Thursday, November 12, 2009

Poster boys 1991 of Tasmanian prisoners 1870s

Who were they? They were T. J. Nevin's sitters for police records, mostly "Supreme Court men" photographed on committal for trial at the Supreme Court adjoining the Hobart Gaol when they were isolated in silence for a month after sentencing. If sentenced for a term longer than three months at the Supreme Court Launceston, they were photographed, bathed, shaved and dressed on being received in Hobart. These procedures, past and present, were reported at length in the Mercury, 8th July 1882 by a visitor to the Hobart Gaol and Supreme Court:
At the Bathurst-street end of the block are about 30 cells, built in three decker style. They are dark, ill ventilated, and stuffy, were originally intended for the use of convicts awaiting shipment to Port Arthur and do not appear to be fitted for other than temporary quarters ... Opening into this yard [Yard 3] are a number of cells, kept as much as possible for Supreme Court first timers, in order to remove them, to some extent at least, from the contaminating influences of the old hands in crime ... The next yard and block of cells are also set apart for the use of first timers , and the cells and yard in the next division are appropriated to the use of prisoners under examination or fully committed for trial. At the back of the block is a model prison, in which the silent system is carried out. The cells here are only used for "Supreme Court men," who are confined in them for one month after sentence, which time they pass in solitary confinement day and night, with the exception of one hour during which they take exercise in the narrow enclosure outside the cells, pacing up and down five yards apart, and in strict silence. There can be no doubt this is, to some at least, a much-dreaded punishment.
Source: HOBART GAOL AND PENAL ESTABLISHMENT. (1882, July 8). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), p. 2 (The Mercury Supplement ) from

One of the two rooms used by the photographers was located above the women's laundry and demolished in 1915. The majority of these photographs were salvaged from the laundry and the Sheriff's Office at the Hobart Gaol by Beattie's Studio, Elizabeth St. Hobart for display at local and intercolonial exhibitions, e.g. at Beattie's "Port Arthur Museum", located in Hobart, and at the Royal Hotel, Sydney, 1916 in conjunction with convictaria exhibited on the floating museum,  the fake convict ship Success at Hobart, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney,

The Nevin family solicitor since 1868, Attorney-General William Robert Giblin, had requested Thomas J. Nevin pay a visit the Port Arthur penitentiary, 60 kms south of Hobart, with a view to photographing prison inmates during the visit of the former Premier of Victoria, Sir John O'Shanassy and Howard Spensley, Solicitor-General of Victoria, in January 1872. W. R. Giblin's decision was in force by October 1873 when Thomas J. Nevin photographed William Smith per Gilmore 3 on discharge from the Hobart Gaol. This early prisoner mugshot was printed from his negative and stamped verso with his government contractor's stamp which included his name, T. J. Nevin, his studio address and the Royal Arms insignia printed on colonial warrants. The Royal Arms insignia was printed on all government contractors' documents and displayed prominently at their business premises.

The prison identificaton photograph mounted as a cdv of William Smith per Gilmore 3
Photographer: T. J. Nevin, government contractor stamp on verso
The cdv is numbered "199" on recto
QVMAG 1985:p131 & copy at AOT Ref: 30-3244.

The Poster 1991

Above: Wall chart or poster of Tasmanian prisoners photographed in the 1870s by T. J. Nevin. This sort of 20th century touristic ephemera called prisoners by the term "convicts". The poster was produced by the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority ca. 1991 with photographs by Nevin of "Supreme Court men", selected from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery's Beattie Collection. Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2009 ARR

This poster or wall chart was purchased at the National Trust's Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site, adjacent to the site of the former Hobart Gaol for this weblog. Its montage of Thomas J. Nevin's portraits of Tasmanian convicts (1870s) was compiled from John Watt Beattie's collection acquired on his death in 1930 by the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston. The Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority is credited with the poster's production, according to the caption on lower border, left, and presumably for its large titles: "WHO WERE THEY?" and "THE CONVICTS OF PORT ARTHUR". The poster or wall chart was published as a booklet ca. 1991, according to Libraries Australia catalogue notes:

Several of these older convicts were indeed incarcerated as transportees at the regional Port Arthur penintentiary, 60 kms from Hobart, from their arrival in Tasmania prior to 1853, and again sent back there when reconvicted of offences in the 1870s. Altogether different were the locally born or "native"  offenders.  It must be stressed that these prisoners were not photographed because they had been transported convicts per se, or their photographs taken as some sort of museological collection (transportation ended in 1853); they were photographed because they were habitual offenders, absconders, and recidivists. Their photographs were commissioned by the Tasmanian government in 1872 and used by the Town Hall Municipal Police Office, the Supreme Court next to the Hobart Gaol, and the Prisons Department in the course of daily detection and surveillance. All of these photographs of the so-called "Port Arthur convicts" were taken by the brothers Thomas J. Nevin and Constable John Nevin at the Hobart Goal whether prior to the prisoners' temporary relocation after arrest from the Hobart Gaol to the Port Arthur prison in the early 1870s and/or after being returned from Port Arthur to the Hobart Goal between 1873-1874 when the process of closing the Port Arthur site was systematically commenced and concluded by 1877.

All prisoners by July 1873 with sentences longer than 3 months were being received at the prison in Hobart Town from regional lock-ups, including the Launceston Gaol. Thomas J. Nevin was the government contractor who held exclusive rights to the commission while still an independent commercial photographer working from his commercial studio, 1864 - 1876. He continued to provide both central and territorial police with prisoner identification photographs on appointment to full-time civil service as Office and Hall Keeper at the Hobart Town Hall in 1876, retiring from professional photography in 1888.

Convict mugshots 1870s Tasmania

Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2009 ARR.
Detail: the PAHSMA accreditation on lower left border with this caption:
"Produced by Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, with photographs (circa 1870) from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Beattie Collection."
The original collection of prisoner photographs from which this montage was created for the poster was displayed at the QVMAG in 1938 together with early Tasmanian relics from the Beattie collection:

Title: "When in Launceston, visit the museum"
Creator: Examiner (Launceston, Tas.)
Publisher: Launceston, Tas. : Examiner Office, 1938?
Description: 1 poster : col. print on paper ; 95 X 61 cm
ADRI: AUTAS001126077270
Source: Tasmaniana Library

John Watt Beattie's collection of Thomas J. Nevin's original identification photographs or mugshots of Tasmanian prisoners taken between 1871 and 1884 came into Beattie's possession in the late 1890s. Beattie acquired many of these original mugshots from the Supreme Court registers, prisoner rap sheets, and the Hobart Gaol Photo Books at the Sheriff's Office ca. 1895 and in several instances, reproduced them in the 1900s for sale in his convictaria museum as tourist tokens of Tasmania's penal heritage. They were resurrected as an exhibition at the QVMAG in 1977. This notice appeared in the Mercury, 10th March, 1977:

Nevin's convicts exhibition 1977

"The work of T. J. Nevin..."
The Mercury, March 3rd, 1977

Convict photos at Launceston
Historic photographs showing convicts at Port Arthur in 1874 will be exhibited at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery at Launceston from tomorrow to May 2.
The work of T. J. Nevin, the photos are being shown at Launceston for the first time.
Many of the men shown in the pictures had been transported to Port Arthur as young boys 40 years earlier.
The curator of fine art at the museum, Mr. John McPhee, said yesterday that the photos had "a quality far beyond that of records".
"Just once rascally, occasionally noble always pathetic, these photographs are among the most moving and powerful images of the human condition," he said.
Contributory researchers included the QVMAG curator John McPhee, the Tasmanian State Librarian of Special Collections Geoffrey T. Stilwell, and Professor Joan Kerr at the University of Sydney. In the massive publication The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, (1992, Melbourne: OUP), edited by Joan Kerr, she contributed a short biography of Thomas James Nevin together with Geoffrey Stilwell's on page 568. Their entry dismisses the claim made by Chris Long in the mid 1980s, published in 1995, that A. H. Boyd might have photographed convicts at Port Arthur  or that he was a photographer at all. They stated:
Some of the seventy cartes-de-visite identification photographs of Port Arthur convicts taken in the 1870s (QVMAG) at about the time the settlement was closed (1876) have been attributed to Nevin because they carry his studio stamp. He possibly held the government contract for this sort of criminal recording work, although Long believes that he was merely a printer or copyist and suggests that the most probable photographer was the commandant A. H. Boyd. However, professional photographers were employed to take identification photographs in Australian prisons from the beginning of the 1870s (see Charles Nettleton) and while a collection of standard portrait photographs and hand-coloured cartes-de-visite undoubtedly by Nevin is in the Archives Office of Tasmania no photographs by Boyd are known.

Information: J.S. Kerr, G.T. Stilwell
These two photohistorians, in other words, resisted Chris Long and his "belief", and rightly so Professor Joan Kerr included on page 568 in the entry for Thomas Nevin one of these photographs, a "booking photograph" of Thomas Harrison (middle row, centre) :

Caption: "Thomas Harrison - 3 months for being idle and disorderly"
Detail of the poster above. Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2009 ARR.

This is Stilwell and Kerr's entry for Thomas J. Nevin, on p. 568, The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870 (1992) which included the booking shot of prisoner Thomas Harrison:

Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2010 ARR.
Entry for Thomas J. Nevin, pp 568-9
The Dictionary of Australian artists : painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, edited by Joan Kerr.
Publisher: Melbourne : Oxford University Press, 1992.
Description: xxii, 889 p. : ill., facsims., ports. ; 27 cm.

Recto and verso of cdv of prisoner Thomas Harrison.
Photographer: T. J. Nevin
QVMAG Ref: 1985:P:113

William Smith per Gilmore 3
This photograph of convict William Smith per Gilmore 3 (below, top line, centre) is one of the several extant prisoner photographs which Thomas Nevin stamped verso with the Royal Arms colonial warrant to indicate his status as government photographer for the Municipal Police Office and Prisons Department:

Detail: poster inclusion of reproduction of Nevin's photograph of William Smith
Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2009 ARR.

This original carte-de-visite bearing T. J. Nevin's government contract stamp is a prison identification photograph of William Smith per Gilmore 3 held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston.

Recto and verso of convict Smith carte with T. J. Nevin's government contractor stamp
Carte numbered "199" on recto
QVMAG 1985:p131 & AOT Ref: 30-3244.

Why does this carte of Smith bear T. J. Nevin’s studio stamp? The question has been asked by photo historians with little consideration to the realities of government tender. It is not a commercial stamp but one signifying the photographer's status as a government contractor. This prisoner cdv was one of several chosen by Thomas J. Nevin to register and access his commission with Treasury, and renew his contract under the terms of the tender. Only one was required per batch of 100, the verso studio stamp serving to identify the photographer’s joint copyright under contract. The registration lasted 14 years from the second year of registration (1872-1874 to 1886).

Prison and Police Records for William Smith

1. Description of William Smith per Gilmore 3

[Above]: Description of William Smith per Gilmore 3, 27 years old, 5'5½ tall. Distinguishing marks - two large blue marks on face MA woman. fish bird WxS 1835 on right arm bird form 1817. PHEASANT bird below elbow left arm. G.S. heart T.S above elbow etc
Source: TAHO Ref:CON18-1-36_00104_L

[Below]: Prisoner no. 9438, SMITH, William: The record below was incomplete, noted on his police gazette record when received from Port Arthur. His Ticket of Leave was gazetted on 5-9 September 1873 when T. J. Nevin first photographed him. Smith was then convicted of larceny in 1875, and of burglary and uttering in 1879. He was discharged to freedom, on 9th June 1883.

Prisoner no. 9438, SMITH, William
TAHO Ref: CON33-1-39_00262_L

POLICE RECORDS for William Smith per Gilmore 3:

William Smith per Gilmore 3 was discharged with a Ticket Of Leave on 10 September 1873, received from Port Arthur. Note that his age and physical measurements were not recorded at the Police Office because he was not in reality there at Port Arthur, and no photograph existed prior to his release. When Thomas Nevin photographed him on discharge in 1873, William Smith was dressed and ready for freedom. The photograph exhibits a degree of liminality of the prisoner's state: free on a ticket of leave but classed as a criminal. William Smith re-offended again in April 1874, and was discharged 12 months later.

Wm Smith discharged 1st April, 1875. Photographed again on release by T. J. Nevin.

Suspicion attaches to William Smith per Gilmore 3, 23rd April, 1875

Wm Smith per Gilmore 3 Warrant for arrest 23 April 1875.

Thomas Nevin's face-to-contact with William Smith while photographing him was used as an adjunct in the written description issued by police of Smith's coming under suspicion for theft just three weeks after his release on 1st April, 1875. Smith was arrested 3 months later in July 1875.

William Smith was arrested at Richmond, notice of 9th July, 1875.

Thomas Nevin photographed William Smith wearing the prisoner issue black leathern cap. This photograph was taken on the prisoner's incarceration at the Hobart Gaol, in July 1875. The visitor to the Hobart Gaol in 1882 noted this uniform with the cap in his report to the Mercury, (as above), on 8th July 1882:
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.
Source: HOBART GAOL AND PENAL ESTABLISHMENT. (1882, July 8). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), p. 2 (The Mercury Supplement ) from

William Smith per Gilmore 3. Photo by Thomas Nevin, July 1875
Verso with Nevin's government contractor stamp
Mitchell Library NSW PXB 274 No.1
Photo copyright © KLW NFC 2009 Arr

The first prisoner carte-de-visite of William Smith per Gilmore 3 is numbered "199". This, the second photograph by T. J. Nevin of the same prisoner William Smith is numbered "200". The numbers were applied when these two photographs among several dozen more were salvaged by John Watt Beattie from the Hobart Gaol Sheriff's Office ca. 1915 and displayed in his museum in Hobart from 1898. Some were sent to an exhibition at the Royal Hotel in Sydney in 1916 in conjunction with a display of convictaria associated with the fake convict hulk Success.

William Smith per Gilmore 3 was sentenced to a further 4 years in December 1879, per this record from the Hobart Supreme Court Rough Calendar: No. 9438 William Smith per Gilmore 3,
Original sentence was for Life. Pleaded guilty on 9 December 1879 for Breaking and entering a dwelling house of George Manning of Richmond - date not given on warrant. Found guilty, sentenced to 4 years, 9.12.79

Rough Calendar Hobart Supreme Court. TAHO Ref: GD70-1-1 Page 79

William Smith at TROVE
Employees of the State Library of Tasmania who devise records for the search engine TROVE at the National Library of Australia apparently wish to suppress the fact that Thomas J. Nevin photographed this and many more prisoners in the 1870s with catalogue entries such as the one below (webshot) - "No photographer name or studio stamp appears on the original photograph", in accordance with the vague prevarications and error of the few authors, e.g Warwick Reeder 1995; Chris Long, 1995, etc, which appeared in print, for example, the A-Z directory Tasmanian photographers 1840-1940, Winter, G. (ed) 1995, published by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. The game of politics over T. J. Nevin's photographic works has a certain appeal in tiny enclaves, it seems.

Webshot 2013.
This is incorrect – Nevin’s government contractor stamp is on the verso of this cdv held at the QVMAG. How about correcting your catalogue entry, Trove?

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