Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Nevin farm burglariously entered 1881

Less than a month after the death of his friend, Wesleyan preacher William Genge on the 17th January 1881, Thomas Nevin's father, John Nevin (1808-1887) was burgled at the Nevin cottage in Kangaroo Valley, Hobart, which adjoined his orchards, school and Wesleyan chapel.

My Cottage in the Wilderness

"My Cottage in the Wilderness" by John Nevin, 1868. Mitchell Library NSW
Photo © KLW NFC 2009 Arr

John Nevin's two surviving adult sons, Thomas and Jack, had long resided elswhere in North Hobart, and his wife Mary (b. 1810), mother of his four children, had died in 1875. His two daughters were also deceased: Rebecca (1868) and Mary Anne (1879), but he did not live alone. John Nevin's second wife, widow Martha Salter nee Genge, aged 46 when they married in 1879, was the daughter of his recently deceased friend and preacher William Genge (Source: Tasmanian Pioneer Index: 711/1879/RGD:37). John Nevin was 71 yrs old when he married Martha, and 73 yrs old at the time of the burglary.

John Nevin by Thomas Nevin ca 1874

John Nevin (1808-1887) from the scrapbook of grandson George Nevin
Photo by his son Thomas Nevin ca 1874
Copyright © The Private Collection of Denis Shelverton ARR.

Thomas Nevin took this photo of his father John Nevin in the studio at 140 Elizabeth Street, Hobart Town, ca. 1874. He must have decided it appropriate to capture his father in the pose of writing as John Nevin was indeed a writer. His early poem, published in 1868 and titled "My Cottage in the Wilderness", is held at the Mitchell Library, SLNSW, in the David Scott Mitchell Collection.

A fortnight after William Genge's death, John Nevin published another poem, a ten stanza lament, dated 31st January 1881, entitled:

"Lines written on the sudden and much lamented death of Mr William Genge who died at the Wesleyan Chapel, Melville-street, Hobart on the morning of 17th January 1881, in the 73rd year of his age" .

Lament on Genge by John Nevin 1881

Lament by John Nevin 1881
Copy courtesy of the State Library of Tasmania 2006
Click on image for readable version

So, on the night of the burglary, February 16th, 1881, in all probability Martha, the grieving daughter of the deceased, and her husband John Nevin were elsewhere in Hobart, at Martha's parents' home or at the Wesleyan Chapel, Melville Street, attending to William Genge's estate, and consoling his widow Mary Slade.

William and Mary Genge late 1870s

Pictured here are Martha's parents, Wesleyan preacher William Genge (1808-1881), the subject of John Nevin's lament, taken with wife Mary Slade (d. 1891) in Hobart. It possibly dates to the late 1870s, and is unattributed. Genealogical information on the Genge family and photo provided by Louise Genge (November 2007).

John Nevin reported the burglary to the police and to his youngest son Jack, Constable W. J. Nevin. This notice appeared on the front page of the weekly police gazette, Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, two days later on 18th February 1881:

John Nevin burgled 1881

Burglary on 16 Feb 1881 at the Nevin farm, Kangaroo Valley
Tasmania Reports of Crime 18 February 1881.

During the night of the 16th instant the dwelling of John Nevin, Kangaroo Valley, was burglariously entered, and the following articles stolen there-from: - 2 white shirts, one much worn; 2 Scotch twill shirts, one has a patch of different material across the shoulder, the other broken at the elbow; 1 old flannel shirt, stained in front; 1 white pillow-slip; 2 jars of raspberry jam; 2 lbs. soap; 2 lbs. bacon; the property of and shirts identifiable by John Nevin.

The burglar may well have known why John Nevin and his wife Martha would not be at home. The stolen goods were life's basic necessities - old shirts, soap, bacon, raspberry jam - so the culprit intended no harm to John Nevin who would have given the intruder the shirt off his back in any case, just for the asking. The stolen goods were not recovered, and no one was prosecuted, not at least according to the police gazettes for the years 1881-1885.

John Nevin father of Thomas 1879 electoral roll

Glenorchy district electoral roll 1879, John Nevin,

occupancy of the School House and dwelling at Kangaroo Valley

The cottage that John Nevin built at Kangaroo Valley
“T.J. Nevin Photo” inscribed on verso, 1868.
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint & The Liam Peters Collection 2010.

Vernacular or art? Nevin at the threshold in 1874

Vernacular photographies are anything that is not used as "art" ...

Geoff Batchen Genius of Photography BBC

TV snapshot of Geoff Batchen
Episode 1, The Genius of Photography: Fixing the Shadow (BBC 2007)
Broadcast on ABC HDTV February 2010.

Thomas J. Nevin began his photographic career in the mid 1860s within the urban free-settler society of a British penal colony - Hobart Tasmania. His apprenticeships were served with the highly commercial portrait photographers Alfred Bock, H. H. Baily and Charles A. Woolley. A lifelong partnership with the prolific Samuel Clifford, who advertised the sale of thousands of street views and landscape stereographs, ensured Nevin's livelihood as a stereographer during the late 1860s to the early 1870s. In 1872 his portraiture services were requested by the Nevin family solicitor and Attorney-General W.R. Giblin to provide the police and prison authorities with mugshots.

Thomas J. Nevin is somewhat remarkable in that his photographic records for the police, especially from the years 1872-1880s, are among the earliest to survive in Australian public collections and that his prisoner portraits are claimed as both art and vernacular photography. His portraiture techniques applied to judicial photography were "artistic" in a way that the mugshots produced by prison photographers in jurisdictions elsewhere  such as Victoria & NSW, in Australia, and Millbank and Pentonville, in the UK were unequivocal, documentary captures. Nevin's prisoner photographs were not only posed, printed and framed as commercial portraits - either soft-focus framing or vignetted with darker backcloths - in some instances, they were also hand-coloured for heightened realism.


William Campbell, hanged as Job Smith 1875
NLA Collection nla.pic-vn4270353
Hand-tinted vignetted and mounted prisoner portrait by T.J. Nevin 1874
Photos taken at the National Library of Australia, 7th Feb 2015
Photos copyright © KLW NFC 2015 ARR. Watermarked.

Recto and verso in vignetted format within a dark mount of the hand-coloured carte-de-visite of prisoner Job Smith aka William Campbell .
Photographer: T. J. Nevin 1874. TMAG Collection Ref: Q15578.

Recto and verso of the same hand-coloured carte-de-visite in a buff mount of prisoner Job Smith alias Campbell alias Boodle.
Photographer: T. J. Nevin 1874. TMAG Collection Ref: Q15572

Walter Johnstone aka Henry Bramall aka Taylor
NLA Collection nla.pic-vn4270027
Vignette on left, not tinted but mounted, and hand-tinted mounted cdv
Original prisoner mugshots by T. J. Nevin 1874
Photos recto and verso taken at the National Library of Australia, 7th Feb 2015
Photos copyright © KLW NFC 2015 ARR. Watermarked.

Thomas Nevin displayed these images in his shop window at 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart to aid the public in recognizing a man wanted on warrant, as well as arranging a Rogues Gallery at the Town Hall Municipal Police Office where he was Hall and Office-keeper by 1876. "Photograph in this office" was announced accompanying warrants in the weekly Tasmanian police gazettes by 1874. A number of extant examples of T. J. Nevin's photographs of prisoners were stamped verso with the wording "T. J. Nevin, Photographic Artist" inside the government's Royal Arms insignia to signify joint copyright as government contractor with the Lands and Survey Department, the Police Department, and the Hobart City Corporation's Municipal Police Office at the Hobart Town Hall.

Prisoner photographs by T. J. Nevin 1875-78
David Scott Mitchell Collection, SLNSW Ref: PXB 274)

Scant attention has been accorded to Thomas J. Nevin's original place in Australian photography as one of the first photographers working with police. Petty arguments in the late 20th century have arisen around his photographer attribution by art-trained photohistorians and their essentialist neo-modernist notions of aesthetics, power and the artist. Apart from Ann-Marie Willis and her "concern for the ordinary" exemplified in her discussion of police inspector Paul Foeschle's Northern Territory images of Aborigines, few have wondered why there has never been a strong focus on our vernacular photographies. This is the challenge set forth by Geoff Batchen in his publication Each Wild Idea (MIT Press, 2002):

Geoff Batchen Genius of Photography BBC

TV snapshot of Geoff Batchen
Episode 1, The Genius of Photography: Fixing the Shadow (BBC 2007)
Broadcast on ABC HDTV February 2010.

Geoff Batchen Each Wild Idea 2002

Extract: Preface by Geoff Batchen,
Each Wild Idea p. viii (MIT 2002).
Limited preview at Google Books.

In the first episode of the six-part series The Genius of Photography: Fixing the Shadow(BBC 2007), the "vernacular" is defined as any photography that is not "art": postcards, insurance records, passport photos, touristic photos, court documents, scientific images, forensic photographs taken at crime scenes etc etc.

The Genius Of Photography Deel 1 from Marcel Wiegerinck on Vimeo.

Below are more TV snapshots from Episode 1:

Genius of Photography BBC

Genius of Photography BBC

Genius of Photography BBCGenius of Photography BBC

Genius of Photography BBCGenius of Photography BBC

Genius of Photography BBCGenius of Photography BBC

Genius of Photography BBCGenius of Photography BBC

TV snapshots from Episode 1, The Genius of Photography: Fixing the Shadow (BBC 2007), broadcast on ABC HDTV February 2010.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tricks of the prison limner and sitter 1866

SILENT WITNESS forensic identification

While some prisons and jurisdictions in England had begun judicial and prison photography by 1859, the practice was not adopted in NSW until 1871. Tasmania and Victoria followed the NSW example in 1872.

At least three prisons in England - Millbank, Pentonville and Leicester - had begun the systematic photographing of prisoners by the early 1860s. The Bedford Gaol database has 99 photographs online (as at 2010)  which date from 1859 to 1877, and include several women, some photographed in prison clothing, others in street clothes. For example, Catherine May was photographed in prison clothing between her trial in April and her death in September 1863, while Mary Luddock aka Woods was booked and photographed on arrest in civilian clothes, and the same shot was pasted to her record:

Catherine May 1863 recordCatherine May 1863

Catherine May, 1863: mugshot and record
Courtesy of The Bedford Gaol Database

Mary Luddock aka Woods, booking photo in street clothes
The same photograph was pasted to her criminal record sheet,
Millbank 1872. Photo courtesy Bedford Gaol Database

John Robinson, booking photograph and record
Millbank Prison 1861
Courtesy Bedford Gaol Database

Similar images were taken of the men. In nearly every one of these 99 photographs dating from 1859 to 1877, the prisoner is photographed three-quarter length, to just below the knee, with eyes towards the camera, and in many instances with the back of the hands visibly displayed on their laps. The techniques used by the prison photographer were basic. None of the mugshots betray a commercial background of the photographer; none are mounted or framed as vignettes as were Thomas J. Nevin's mugshots dating from 1872, nor posed in the tradition of studio carte-de-visite portraiture.

This prisoner, William Jones, was sentenced and photographed at Millbank in 1861, transported on the Norwood in 1862 to Western Australia, and released with a Certificate of Freedom issued at Perth, WA, in 1868.

William Jones, mugshot taken at Millbank 1861

William Jones, mugshot taken at Millbank 1861.
Courtesy Bedford Gaol Database.

“… the prison limner is not often favoured with willing sitters …”
Commercial photographer Thomas J. Nevin's government contract as “prison limner” in Tasmania commenced in February 1872. His sitters knew of the tricks to frustrate a successful result: giving the photographer an alias; sudden movements at the moment of exposure; putting on mock airs; contorting facial features; and refusing altogether to co-operate. It is a testimony to Nevin’s perseverance and amiability that the majority of his extant mugshots depict men who appear placated rather than intimidated.

The “booking photograph” taken of the offender on arrest was an established practice by 1866, according to this statement from The Photographic News 1866 (p.525):
A strange and sad gallery of portraits, not quite denuded of individuality by close-cropped hair and prison grey garb ; the portraits being often secured in the guise in which the culprit comes into the hands of justice…
Extant examples of Thomas J. Nevin’s photographs taken in the 1870s of Tasmanian prisoners – or “convicts”, the archaic term used in Tasmanian tourism discourse up to the present – number more than 300 in Australian public collections. Thomas J. Nevin was a government contractor for the Lands and Survey from 1868, commissioned by his family solicitor, Attorney-General W.R. Giblin, who extended the contract to photograph prisoners for the colonial administration of Tasmania in early 1872, less than a year after the government of NSW authorised the Inspector of Prisons, Harold McLean, to commence the photographing of all prisoners convicted in the NSW Superior Courts. The colony of New South Wales had already introduced the practice of photographing prisoners twice, firstly on entry to prison and secondly near the end of their term of incarceration by January 1872 when this report was published in the Sydney Morning Herald. The purpose of the visit to the Port Arthur prison by Sir John O'Shanassy, former Premier of Victoria, and Howard Spensley, Solicitor-General of Victoria with photographer Thomas Nevin and the Tasmanian Attorney-General the Hon. W. R. Giblin on 1st February 1872 in the company of visiting British author Anthony Trollope, was to establish a similar system for processing prisoners through the central Municipal Police Office, Hobart Town Hall on their relocation from the dilapidated and dysfunctional Port Arthur prison to the Hobart Gaol in Campbell St. The few remaining prisoners at Port Arthur were returned to Hobart from mid-1873 to early 1874. Some were photographed by Nevin at Port Arthur, but the majority were photographed by Nevin on arrival in Hobart.

Photography and Prisons
The Sydney Morning Herald 10 January 1872

PHOTOGRAPHY AND PRISONS.-We understand that, at the instance of Inspector-General McLerie, Mr. Harold McLean, the Sheriff, has recently introduced into Darlinghurst gaol the English practice of photographing all criminals in that establishment whose antecedents or whose prospective power of doing mischief make them, in the judgment of the police authorities, eligible for that distinction. It is an honour, however, which has to be ” thrust ” upon some men, for they shrink before the lens of the photographer more than they would quail before the eye of a living detective. The reluctance of such worthies in many cases can only be conquered by the deprivation of the ordinary gaol indulgencies; and even then they submit with so bad a grace that their acquiescence is feigned rather than real. The facial contortions to which the more knowing ones resort are said to be truly ingenious. One scoundrel will assume a smug and sanctimonious aspect, while another will chastise his features into an expression of injured innocence or blank stupidity which would almost defy recognition. They are pursued, however, through all disguises, and when a satisfactory portrait is obtained copies are transferred to the black books of the Inspector-General. The prisoners are first ” taken” in their own clothes on entering the gaol, and the second portrait is produced near the expiration of their sentence. When mounted in the police album, the cartes-de-visite, if we may so style them, are placed between two columns, one containing a personal description of the offender, and the other a record of his criminal history. Briefer or more comprehensive biographies have probably never been framed. Copies of these photographs are sent to the superintendents of police in the country districts, and also to the adjoining colonies. To a certain extent photography has proved in England an effective check upon crime, and it is obviously calculated to render most valuable aid in the detection of notorious criminals. New South Wales is, we understand, the only Australian colony which has yet adopted this system ; but the practice is likely soon to become general.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald. (1872, January 10). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved from

Following the NSW government example, Thomas Nevin photographed men convicted in the Hobart Supreme Court who were housed on remand in the adjoining Hobart Gaol. Those men who were convicted in regional courts with sentences longer than three months were transferred to the Hobart Goal, Campbell St. He took at least two original photographs of the prisoner, on different occasions: the first, the booking shot, was taken on entry into the prison, sometimes when the prisoner was unshaved and in street clothing as soon as convicted; the second was taken fourteen days prior to the prisoner’s discharge. The same negative was reprinted if the prisoner was an habitual offender in and out of gaol year after year until the negative was beyond further use, or the prisoner's appearance had significantly changed. Additional prisoner photographs were taken by T. J. Nevin at the Port Arthur penitentiary between 1872 and 1874, and at the Cascades Prison for Males with the assistance of his younger brother Constable John Nevin in the unusual circumstance of the transfer of 103 prisoners from the Port Arthur prison to the Hobart Gaol at the request of the Parliament in 1873. Up to six duplicates were produced from each negative. Although the glass plates seem to have been lost, original unmounted prints from Nevin's 1870s negatives survive, principally in the QVMAG collection.

Booking photograph of convict Thomas Harrison by T. J. Nevin, 19 January 1874
TAHO Ref: 30-3252c; QVMAG Ref: 1985:P:113 (published, Kerr ed. 1992)

Two photographs of convict Francis Shearan, taken by Thomas Nevin.
Left: the "booking shot" 1877
Right: sentenced eight years for murder 15 May 1878.
Mitchell Library SLNSW PXB 274

By 1875, the phrase "Photo in this office" was published next to warrant notices in the weekly police gazettes, Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, especially for offenders from other colonial jurisdictions, and sometimes those photos depicting the suspect were obtained from family albums taken as personal mementoes rather than police mugshots taken previously for the judiciary. These photos were often displayed as a Rogues' Gallery in the windows of the local newspaper office as well as along the walls of the Hobart Town Hall Municipal Police Office.

See this extensive selection and links from the national collections:
All of these prisoner photographs from the 1870s were originally used by police and the judiciary in the course of daily surveillance, arraignment and discharge at the Hobart Gaol and pasted into the  Photo Books, collated with the Hobart Municipal Police Office and Supreme Court registers. Numbering and inscriptions on the extant images indicate that more than 300 photographs of prisoners mounted as cartes-de-visite were salvaged from the Sheriff's Office at the Hobart Gaol in the early 1900s by Beattie's studio for display and sale to tourists as part of the Tasmanian government's campaign to attract intercolonial visitors to the ruins of the Port Arthur prison. In the late 20th century, these "convict portraits" of 1870s prisoners  have been recontextualised within two types of discourse: promotion to World Heritage status of Port Arthur using Tasmania's penal heritage as a theme park for the tourist industry; and modern and post-modern art history aesthetics (eg. Long, Crombie, Ellis 2007).

Prisoner William Ryan
See this post:
Photographer; Thomas J. Nevin (name, date, and "60" on verso, together with Ryan's name and ship)
At Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Prisoners: James Mullins and William Smith
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin, Hobart Gaol 1875
CDVs, recto and verso, held at the Mitchell Library State Library of NSW

Prisoner William Smith
Photographer; Thomas J. Nevin
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery

Prisoner: George Fisher
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin, Hobart Gaol 1874
At the National Library of Australia's collection

Prisoner Hugh Cohen
Photographer: Thomas J. Nevin
The Hobart Gaol Photo books and Hobart Gaol camera
Photocopies of the QVMAG collection at TAHO

The crime museum at Scotland Yard dates the first rogues' galleries at 1862. Scotland Yard used commercial photographers from 1862 right through to 1901. The early reports of the efforts of prison governors such as Gardiner in Bristol from 1854 no doubt influenced by analogy a rather pretentious attempt at the misattribution of Thomas Nevin's Tasmanian prisoner photographs to the Port Arthur Commandant A.H. Boyd in 1874 (Chris Long, Gillian Winter, 1995). The analogy not only ignored the significant gap in photo-history between 1852 and 1874, but stretched the analogy to create a photographer "artist" of A. H. Boyd who was not a photographer by any definition of the term, who was not known as a photographer in his own lifetime, and no works are known to exist by A.H. Boyd today. See this article here on what can only be termed a parasitic attribution.

Many prisoners who were photographed in Tasmania habitually wore prisoner clothing, whether free in servitude to an employer or completely incarcerated, so in some sense many more of his mugshots - and most do depict men in prison uniform - were also "booking photographs" taken on arrest. For other occasions, such as discharge on a ticket-of-leave or release to freedom, the (ex)prisoner was required to report to the Municipal Police Office where Nevin and his assistant Louis Marks dressed him up once again in prisoner clothing as an updated record for future reference (! - no they didn't - we just made up this red herring about convict clothing for the ardent blog scrapers in the hope that they publish it, in particular for those for whom the pretensions of the parasitic attribution are most cherished.)

Extracts from pps 524-525 of The Photographic News London 1866.

The credit which has been denied to photography on the score of art capacity must be conceded to its literal fidelity in rendering facts. That it is not imaginative, that it cannot modify or omit details from its presentments, becomes, in many cases, its cardinal virtue. If it nothing extenuate, it sets down naught in malice, and when it enters the witness-box, its evidence leaves little room for doubt. Hence it has taken an important place as an auxiliary to the administration of justice, both in civil and criminal cases. In multiplying indisputable fac-similes of important documents, in indicating pictorially the relative positions of disputed territory, its use is obvious. But it is in its aid to the discovery of identity in persons charged with crime that its legal use is most important. Nearly twelve years ago, Mr. J. A. Gardiner, Governor of Bristol Gaol, addressed a letter to the Governors of Her Majesty's gaols generally, pointing out the importance of preserving a photographic record of the prisoners under their charge—a veritable rogue's gallery! which might be a rare study to the disciples of Lavater. It was not with a view to the study and classification of physiognomical types that Mr. Gardiner proposed to secure sun drawings of his enforced guests, but solely with a view to their identification when they visited gaol a second time. " It is well known to all," he said, " who have been concerned in criminal administration, that the most cunning, the most skilled, and the most daring offenders, are migratory in their habits ; that they do not locate themselves in any particular town or district. but extend their ravages to wherever there is the most open field for crime ;" the best planned robberies, he adds, being rarely conducted by the resident thieves in any district. This migratory, or Bohemian tendency, diminished the risk of identification in the exact ratio in which it brought the criminals within fresh judicial districts and under fresh official inspection, and often permitted expert professional thieves, hardened criminals, to pass off lightly as first offenders, only just stepping out of the path of rectitude. Written descriptions were rarely found sufficiently precise for identification, and hence Mr. Gardiner was induced to try photography, which he found most efficient for the purpose, and strongly recommended for systematic adoption to bis brother governors. The success which attended the partial adoption of this plan induced a Select Committee of (The House of Lords, on whose Report the Prison Act of 1866 was framed, to recommend its universal adoption in Her Majesty's prisons. For some unexplained reason, the Secretary of State did not see fit to adopt the recommendation, and photography is only employed where the governors of gaols themselves see its importance....

Where the system is adopted, the portrait of every criminal is taken as soon as he arrives at the gaol, and prints from this negative are circulated, attached to a printed form, in which a description is given, including details of age, height, complexion, hair, eyes, nose, whiskers, and specific marks, and also the account which the prisoner gives of his place of birth, last residence, education, trade, religion, &c. The circular, containing the portrait and these particulars, is forwarded by the governor to the governor of a neighbouring gaol, stating that " the prisoner above described is in custody for trial;" and a request is added that, if he is recognized as having been in custody before, particulars may be forwarded, and also that the circular may be forwarded to the next gaol marked in the route annexed. Thus the document passes through a prescribed route, receiving, as it travels, the testimony of various governors, intimating that the prisoner is " not known," or that he was convicted at any former period, generally under some other name than that now assumed, and is finally returned to the gaol from whence it was issued, furnishing at times curious facts in the statistics of crime, and in the biography of gaol-birds....

As may readily be conceived, the prison limner is not often favoured with willing sitters, and strange are the devices by which the cunning of the criminal is manifested in evading this unerring mode of personal identification, which he regards as taking a mean advantage of him. Some treat the attempt with open defiance, resolutely refusing to sit still during the operation ; others, with a mock air of submission, sit perfectly quiet during the preliminary arrangements and focussing operation, but move sufficiently at the vital moment of exposure; others, who pretend to have no objection to be portrayed, contrive to produce such an amount of facial contortion, by squinting, twisting of the mouth, &c, as will effectually destroy identity in the portrait. In some cases this cunning is met with resolute perseverance, and in others with stratagem, so that in all cases a sufficiently characteristic likeness is obtained. One governor informs us that he generally contrives that the operation shall take place just before dinner, and refractory sitters are informed that no dinner will be dispensed until the portrait has been obtained, a practical argument, the force of which is generally recognised. In another gaol, after the sitter has, by movement or contortion, baffled the portraitist, he, or still more commonly she, is handed to a seat in a well-lighted place, to rest awhile and watch the operation repeated with the next criminal. The sitter, just rejoicing in the cunning which has defeated the attempt of the photographer, generally sits perfectly still, watching with eager interest the operation for which another is sitting. In the meantime, a concealed camera, within range of which the first victim had been placed, is doing its work, and a natural and characteristic likeness is obtained of the unconscious criminal, who had apparently retired master of the situation....

A strange and sad gallery of portraits, not quite denuded of individuality by close-cropped hair and prison grey garb ; the portraits being often secured in the guise in which the culprit comes into the hands of justice.....

A series forwarded to the writer, by the excellent governor of Carlisle Gaol, himself an accomplished photographer, might furnish a mournful theme for the moralist. Not all brutalized, or besotted, or sinister ; not all with the forehead villainous low, the square jaw, the coarse mouth, or the eye of wild beast; but in more cases a weak and weary, or a craven and humbled look. Some of the faces remind us painfully of another series of portraits, taken by Dr. Hugh Diamond, of insane persons, and suggest to us the connection between diseased morals and diseased minds, between crime and insanity. Physiognomy, to the careful observer, may often, doubtless, indicate tendencies of character, and suggest phases of mental history. None of the portraits before us look intellectual, or suggest culture ; they are mostly of a low type; but there is nothing to suggest the dogged, resisting, vindictive beings, with overhanging felon-brow and sunken cruel eyes, which sensation writers at times attribute to the criminal classes. They are rather examples of God's image degraded and enfeebled by neglect; plants which resemble weeds, because left without culture. The only portrait marked as that of a murderer is that of a weak but not imbecile-looking old man, the mildest in expression amongst a score of criminals....

Photography, as the auxiliary of the detective in tracking the criminal flying from justice, renders most important service.* The photograph of Muller, the murderer of Mr. Briggs, became practically his death warrant. It supplied the jeweller, who bought the plundered chain, with a means of identifying the foreign-looking person who sold it, and rendered the officer of justice, who had never seen him, familiar with his features, so that he detected him amongst the crowd of passengers on the deck of the " Victoria " when on a fine summer day, it entered the bay of New York, to give, in a few hours, the murderer liberty in a new world. The "card" of the absconding fraudulent debtor or embezzling clerk is placed in the hands of Inspector Bucket, and he starts off without hesitation to Australia or America to apprehend a man he has never seen. The universality of photographic portraiture has been singularly useful in this respect. There are few men, open in any degree to the sympathies of their kind, who have not at some time sat for a photograph, little dreaming of the weapon it placed in the hands of their pursuers should they at any time step into the paths of crime....

The powers of this silent witness have, however, led to singular exaggeration, and the lovers of the marvellous have been treated from time to time with records of the detection of murderers by the image remaining on the dead *eye of the victim, which, duly magnified and photographed, has borne swift witness against the criminal, it is needless to say that this is an absurd impossibility. The retina of the eye retains the impression of an object so long as that object is before it, as does a mirror, and no longer. It has never been alleged, indeed, that the dead eye retained impressions, except in the case of murdered persons; the common belief in the Nemesis which attends the man-slayer having apparently generated this superstition in the domain of science.
[End of extract]
Source: pps 524-525 of The Photographic News London 1866

RELATED POSTS main weblog:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Constable W.J. Nevin at inquest 1882

NEVIN BROTHERS Thomas J. and John ( Wm John aka Jack)

The Nevin Brothers, Thomas (T. J. Nevin, 1842-1923) and John (W. J. Nevin, 1852-1891) served the Police and Prisons Departments of the Tasmanian government from the late 1860s to the late 1880s. Thomas was contracted as prisons and police photographer by the family solicitor, Attorney-General and later Premier, W.R. Giblin, from 1868, serving the New Town Territorial Police and the Municipal Police, as police photographer (1870s), and during the Chiniquy riots at the Town Hall as special constable (1879). He was also assistant bailiff in the City Police Court and Supreme Court (1880s).

The boy in this stereograph (figure on viewer's left) is Jack Nevin, later Constable John Nevin (William John), younger brother of commercial and police photographer Thomas J. Nevin. Jack is pictured standing next to a prison official who was probably Mr T. P. Ball, Superintendent of the Prisoners Barracks in 1857 at the Campbell Street Gaol.

Hobart Gaol, Campbell St.
Location: W.L. Crowther Library
State Library of Tasmania ADRI: AUTAS001125299420

Family Photographs
Younger brother Jack Nevin's signature pose in this photograph - left hand on hip - also appears in a family group photograph taken a decade later:

This is a very young Jack Nevin ca. 1865, later Constable John Nevin in his favorite pose - left hand on hip - at the Hobart Gaol. Detail of stereo by his older brother Thomas J. Nevin (State Library of Tasmania)

Thomas nevin seated Jack Nevin top right

The Nevin Group Portrait ca. 1870s (detail):
Jack Nevin, top right, Thomas Nevin seated
Copyright © KLW NFC & The Nevin Family Collections 2009 ARR

This is a detail of a group photo, taken in the early 1870s, around the time of Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin's wedding, July 1871, printed on thin paper and unmounted. Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin are both seated, with younger brother Jack Nevin standing in his signature pose, hands on hips again, on viewer's extreme right. The other members of this group may have included Mary Sophia Day, Elizabeth's younger sister, and photographers Alfred Bock and Samuel Clifford.

Constable John (Jack) Nevin was his elder brother's assistant at the Hobart Gaol, Campbell Street during Thomas Nevin's commissions as police photographer in prisons and police courts from 1876 when Thomas Nevin leased his commercial studio and set up studios at the Hobart Gaol and Municipal Police Office, Town Hall. He helped maintain one of their photographic studios in New Town, assisting in the production of stereographs and studio portraits intermittently from the 1860s to the late 1880s. He was employed at the Hobart Gaol under the supervision of the keeper Ringrose Atkins from 1874, and became a Constable on salary at the male prison at Cascades and then at H.M. Prison, Campbell St. Hobart in 1875, serving until his untimely death from typhoid fever at age 39 in 1891.

Constable John (Jack) Nevin ca 1874-6
Photographed by his brother Thomas Nevin
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint Shelverton Private Collection 2006-2009 ARR.

In this image on thin paper and unmounted, Jack Nevin's brother Thomas captured him in a relaxed standing pose leaning on a book, the usual signifier of literacy in 19th century portraits, wearing a shirt, tie, fob watch, and three piece suit with velvet collars. In the later photograph (below) taken ca. 1880, Jack Nevin looks very relaxed and very savvy about the process of being photographed. His gaze is direct and very keen, his clothes suitable for everyday work in a foul place such as a prison. His salaried positions were primarily in administration, with a career path and ranking similar to the Keeper's. Older brother Thomas Nevin had been a Keeper too of a public institution, at the Hobart Town Hall between 1876-1880; a special constable during the Chiniquy Riots of 1879; Office Keeper for the Hobart City Corporation; and assistant bailiff in the courts during the 1880s. Constable John Nevin's presence at the Hobart Gaol points to a close family involvement by both Nevin brothers with prisoner documentation - visual and written.

Constable W. J. (Jack) Nevin ca. 1880.
Photo taken by his brother Thomas Nevin
Copyright © KLW NFC Private Collections 2009 ARR

In the Constabulary
This record of Jack Nevin's application to the Constabulary Tasmania, signed by the Sheriff on 28th February 1877, not only gives details of Jack's former employment at the Cascades Goal for Males between  August 1875 and April 1876, it details his physical characteristics: aged 25, single, height nearly 5ft 6",  educated but not too well, a labourer by trade, a Wesleyan by religion and Belfast born, arriving free on the Fairlie (1852). He was of course no more than a babe in arms in 1852, noted on the ship's sick lists, but this record shows no physical deformity or disease as an adult. These records are crudely categorical, as we know that Jack Nevin was highly literate, the son of a journalist and poet, and brother of spelling-bee whizz, his sister Mary Ann, and brother too of Thomas, a police photographer with powerful political mentors. Because he was an amateur rather than professional photographer, his trade is listed as "labourer", i.e. no specialist apprenticeship or profession.

W.J. Nevin Applications to join the Constabulary Tasmania 1877 and 1881
Records courtesy State Library of Tasmania

While a constable at the Cascade Gaol for Males, Constable Nevin was involved in an incident which was reported in the Mercury, 27 October, 1875:

Constable Nevin, Mercury, 27 October 1875

Constable Nevin, Mercury, 27 October 1875.

Tuesday 26th October, 1875
Before Mr. Tarleton, Police Magistrate
PEACE DISTURBERS. - Robert Evans and William Inman were charged by Constable Pearce, of the Cascades, with having disturbed the peace in Upper Macquarie-street on the 24th inst. The defendants pleaded "not guilty". Constables Pearce and Nevin, of the Cascades, proved that the defendants were throwing stones and making a disturbance. The Police Magistrate said that in Upper Macquarie-street there existed the roughest of lads in Hobart Town. He would sentence both defendants to 14 days' imprisonment, and warn them that on proof of a second they would probably be birched.
On 24th November 1881, Jack Nevin's second application - a renewal of the 1877 application - to the Constabulary Tasmania was again signed by the Sheriff. Aged 27, his details are more general on this form: religion is listed simply as "Protestant" and birthplace simply "Ireland" but he is still single - living with his parents at Kangaroo Valley - and still free of disease or deformity. His service at Cascades and the Hobart Gaol is listed, as is the lack of a trade. On his death certificate, his employment was registered as "Gaol Messenger", a rank which covered photographic duties and office administration.

 Signed 24th November 1881, Constable (Wm) John Nevin's second application - a renewal of the 1877 application - to the Constabulary Tasmania. Records courtesy State Library of Tasmania.

Death by Gunshot Wound at the Quarry 1882

View from the hill above Quarry to the Hobart Gaol
Courtesy Archives Office of Tasmania
Ref: 30-5718c. Unattributed, ca. 1885.

On the 14 May 1882, Constable W. J. Nevin was on duty at 11.45am when the guard in the sentry box on the hill at the Quarry behind the stone-shed near the Hobart Gaol failed to return. Constable Nevin was dispatched to investigate and found the guard, Frank Green, dying of a gunshot wound. "I am shot, John" were Green's dying words as Nevin lifted his head.

John Nevin Mercury 15 May 1882
Constable Nevin and Constable Green
Death by Gunshot Wound
Mercury, 15 May 1882

... At a quarter to 12, by which time it was usual for the guard to be at his post, Green was not present there, and the officer in charge, Mr. White, despatched Constable Nevin to see what detained him. Constable Nevin ascended the hill, and at the sentry-box situated at the corner of the workings, a little more than midway up the incline, found Green lying on the ground with his feet on the threshold of the box, and his rifle about a yard distant from him. The constable knelt down to lift up the head of the prostrate man, who said , "I am shot; let me alone. " Nevin then ran down and acquainted those in the yard with the accident, and Green was then conveyed to the hospital, where he lingered for half an hour, and then expired. It was found that he had been shot through the abdomen and lungs ...
Frank Green was 21 yrs old, rather tall, a Catholic, single, born in Hobart and a former sailor when he joined the Constabulary for the first time, signed in by the Sheriff on October 1st,  1878.

Frank Green application to join the Constabulary Tasmania 1878
Courtesy State Library of Tasmania

At the inquest held at the Bird-in-Hand Hotel five days later, Constable John Nevin was a key witness. The jury of seven reached a verdict of accidental death. Coroner Tarleton found the guard Frank Green had slipped when about to descend the hill and his double-barrelled breech-loading gun had caught in a string on his coat, discharging a bullet through his abdomen and lung.

Inquest at the Bird-in-Hand, Const. W. J. Nevin's deposition
The Mercury 19 May 1882

Further report of the Coroner's findings on the death of Constable Green
The Tasmanian (Launceston, Tas. : 1881 - 1895)  Sat 20 May 1882  Page 547  TASMANIA.

Electoral Roll 1884
The Electoral Roll of the Electoral District of North Hobart, year commencing 11th April, 1884, showed this entry:

NEVIN, William John
Place of Abode: H.M. Gaol
Nature of qualification: Salary
Particulars of Qualification: H.M. Government

Nevin, William John: Electoral Roll for North Hobart 1884.
Source: Archives Office Tasmania
mfmN206 Tasmania Electoral Roll
Vols: 1884-85;1886;1886-88

North Hobart electoral roll 1884

The Royal Arms insignia on this document and which appeared on all government documents in 19th century Tasmania also appeared on Thomas Nevin's government contractor studio stamp when printed on the verso of convict identification photos taken at the Port Arthur prison and Hobart Town Gaol for the Municipal Police Office, Hobart Town Hall, and on several of his portraits of officials and their families in the employ of the Hobart City Corporation (Mayor's Office, Hobart Town Hall).

Recto and verso of photograph of prisoner Wm Smith per Gilmore (3)
Verso with T. J. Nevin's government contractor stamp printed with the Royal Arms insignia.
Carte numbered "199" on recto
QVMAG Ref: 1985.p.131

The Keeper of H. M. Gaol, Hobart, from the 1st January 1874 was Ringrose Austin Atkins (see record above). He was listed on the Electoral Roll for North Hobart for the year commencing April 11th, 1884 on "salary", and resident at the Gaol in Campbell Street. The gaol was conventionally known as the Campbell Street Gaol [CSG]. In the same year, 1884, William John Nevin was also listed on "salary" at H. M. Gaol, Hobart, and also resident there. His position is not listed, but it is clear that he was in training as Keeper under Ringrose Atkins' supervision. The term "Keeper" denotes a manager of an archive: it is still used as a position title at the Public Records Office of Victoria.

Hon. W. R. Giblin ca. 1874
Photo by T.J. Nevin (verso stamped)
Archives Office of Tasmania Ref: NS1013-1-1971
Family solicitor and mentor to the Nevin brothers, Attorney-General W. R. Giblin (1840-1887)

Map of the old Hobart Gaol
Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2008 ARR
Click on thumbnail for large view

City Police in Uniform, Hobart, late 1880s

City Police, Hobart
Images courtesy Archives Office of Tasmania
Unattributed, ca. 1885
Refs: (top) NS1013-1-19 (below) NS1013-1c.

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