Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Thomas Nevin 1886: assistant bailiff to Inspector Dorsett

In early December 1880, Thomas Nevin was dismissed from the position of "Keeper" at the Hobart Town Hall for inebriation while on duty. The Mayor's Committee expressed deep regret at the dismissal (reported in The Mercury December-January 1880-1881), and mindful of his growing family, the Council decided to retain his photographic services. He was re-assigned to civil service with warrant and photographic duties as assistant bailiff with The Municipal Police Office, located at the Hobart Town Hall. Working principally in the City Police Court and Hobart Supreme Court as assistant to Sub-Inspector John Dorset(t), Nevin continued to provide identification photographs of prisoners up until 1889, a service he had provided for the Prisons Department and MPO since 1872. Many of these mugshots were collated with the Municipal Police Office issued warrants; two death warrants with Nevin's photographs of the condemned man attached (e.g. Sutherland 1883; Stock 1884) now survive intact in the Mitchell Collection at the State Library of NSW.

Death warrant and carte of Sutherland 1883

Click on image for large view
Death Warrants V.D.L (Tasmania, Supreme Court C203).
Photos © KLWNFC 2009 ARR

Above: Nevin's hand-coloured carte-de-visite of prisoner James Sutherland in prison uniform, collated with Sutherland's death warrant, May 1883 (Mitchell Library C203).
Below:This photograph also by T.J. Nevin was the "booking photograph" of Sutherland taken on arrest (NLA Collection).


He called John Dorset, who stated that he employed defendant occasionally as an assistant bailiff.

On July 26, 1886, Inspector John Dorset(t) of the Hobart Town Municipal Police visited Nevin's house with a request for his services. Dorset found a child in bed with the whooping cough, and two weeks later gave testimony to the City Police Court of the situation when Nevin was charged with a Breach of the Education Act by schools truancy inspector Mr Moore for not sending his child to school. Because of Inspector John Dorset's testimony, the charge against Nevin was dropped.

Nevin caused laughter in the court with this comment:

Defendant said that he was the father of a large number of children, and did not know which one was referred to. (Laughter.)

How many is a "large number of children"? Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin were parents of five living children by 1886: Mary (May) born 1872; Thomas (Sonny) born 1874; Sydney born 1876, died 1877; William John born 1878; George born 1880; Mary Ann born 1884. In all probability, it was either William or George who was reported as not attending school. The last child Albert was not yet born: he arrived in 1888, and fathered eight children.

The Mercury
11 August 1886


Thomas Nevin was also charged [ie in addition to other parents for the same breach] with a breach of the Education Act. He pleaded not guilty. Mr Moore gave evidence as to the non-attendance of the child, and said that he had served two notices on defendant requiring him to send the child to school. Defendant said that he was the father of a large number of children, and did not know which one was referred to. (Laughter). He said that his children were bad with the whooping cough. He called John Dorset [sic], who stated that he employed defendant occasionally as an assistant bailiff. He called at defendant's house on the 26th of last month, and one of the children was then bad with the whooping cough. The POLICE MAGISTRATE said that the law laid the onus [italics] on defendant to prove that his children were sick; he had raised some doubts in the minds of the magistrates on this point, and the Bench would give him the benefit of it.

Read the full article and the meaning of the term "a free scholar" in 1886:

Click on: The Mercury 11 August 1886.

As assistant to the bailiff, Nevin accompanied the P.C., Superintendent, or Inspector acting as Bailiff when the warrant was served on a defendant; he was also present when the charge was laid in court, and present again when sentence was passed. On any one of these occasions he photographed the defendant. For example, he accompanied Superintendent George Nichols, P.C. Badcock of the New Town Territorial Police and Sub-Inspector John Dorset (t) in these instances published in the police gazettes:

Superintendent Nichols, 27 March 1874.

Nevin with police 1875

Thomas Nevin assisting P.C. Badcock, April 1875,

Sub-Inspector Dorsett 28 June 1878

Sub-Inspector Dorsett 21 June 1878

Sub-Inspector Dorsett, 10 October 1879

Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police. Govt Printer

Nevin also photographed prisoners again during their incarceration (assisted at the Hobart Gaol, Campbell Street, by his brother Constable W.J. (Jack or John) Nevin, and whenever the prisoner was released or discharged. On any one of these occasions Nevin made duplicates of the one image for circulation to police in Tasmania and if requested, in other Australian States.

Thomas Nevin's photographic techniques applied to the production of prisoner mugshots for police and prison authorities changed over the years. In the early to mid-1870s, his practice was commercial and his techniques reflected the usual studio portraiture methods of the era. By the early 1880s, cognizant of prison photography techniques deployed elsewhere in Australia, in Europe and in America to show full-frontal and profile characteristics of the prisoner, his photographs conformed to prison requirements.

Morrison photo by Nevin

This is one example, of a young prisoner who was originally named as John Morrison in the National Library of Australia’s catalogue, eg. for the NLA exhibition “In a New Light: Australian Photography 1850s-1930s”, 9 Oct. 03-26 Jan. 2004, and renamed as John Norman in 2013.


John Norman, suspected of theft, notice of 14 October 1881, Tasmania Reports of Crime (police gazette)

John Norman, committed for trial for house-breaking, notice of 28 December 1883, Tasmania Reports of Crime (police gazette)

Although the name has changed for the subject of the photograph, the National Library's catalogue entry still retains the impossible photographer attribution to the non-photographer A.H. Boyd, and the erroneous place of incarceration as Port Arthur, per these notes:

John Norman, native born and sentenced for 12 months, age 19, taken at Port Arthur, Tasmania, 1884
Other Creators
Boyd, A. H. (Aldolarius [sic]Humphrey), 1829-1891.
Part of collection: Convict portraits, Port Arthur, 1874.
Gunson Collection file 203/​7/​54.
Dated from rectangular shape and dates of similar photographs in collection.
Sentenced of 12 months on 5 February 1884.
Also available in an electronic version via the Internet at: http:/​/​nla.gov.au/​nla.pic-an24612677.
Exhibited: "In a New Light: Australian Photography 1850s-1930s", National Library of Australia, 9 Oct. 03-26 Jan. 04

This young locally-born ("native") 19 year old John Morrison or John Norman was photographed on being received at the Hobart Gaol on February 16, 1884 by Constable John Nevin. The National Library has included the photograph among the collection of the earlier 1874 convict photographs taken by Thomas J. Nevin, and retained the prison location as Port Arthur despite the simple fact that in 1874 the prisoner would have been only 9 years old, and clearly he is not a child in his photograph. As for the place of imprisonment, he could not have been imprisoned to serve his 12 month sentence at the Port Arthur prison because it was well and truly closed by 1877, and by 1884 it was in ruins.

Not simply content with misleading the public with this sort of catalogue entry, the NLA has compromised Thomas J. Nevin's former sole attribution ( from accession in the 1980s until 2007) for this collection of Tasmanian prisoner mugshots with a parasitic misattribution to the non-photographer and retired Port Arthur prison official A. H. Boyd, the result of deliberate falsification by individuals (eg Julia Clark) seeking appropriation and self-promotion.

Click on the second image below or visit the NLA catalogue full records of the "Port Arthur convicts 1874" collection to examine this egregious mismanagement of the national heritage since 2007 by the National Library of Australia.

Morrison photo by Nevin

NLA catalogue photo by Nevin of Morrison

Photos © KLW NFC 2010 ARR

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