisoner, or indeed of any photograph in any genre, simply because he was NOT a photographer.

By January 1874, Boyd was no longer present at the Port Arthur prison. He was dismissed for embezzlement and stolen timber, and it wasn't his first dismissal from public office. He had also been dismissed from the Orphan School under accusations of misogyny from the Ladie's Committe. The Gregson brothers' prison identification photographs, duplicates of those formerly held at the QVMAG, now at the TMAG, are also held in this NLA collection. They were taken by the police photographer Thomas J. Nevin at the watch house, Hobart Gaol, when the Gregsons were arrested in Launceston and conveyed by Page's coach to Hobart. They were not photographed at the Port Arthur prison. As with the majority of men pictured in these prisoner mugshots, they were photographed at arrest and trial at the Supreme Court and Hobart Gaol as second offenders. They were known at the Hobart Gaol in their time as "Supreme Court Men" (Mercury 8 July 1882).

The National Library of Australia had acquired 68 (84 total in May 2010) of these prisoner mugshots (catalogued as Port Arthur convicts) by 1982, some from Dr Neil Gunson as archival estrays deposited in the 1960s, many from the QVMAG as T. J. Nevin's duplicates, and some as John Watt Beattie's copies made ca. 1916, also from the QVMAG. Some of the NLA's copies were also held as copies at the Archives Office of Tasmania, as the letters and other documents at the NLA in Thomas Nevin's Australian Photographers Ephemera File clearly indicate in 1982, yet they were not accessioned, exhibited or catalogued until May 1995, and when they were catalogued, they were attributed correctly to Thomas J. Nevin as photographer. A. H. Boyd's name was never mentioned in Chris Long's letters sent to the NLA in 1982 (Sprod MS), which included a general statement about the prisoner cartes-de-visite collection and a brief summary about Nevin's work. But Chris Long is now regarded as the eventual perpetrator of the Boyd misattribution. See the NLA worksheets from Thomas J. Nevin's ephemera file at the end of this article, and the weblog for these prisoner cartes at the NLA.

In 1976 at the Art Gallery of NSW and in 1977 at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, dozens of these Tasmanian prisoners’ photographs taken in the 1870s were exhibited and correctly attributed to Thomas J. Nevin. The curator’s press release stated that many of the men photographed in the 1870s had been transported as Parkhurst boys to Port Arthur. Few of these men had remained there. There was a constant coming and going of prisoners to Port Arthur during the 1860s. Men who were incarcerated there on transportation to Tasmania before 1853 served on average 7-14 years before being discharged. From 1871, only second offenders were photographed, and they were photographed at trial in the Supreme Court and Hobart Gaol BEFORE they were sent back to Port Arthur to serve a sentence. All but a few paupers and lunatics were still there in 1874: the majority of 200 or so were listed as inmates at the Hobart Gaol by Parliament in 1875, but because of the transcription written in the early 1900s on the verso of many cartes, viz. "Taken at Port Arthur 1874", the idea that prisoner photographs were taken there has become set in concrete.

Of the 109 prisoners listed in the Nominal Return of prisoners sent to Port Arthur since the transfer to Colonial Government (i.e. since 1871), tabled in Parliament on June 11th, 1873, sixty (60) had already been received back in Hobart by that date; the remaining 49 were all relocated to Hobart by May 1874. Nowhere is there evidence that these men were photographed at Port Arthur. It is a mid to late 20th century view of the place as an Arcadian boot camp where the good ole' bad boys tinkered away at their trade, like Santa's shoe-making elves. The reality is that the men whom T. J. Nevin photographed were repeat offenders, habitual criminals, and recidivists whose criminal careers at large earned them a further sentence in the Supreme Court and a mugshot. Their mugshots were salvaged or selected from a much larger corpus of prisoner photographs and criminal records, now lost or destroyed by the Lyons government in the early years of the 20th century. They were saved on the basis of the man's notoreity, and chosen for their photographic qualities as commercial items for sale to tourists. The idea that Nevin (or anyone else) might have photographed more than 200 prisoners solely at Port Arthur is an erroneous one and needs to be dispelled.

Beattie and Searle salvaged the extant photographs and glass negatives from the Sheriff's offices at the Hobart Gaol. The old photographer's room there was demolished in 1915 (reported in the Mercury July 1915). By 1916 Beattie was selling Nevin's original prints in his "Port Arthur" convictaria museum located at 51 Murray Street, Hobart, reproducing them from the original glass negatives, all in the interests of commercial tourism. They were also displayed on touring exhibitions of convictaria aboard the fake convict hulk Success. The generic date "1874" and "Taken at Port Arthur" were both transcribed on the versos of so many of these cartes at that time, purely as a selling point to encourage tourism to the ruins of the Port Arthur prison on the Tasman peninsula. Neither the date nor location factually reflects the circumstances of each prisoner at their one and only sitting with contractor T. J. Nevin. When the QVMAG acquired the prisoner cdv's from Beattie's estate in the 1930s, they were exhibited amongst other convictaria from his "Port Arthur Museum" in 1934 in Launceston, and more transcriptions likely were added.

In short, Thomas J. Nevin's original photographs (including his duplicates) of prisoners now in public collections were salvaged by John Watt Beattie from the Sheriff’s Office at the Hobart Gaol between 1892, when he assumed the position of government photographer, and around the date of the demolition of the old photographer's room in 1915. The commercial potential was not lost on the Tasmanian government eager to promote Port Arthur as the State's premier tourist destination. Had the prisoners ' identification photographs  remained intact and in situ, they would have been accessioned at the Archives Office of Tasmania as the supplement to the Habitual Criminal's Register and the Tasmania Police Gazettes (known as Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police until 1884) which recorded on a weekly basis the subject of every photograph’s offense, sentence, and discharge.

Fortunately, the later police gazettes dating from 1890 and their photo books have survived intact at the AOT. The prison photo books of the 1870s have not survived. Once divorced from the police gazettes records and prison photo books, these earlier photographs from the 1870s lost their contemporaneous reference, and have been misattributed and misappraised as “portraits”, i.e. art objects by the public institutions which hold them. The terms and execution of Thomas J. Nevin’s prisoner commission were contractually and generically comparable to those of other professional photographers working in prisons, Frazer Crawford (1867, South Australia) and Charles Nettleton (1873, Victoria).

Between 1958, 1977, 1985 and 1987  the QVMAG catalogued their collection of these 1870s mugshots once again. More copies were made and distributed to other state and national institutions. The curator of the 1977 exhibition at the QVMAG sent an album of these photographs to the National Gallery of Victoria, which then found its way to the NLA. The record keeping at the NLA is such that no provenance is clearly stated on their accession sheet dated 1995. It would seem that if the event is not a personal memory of staff members, the event details are either lost when the staff member leaves, and worse, the event then never occurred, and that sad state of affairs underscores the mess the NLA has made of this collection.

The appearance of A.H. Boyd's name on NLA documents occurred in 2000, scribbled on the original cataloguist's worksheet of 1995. No staff member bothered to search the National Library's own manuscript collections for original documentation on accession for the date and donor of the "Port Arthur convicts" collection.  If they had done their job properly, they would have seen Nevin's name as clear accreditation and would never have countenanced the nonsense about Boyd. It would seem that the staff members responsible (eg Ms Sylvia Carr - it is her handwriting) had heard about or read (only a part of) Chris Long's idle hypothesis, published in 1995 (TMAG), that Boyd might have taken official photographs of prisoners at Port Arthur. Even though Nevin is still accredited by Chris Long in that publication, he also seriously put forward the fantasy that Boyd, with no reputation in his lifetime as a photographer, and without a single extant work to his name, was the sort of amateur gentleman photographer who would apparently have the skills and equipment to pose his prisoners for a Sunday session of photography.

Chris Long offered no evidence to support his idle imagining: he did no research on individual prisoners who were the subjects of the photos; he used nothing more than a second-hand report that a photographic tent was returned to Boyd personally in April 1874 (the original document does not bear this out: i.e. Tasmanian Papers Ref: 320, SLNSW); and for no other reason than hearsay of a story that a Boyd descendant had seen cameras at Port Arthur (when? probably the late 1880s when the site was renamed Carnarvon and the tourism business was booming), he maintained the fiction until Nevin's attribution became severely compromised. The Boyd descendant's story was an unpublished children's tale called "The Young Explorer", delivered as a talk in the 1930s to a Literary Society, and submitted in typescript to the State Library in 1942 by E. M. Hall. It is generically FICTION: neither Boyd nor prisoner photography is mentioned in this children's story, yet Chris Long and those who have cited this non-factual source proffer it as acceptable, historical fact.

Extraordinary as this abrogation of professionalism now seems, the NLA librarians also had to contend with Long's "'belief" used by photo historians who had referenced his published statements in their own publications. Helen Ennis, for example, an academic at the ANU, wrote the paragraph cited for this online exhibition, IN A NEW LIGHT, with the fuzzy nonsense about A. H. Boyd.

The questions have to be asked: why are these photo historians so interdependent, why are they so self-referential, why so presumptive, self-seeking of personal attention and why are they so lazy? Why does such an illogical and groundless fantasy take hold when the attribution to Nevin in the 19th century was common knowledge, and in the 20th century was validated with authoritative, curatorial and published history? When it comes down to pricing such a collection of inestimable value to the national heritage, messing around with hypothetical attributions to a non-photographer as was A.H. Boyd is hardly the way to increase incremental interest: the public does not deserve to be treated to such stupidity.

Had the NLA appraised these Tasmanian prisoner vignettes for what they are - police "mugshots" taken by a police photographer for the same reasons that police photographers take "mugshots" today - they would not have been seduced into treating these vernacular photographs as "portraits" or art objects interpreted through the prism of an art historian's aesthetic gaze. Nor would they insist that a photographer's stamp on the verso of these vignettes is vital to an attribution, as they now proclaim on each photograph's full record. To expect police photographs to be accredited at all in similar manner to art photography bespeaks of ignorance or perversity. Nevin's work was accredited and validated with rewards in the 19th century by those who employed him, whereas A. H. Boyd, an accountant promoted to Civil Commandant through nepotism, was accused of corruption in the parliament and the press, and disappeared from the police records soon after February 1873, where his name appeared only as a signature undersigning the transfer of paupers (not criminals) to Hobart, none of whom were photographed. A.H. Boyd was a non-photographer who has entered photohistory through the fictions of art, through a fiction written for children, through the subjective tastes of photohistorians, and through the personality politics of librarians, but not through the facts of police history.

Just to add to the confusion, the four individual images of Tasmanian prisoners placed online for the exhibition, IN A NEW LIGHT, all bear the caption "... photographer unknown." This is yet another sign of incompetence on the part of the NLA Pictorial staff, their guest curator Helen Ennis et al.

Each photograph has its own page, per this example, with the caption beneath: "Photographer unknown". So while the writer of the front page online for this section of the exhibition waffles on about A. Boyd as the photographer - "presumably" - the same writer has changed her mind, yet still abjects Nevin despite his established attribution at the NLA from 1982 onwards.

CAPTION: "Unknown photographer"
Unknown Photographer (incorrect information)
John F. Morris, per P. [i.e. Pestonjee] Bomanjee 2, taken at Port Arthur, 1874
carte-de-visite; 9.3 x 5.6 cm
This is how the NLA is still cataloguing the cartes: the current catalogue entries at the NLA still wish the public to believe these photographs were taken at Port Arthur in 1874. The police records tell a different story.


John F. Morris was originally transported to Tasmania before 1853 on the ship the P.Bomanjee 3. He was convicted at the Supreme Court , Hobart, on the 9th April 1861 for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was photographed by Nevin on discharge from the Hobart Gaol, 28th April, 1875.

NLA CAPTION: (incorrect information)
George Fisher, per Streathaden [i.e. Stratheden], taken at Port Arthur, 1874
carte-de-visite; 9.3 x 5.6 cm

George Fisher was photographed by Nevin on discharge with ticket-of-leave 15th April 1874 at the Municipal Police, Hobart Town Hall, when Fisher was "enlarged" with a ticket-of-leave. On 2nd December 1874, he was arraigned and sentenced to 12 years for forgery and uttering at the Supreme Court, Hobart:

George Fisher arraigned at the Supreme Court Hobart on 1st December 1874 for forgery and uttering.

NLA CAPTION: (incorrect information)
Unknown Photographer
William Mumford, per Agusta [i.e. Augusta] Jessie, taken at Port Arthur, 1874
carte-de-visite; 9.1 x 5.7 cm

William Mumford was photographed by Nevin at the Supreme Court Hobart on 10th September 1872 when Mumford was convicted of burglary and sentenced to 10 years.

NLA CAPTION: (incorrect information)
Unknown Photographer
James Harper, per S.R. [i.e. Sir Robert] Peel, taken at Port Arthur, 1874
carte-de-visite; 9.4 x 5.6 cm

James Harper was photographed by Nevin at the Hobart Gaol when the returns (.i.e. lists of numbers of prisoners) of convictions were tabled in the Supreme Court Hobart on 16 December 1871 and again on 11th January 1873. The NLA vignette could be the earlier one and date from 1871.

The curators of such exhibitions are too smitten with the pomposities of aesthetics to regard these photographs as mere vernacular documents, the result invariably leading to arguments about attribution based not on facts but on the standing and reputation of the curator and his or her "opinions". Such procedures might be acceptable within the curatorial cohort but it is not acceptable to the public at large. The quality of reproduction by the NLA for the purposes of the exhibition IN A NEW LIGHT of these 22 cartes in 2000 is far superior to their more recent online digitisation of the remaining 54 in the collection in May 2007. Their reference in these photographs' full records to an essay supporting the Boyd attribution dating from May 2007 by Julia Clark is irrelevant; it is a worthless and intellectually deceitful attempt to promote the commercially driven interests at the Port Arthur Historic Site. Clark is now also under investigation for professional fraud and theft of intellectual property pertaining to the NLA "convict portraits".

These records and sheets can be sourced from the NLA in this file:
T.J. Nevin's ephemera file, Photographers' Files

NLA Nevin ephemera file:
Letter from Archives Tasmania to NLA dated 3 December 1982. Nevin was not a convict. Chris Long's visit to the AOT is dated here as October 1982. Chris Long is the published source of the A.H. Boyd misattribution (TMAG 1995), but there is no mention of Boyd here.

NLA Nevin ephemera file:
Included in letter from AOT to NLA dated 3 December 1982, Chris Long's vague notes about Nevin despite a firm attribution by Kerr, Stilwell, McPhee et al in 1977. There is no mention of Boyd here.

NLA Nevin ephemera file:
Included with letter from AOT to NLA dated 3 December 1982

NLA Nevin ephemera file:
NLA Accession sheets dated 10th May 1995 for Nevin's convict photos

NLA Nevin ephemera file:
Original catalogue of Nevin's convict photos dated 12 May 1995, with note in Sylvia Carr's handwriting inserting misattribution to A H Boyd dated 15th November 2000.

NLA Nevin ephemera file:
Catalogue revision of Nevin's convict photos.
Dated 15th November 2000 with misattribution to AH Boyd.

On board the "City of Hobart" 31st January 1872