Friday, August 27, 2010

From Thomas Bock to Thomas Nevin: Supreme Court prisoner portraits

"... portraits of prisoners taken in the dock ..."

Thomas BOCK (1790/3-1855)
Police artists worked in the Supreme Court of Tasmania from as early as 1824. An album of portraits of "prisoners taken in the dock" (Dunbar, QVMAG catalogue 1991:25) by Thomas Bock, the father of photographer Thomas Nevin's close associate Alfred Bock, was on sale at the Sydney booksellers Angus and Robertson in 1910 when collector William Dixson bought it and bequeathed it eventually to the State Library of New South Wales.

State Library of NSW
Image no: a933021h
f.18 Thomas Jeffries: on Trial for the Murder of / Mr Tibbs' Infant. 20.9 x 15.2 cm.
Thomas Bock - Sketches of Tasmanian Bushrangers, ca. 1823 - 1843
DL PX 5. Sir William Dixson bequest, 1952

The catalogue notes for an exhibition of Thomas Bock's works held in 1991 state:

The album of drawings consists of seventeen pencil portraits of notorious bushrangers of the 1820s taken while the subjects were being tried .... When William Dixson bought the album from the Sydney bookseller Angus and Robertson in 1910 it came with four albums of original documents, police reports and depositions relating to the exploits of the Tasmanian bushrangers. Clearly the documents and the drawings had been collected together as historical evidence - but by whom is not known.

Source: Diane Dunbar, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery
Thomas Bock Convict Engraver, Society Portraitist
Catalogue 1991 (page 25)

Thomas Bock "invariably worked on commission" according to Dunbar's notes, which raises the question of Bock's "motivation" as she phrases it. Since the prisoner sketches by Thomas Bock were accompanied by police and judicial documents when Dixson purchased them in 1910, they must have been estrays from government records pertaining to prisoner identification and criminal history. In other words, Thomas Bock was most likely contracted on commission to provide police authorities with a "likeness" of the prisoners on trial in the dock at the Supreme Court. Of the seventeen prisoners portrayed in the album acquired by Dixson, at least six were executed.

Alfred BOCK (1835-1920)
Thomas Bock (1790/3-1855) was an early precursor of the police sketch artist and the mugshot photographer working in colonial Australian courts and prisons. Alfred Bock, Thomas Bock's son also worked on commission as a police artist, producing sketches of prisoners in the dock. This sketch was taken of the prisoner William Griffiths at the Supreme Court on Wednesday 25th October 1865. Griffiths was on trial for the murder of two children. He was executed on 2nd December 1865 at the Hobart Gaol.

Alfred Bock sketch of William Griffiths
Supreme Court Hobart October 1865
Source: Archives Office of Tasmania

Thomas J. NEVIN (1842-1923)
Although Thomas J. Nevin had established a studio at New Town near the Nevin family home at Kangaroo Valley and was displaying and selling portraits and stereographs from the New Town Post Office by 1864, he was working with Alfred Bock at the city studio in 1865. Within a year, when Alfred Bock sold up and departed Tasmania for Victoria, Nevin acquired the business - The City Photographic Establishment - in his own name along with the studio, the glass house, furniture and stock at 140 Elizabeth Street Hobart Town. Thomas Nevin also acquired Thomas and Alfred Bock's commission in the form of colonial warrants to provide police and penal authorities with prisoner photographs. Alfred Bock was commissioned by James Boyd, the Commandant at the Port Arthur prison during the early 1860s to produce a number of solar and cabinet portraits, including several of James Boyd himself who was an amateur stereographer. When the colonial government commission again was offered, it was offered to Thomas J. Nevin in 1872 to photograph prisoners at Supreme Court trials and at discharge: this time the commission was offered by his family solicitor Attorney-General W.R. Giblin.

The earliest photographs to survive of prisoners taken at the Supreme Court and adjoining Hobart Gaol which were produced by Thomas J. Nevin date from his first contract issued in February 1872 after the visit of the former premier of Victoria Sir John O'Shanassy, accompanied by the Victorian Solicitor-General. A handful of prisoner mugshots was taken on Nevin's visit to the Port Arthur prison during their visit in 1872 and again in May 1874 at the request of the Surgeon-Commandant of the Port Arthur prison, Dr. Coverdale, but the majority of prisoners there were photographed by Nevin (and his brother Constable John Nevin) when they were relocated to the Hobart Gaol as the closure of the Port Arthur prison commenced. Thomas Nevin continued to provide the colonial government of Tasmania with police identification photographs until his retirement in 1886.

The extant 300+ prisoner photographs taken by T. J. Nevin in the 1870s in public collections are government estrays which were salvaged or selected on the basis of the prisoner's notoriety (using the records of his Supreme Court trial, lengthy sentence or execution) for exhibition and display in the 1900s. The majority are held at the National Library of Australia, at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston. They appear to have been collated in similar circumstances to Thomas Bock's album of prisoner sketches taken at the Supreme Court, and probably by the same individual. Eleven prisoner photographs taken by T. J. Nevin at the Hobart Gaol were coincidentally also acquired in the early 1900s by the State Library of New South Wales from the private collection of David Scott Mitchell, some accompanied by the Hobart Gaol death warrants.

ROBERTS, Henry per Rodney 2
Photo by T.J. Nevin
Taken at the Supreme Court 28 November 1872

Recto and verso at QVMAG
Beattie Collection
Ref: 1985:P0084

An archivist in the early 1900s, or possibly in 1934 when Beattie's collection of convictaria was exhibited in Launceston, has written the date "1874" and "Taken at Port Arthur" across the versos of many of these prisoner photographs in oval cdv mounts. Henry Roberts was photographed by Thomas J. Nevin at the Supreme Court on or about 28th November 1872 when Roberts was tried and sentenced to six years for cattle-stealing.

Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police, James Barnard Gov't Printer.

Henry Roberts, 49 yrs old, transported to Tasmania (prior to 1853) on the Rodney 2, Free in Servitude (FS) was tried in the Supreme Court Hobart and sentenced to six years, according to this police gazette notice of 28th November 1872.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Supreme Court Mugshots taken by T.J Nevin from 1871 onwards

Professional and commercial photographer Thomas J. Nevin undertook the job of systematically photographing prisoners who were tried at the Supreme Court, Hobart from February 1872 at the behest of the Tasmanian government. His job description was to photograph as a priority those men who were sentenced to terms longer than 12 months. This was the standard police procedure per amendments to judicial and penal legislation adopted in Victoria and NSW in 1871-2, in force in Tasmania by 1872.

T. J. Nevin's contractual arrangements with the Lands and Survey Department and the Hobart City Corporation (HCC) commenced in 1868. Attorney-General W.R. Giblin, also the Nevin family solicitor, extended Thomas Nevin's contract to photograph prisoners in January 1872. Government printer James Barnard designed and registered Nevin's Royal Arms studio stamp with the HCC Municipal Police Office. Thomas Nevin was the only commercial photographer in Hobart under contract for this work. He advertised his services with this stamp, with his full vocational title - "Photographic Artist" and with the two initials of his first names (Thomas James) "T. J. Nevin", in all his circulars to clients, patrons, government, and newspapers. Only one trade sample was stamped on the verso to register batches of up to 100 photographs with Customs and the City Corporation's Municipal Police Office. The design of the Royal Arms insignia used by T. J. Nevin was identical to the seal of the Supreme Court of Tasmania.


Above: Wall chart or poster of Tasmanian convicts produced by the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority ca. 1991 with photographs taken of "Supreme Court men" by Thomas Nevin from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Beattie Collection. Photo © KLW NFC 2009 ARR.

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. They were isolated in silence for a month after sentencing. If sentenced for a term longer thatn 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 by a visitor to the Hobart Gaol and Supreme Court in the Mercury, 8th July 1882:
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.

Above: Supreme Court Men, Mercury, 8th July 1882

One of the two rooms used by the photographers at the Hobart Gaol was located above the women's laundry and demolished in 1915.

This photograph of convict William Smith (below centre) is one of the several extant prisoner photographs which the government printer James Barnard stamped verso with the Royal Arms insignia and Nevin's studio details signifying joint copyright under tender as prisons photographer for the Municipal Police Office and Prisons Department:

"William Smith - 6 years for burglary"

Recto and verso of convict Smith carte with Nevin's Royal Arms stamp
Carte numbered "199" on recto
QVMAG 1985:p131 ; AOT Ref: 30-3244

William Smith per Gilmore 3 was sentenced in the Supreme Court Hobart on January 26th, 1859 for 14 years for Burglary, absconding etc

Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police James Barnard Gov't Printer

William Smith per Gilmore 3, was received at the Hobart Gaol from Port Arthur and discharged with a ticket of leave on 10 September 1873. Note that his age and physical measurements were not recorded at the Town Hall Police Office for publication in the gazette because no photograph existed prior to his release. When Nevin photographed him on arrest in April 1874, Smith was wearing a combination of prisoner and civilian clothing. He was also unshaved. The photograph exhibits a degree of liminality of the prisoner's state: free on a ticket of leave but contained as a criminal in the open prison that was the island of Tasmania.

William Smith reoffended again in April 1874, sentenced to 12 months and photographed by T. J. Nevin on incarceration at the Hobart Gaol.

Wm Smith was discharged on 1st April, 1875.

Less than a month after his discharge, he became a suspect for a burglary at New Town:
"Suspicion attaches to William Smith per Gilmore 3 ... " published in the police gazette of 23rd April, 1875, accompanied with the notice of a warrant. The warrant included the photograph above by Nevin.

Police gazette notice: Wm Smith per Gilmore 3 Warrant for arrest 23 April 1875.

Thomas Nevin's knowledge of Smith from face-to-face contact while photographing him in 1874 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 arrested, police gazette notice of 9th July, 1875.

Thomas Nevin photographed William Smith again at the Hobart Gaol, this time wearing the standard prison issue of a grey uniform and black leathern hat. The journalist visiting the Hobart Gaol in 1882 noted this uniform with the hat in his report to the Mercury, (as above), on 8th July 1882:

Mercury 8 July 1882 "black leathern caps" 

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.

Recto and Verso of photograph of William Smith per Gilmore 3.
Photo by Thomas Nevin, July 1875
Stamped verso with Nevin's studio stamp and Royal Arms
Mitchell Library NSW PXB 274
Photography © KLW NFC The Nevin Family Collections 2008-2010 ARR

Above and below: the second photograph of William Smith per Gilmore 3 taken by Nevin at the Hobart Gaol while the prisoner awaited committal for trial at the Supreme Court, on 9th July 1875.

William Smith per Gilmore 3.
Photo by Thomas Nevin, July 1875
Stamped verso with Nevin's government stamp
Mitchell Library NSW PXB 274 No.1

The first photograph taken by Nevin of William Smith  is numbered “199″. This, the second of William Smith is numbered “200″ and it is another original photograph which bears Nevin’s stamp with the Royal Arms insignia on verso. It is held at the Mitchell Library, NSW, among others by Nevin acquired by David Scott Mitchell prior to 1907. The sequence of numbers is insignificant, whether transcribed from a police register, or whether devised by archivists in the 20th century. There is no real-time-based relationship between the photographs: in one William Smith is bewhiskered and wearing a patterned scarf (April 1874); in the other he is clean shaven and wearing a plain neckerchief and hat (July 1875). They were clearly taken at different times during Smith’s well-documented criminal career.


Name:Smith, William
Record Type:Convicts
Additional identifier:2
Arrival date:20 Aug 1843
Departure date:16 Apr 1843
Departure port:London
Ship:Gilmore (3)
Voyage number:216
Index number:66380
Document ID:
Conduct Record CON33/1/39
Description List CON18/1/36
Indent CON14/1/20
Muster Roll CSO83/1/1
Archives Office Tasmania

PROVENANCE of the PRISONER PHOTOGRAPHS (also known as "Convict Portraits")
Many of these "convict portraits" held at the National Library of Australia were donated by Dr Neil Gunson as estrays from a defunct Government Department more than 40 years ago. They may have been Thomas Nevin’s duplicates but copies of the same images are held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and the Archives Office of Tasmania. This simple fact underscores the extensive copying which has taken place since the mid 20th century, principally from the QVMAG collection: 1958, 1977, 1982, 1985, 1987 and most recently for a digital database.

Although the Nevin brothers produced thousands of photographs of prisoners between 1872 and 1890, the bulk has been lost, destroyed or sold at private auction. The remaining 300 plus from the 1870s were selected or salvaged by John Watt Beattie ca. 1900 - 1916 to display in his convictaria museum for tourists; he selected only those prisoners whose sentences were severe enough to warrant a criminal sitting in the Supreme Court, the offender’s apparent notoriety the selling point. In this respect, they are not a random selection, nor a series. But they were not salvaged because they were an archive held at the Port Arthur prison; they were never held at Port Arthur during its operation as a prison, nor taken there. Thomas Nevin photographed the prisoner once as a single capture in Hobart, produced prints from his original glass negatives at his city studio and later at studios in the Hobart Gaol, Campbell St. and the Police Office and Mayor's Court, Hobart Town Hall. He made at least four duplicates from the glass negative for circulation to other prisons and police offices in regional Tasmania, in addition to the copies needed to paste onto warrants, prisoner records sheets, and the central register held at the Hobart Town Hall.

The archivist who wrote "Taken at Port Arthur 1874" on the versos of many of these photographs used a generalised synoptic copy of the original historic copy of the police gazette records, omitting the date of any trial, the place of any trial, and the length of sentence, recording only the name of the prisoner, and the ship on which he arrived in Tasmania (called Van Diemen’s Land if prior to 1854). As all these Supreme Court men were second and repeat offenders, with many trials and discharges to their credit, the archivist recorded on the versos old information to heighten their appeal as early convictaria from Tasmania's penal heritage.

For this reason, the inscriptions on the versos “1874″ and “Taken at Port Arthur” are two errors creating misinformation which has led to assumptions by State archivists, librarians, museum curators, catalogue technicians and general copyists in the 20th century. They are fake claims made in the name of tourism. The principal copyists were John Watt Beattie and Edward Searle ca. 1915, who removed the photographs from the original records – whether from the criminal’s rap sheet held in the Sheriff’s Office at the Hobart Gaol (ca. 1895), or from another of Thomas Nevin’s several duplicates made from his one capture on glass, held at the central Habitual Criminals’ Register devised at the Hobart Town Hall Municipal Police Office.

John Watt Beattie probably reprinted copies from Nevin’s glass negatives to sell as postcards in his “Port Arthur Museum”, located in Hobart, copies now held at the Port Arthur heritage site and obtained from the Ratcliff museum set up for the tourist trade in the 1930s. When Beattie died in 1930, the Launceston Council acquired these photographs from his estate, donating them to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston where most of the extant photographs of prisoners from the 1870s are now located. Some were acquired by the private collector David Scott Mitchell, who donated his collection to the State Library of NSW in 1907, now held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney. Since none of the thirteen (and more) photographs by Thomas Nevin of prisoners held at the Mitchell has any wording relating to Port Arthur or the date 1874 on the versos, and since they were acquired in NSW before 1907, it is an absolute fact that the “Taken at Port Arthur 1874” inscription was the work of an archivist in Tasmania after 1907, and probably for inclusion in convictaria material which accompanied the intercolonial exhibition on the fake convict ship Success in Sydney, Hobart, Adelaide, and Melbourne.

Most but not all the photographs were catalogued and copied again in 1958, 1977, and 1985 at the QVMAG for distribution to the National Library of Australia, Canberra; the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart; and the Archives Office of Tasmania. In 1991 the QVMAG printed a poster of their prisoner photographs for the Port Arthur Historic Site, titled “WHO WERE THEY?” (see above). However, the prison site and penitentiary at Port Arthur, 60 kms south of Hobart, were not in anyway associated with the original commission of these 1870s photographs; the tourist promoter John Watt Beattie ascribed the name of Port Arthur and the wording “Taken at Port Arthur 1874” as pure hype to attract the tourist during the boom of the early 1900s when the first 20 minute film based on Marcus Clarke’s book (1874), “For the Term of His Natural Life” (1907) was released, and when the Tasmanian Government mounted an interstate campaign to promote Port Arthur, renamed as Carnarvon, as Tasmania’s major tourist attraction. Beattie was also capitalizing on Clarke’s book and its publication date, hence his use of the date “1874″.




Second sitting of the Supreme Court Hobart, 4th July 1871

One of the first prisoners photographed by T. J. Nevin at the Supreme Court Hobart was John Appleby, transported on the ship Candahar 1842.


John Appleby and Henry Taylor alias Bramall were among the first prisoners to be photographed by Nevin at the Supreme Court and Hobart Gaol. Appleby was photographed at the second sitting in July 1871. The vignetted copies below are held at the National Library of Australia.

John Appleby, per Candahar 1842, held at the National Library of Australia.
Photograph taken by T.J. Nevin, 4th July 1871


NLA Catalogue
Part of collection: Convict portraits, Port Arthur, 1874.; Gunson Collection file 203/7/54.; Title from inscription on reverse. Two copies of the same image, one of which has been hand coloured.; Condition: Foxing lower left and right and upper left.; Inscription: title and "71"--In ink on reverse.

Henry Taylor aka Bramall or Johnstone was tried at the Supreme Court Launceston on 17th October 1867, transferred to the Hobart Gaol and assigned to a gang working at the nearby Cascade factory. He was photographed among the first group which included Appleby in 1871. His photograph was hand coloured by Nevin's studio and placed in the studio window to assist the public in recognition and recapture of the prisoner when he absconded on February 6, 1874 from a gang at the Cascade factory.

Auto adjusted to show the colouring, especially the prison scarf painted onto the prisoner's neck.

Johnstone aka Bramall or Taylor absconded, reported February 6, 1874
Source: Tasmania Reports on Crime for Police Information

Third sitting of the Supreme Court Hobart 12th September 1871

SMITH, Henry

Thomas Nevin photographed Henry SMITH, per Rodney 2, Free in Servitude when he was sentenced to 5 yrs for housebreaking at the Supreme Court Hobart Town on 12 September 1871.

The print from Nevin's negative is held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery:

Henry Smith, per Rodney 2
Photo by T.J. Nevin Sept 1871
QVMAG Collection Ref: 1985:P:0155

Below is a mounted original of one of Thomas Nevin’s several carte-de-visite duplicates, which he then prepared from the negative for pasting to the criminal’s record sheet at the Hobart Gaol and for circulation to regional prisons and the central city Municipal Police Office. It is held at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and reproduced in Isobel Crombie’s book, Body Culture in 2004 (page 39) but with the misattribution to the non-photographer A.H. Boyd, the result of the TMAG’s reliance on the author of their publication, Chris Long, Tasmanian Photographers 1840-1940: A Directory (1995). Crombie assumed the photograph was taken as part of an anthropological “project” down there at Port Arthur for reasons best known to herself, but principally and probably because of Long’s unfounded "belief" in his photographer attribution to the Port Arthur officer A.H. Boyd, and so situated the photograph within a discourse of eugenics rather than police surveillance because of the error, the association, and the misattribution.

Click on images for readable versions

This mounted cdv used by Isobel Crombie in 2004 was acquired by the TMAG ca 1983 from the QVMAG where the photograph of Henry Smith was deposited after an exhibition at the Port Arthur site, instead of being returned to the original collection . Another copy or one of Nevin's original cdv duplicates is held at the Archives Office of Tasmania, with correct attribution to Thomas Nevin, but with the same error of date (not 1874) and place of capture (not Port Arthur):

Archives of Tasmania
Henry Smith per Rodney 2
Photo by Thomas J. Nevin
Supreme Court Sept 1871
Ref: PH_PH30-3s_30-3260c

Many of the extant prisoner identification photographs taken by T.J. Nevin at Supreme Court sittings were taken in 1872. In 1873, the Supreme Court in Hobart sat four times, once per every 3 month quarter, and in Launceston, twice per year in each six month period. This was standard practice right through the years when Nevin was contracted to attend on and about each of those dates to photograph men at trial and sentencing. His last know date of employment working with police is 1886.

In every sitting of the Supreme Court in both Hobart and Launceston, the names of prisoners whose mugshots survive in public collections today also appear in the Supreme Court trials and sentencing records, hence the belief that Beattie or another archivist used some version of the Supreme Court trials to select the men whose photographs survive. If anyone should doubt the attribution of these prisoner photographs – whether the name of the original photographer (Nevin), the place and date of the photographic capture (Supreme Court, Hobart Gaol, MPO), and the purpose of the photograph (MPO Register) – he/she should apply themselves to matching these court records (now digitized at the State Library of Tasmania) with each extant photograph, as per our example set here, and take note: no prisoner photograph was taken at the Port Arthur site in the 1870s for the government by the accountant/Commandant and non-photographer A.H. Boyd (1871-73). These photographs (examples from early 1873) and many more taken at the 1872 court sittings were taken BEFORE July 1873 when two gross of glass plates (288) supposedly arrived at Port Arthur. The plates were privately ordered and used by Samuel Clifford for documenting the deterioration of the prison buildings, the surrounding landscape, and the groups of visiting VIPS.

At the discretion of the police and prison authorities, Thomas Nevin photographed these men again when they were released to work on various conditions (Free in Servitude etc), and who were then required to report on a regular basis to the Town Hall Municipal Police Office. When they re-offended, they were often photographed in street clothing on arrest, usually at their regional police station. When sentenced to longer than three months, the prisoner was transferred from the regional lock-up, eg. Launceston, to the city prison, the Hobart Gaol in Campbell Street where Nevin’s brother, Constable John Nevin, took several of the extant interesting “booking” mugshots.

SUPREME COURT, HOBART TOWN 18th-19th February 1873

From Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police 1873, James Barnard Gov't Printer.


Henry BROWN, transported as BROADMORE, 8 yrs, held at QVMAG

Taken at the Supreme Court Hobart, 18-19 February 1873.


William MARSDEN, 5 yrs,held at QVMAG

Taken at the Supreme Court Hobart, 18-19 February 1873.


Charles GARFITT or GARFORTH, 8 yrs, held at QVMAG

Taken at the Supreme Court Hobart, 18-19 February 1873.

etc etc

Police gazette of 15th February 1873
Above: the front page gives instructions to constables on the proper way to detain offenders in other Australian jurisdictions who were wanted on warrant in Tasmania.
Source: Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police J. Barnard Gov't printer

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Photographer's wife at the studio

T.  J. NEVIN'S STUDIO, 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart
"Look for a long time at what pleases you and longer still at what pains you."
Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954)

Photographed from her husband Thomas J. Nevin's original.
Carte-de-visite of Elizabeth Rachel Day, ca. 1870-71.
Married on July 12, 1871 to photographer Thomas J. Nevin at Kangaroo Valley, Tas.
Copyright © KLW NFC 2003-2021

This portrait is one of six extant photographs of Elizabeth Rachel Nevin nee Day (1847-1914) taken by her husband commercial and police photographer Thomas J. Nevin between 1865 and 1900.

Life at the Studio
In 1944, the French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954) published a short story called The Photographer's Wife (La Dame du Photographe 1944), in which Mme Armand, the wife of the photographer - he who is referred to by their neighbour as "little old Big Eyes" - attempts suicide, some might think for an adulterous liaison, while she herself explains the reason as an unbearably trivial life. The drug she self-administers is not named, but at the moment when old Big Eyes raises the alarm, his hands are "all covered with hyposulphite" from a broken bottle in the studio. Hyposulphite was used in daguerreotype, ambrotype and collodion photography, one of several photochemicals including arsenic and cyanide with ready appeal to a self-poisoner. Colette set the story back in the mid 19th century at the time of Queen Alexandra whom the photographer's wife emulates in dress and manner:
Madame Armand, who had regular features, remained faithful to the high military collar and the tight, curled fringe because she had been told she looked like Queen Alexandra , only saucier. (p. 536, The Collected Stories of Colette, Phelps ed, 1983).
Queen Alexandra, queen consort of Edward VII of Great Britain, and the daughter of Christian IX of Denmark, was married to the then-Prince of Wales in 1863, while mother-in-law Queen Victoria was still in mourning. She was known for founding Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps.

Elizabeth Rachel Day's life as the wife of photographer Thomas J. Nevin in colonial Tasmania was very different from Colette's literary portrait. However, from her marriage in 1871 until her husband's residential appointment at the Hobart Town Hall in 1876, she lived and slept above a veritable factory of poisonous chemicals stored and used in her husband's studio, a double-windowed building and glasshouse with the business name of The City Photographic Establishment, located at 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart.

A view of Thomas Nevin's studio, third door down on right side of Elizabeth St. Hobart
Stereograph by T. J. Nevin ca. 1867
Sepia stereoscope salt paper print T. Nevin impress
The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Collection 
TMAG Ref: Q1994.56.12

Another view of Thomas Nevin's studio, third door down on right side of Elizabeth St. Hobart
Stereograph by T. J. Nevin ca. 1867
TMAG Ref: Q1994-56-33

Thomas J. Nevin worked with poisonous chemicals on a daily basis. He shared some of the processing with his brother John (Jack) Nevin at their New Town studio in the early to mid 1860s, while he was still a bachelor and while both brothers still resided with their parents at the house built by their father at Kangaroo Valley. With the acquisition of Alfred Bock's stock and studio at 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart on Bock's departure from Tasmania in 1865, Thomas Nevin moved into the residence attached to the studio, engaged another photographer Robert Smith in a partnership there briefly with the business name of Nevin & Smith (1867-68), and on Smith's departure for Victoria, commenced a serious courtship with Elizabeth Rachel Day.

Detail of below: Elizabeth Rachel Day ca. 1868

Elizabeth Rachel Day, married Thomas Nevin in 1871
Taken by Thomas Nevin at Nevin & Smith (late Bock's) ca. 1867
140, Elizabeth Street Hobart Town
Full-length portrait, carte-de-visite
Copyright © KLW NFC & The Nevin Family Collections ARR. Watermarked.

When they married in 1871, Elizabeth Rachel Nevin nee Day moved into the residence above the studio at 140 Elizabeth St. where she remained with the first of their two children born there  - May (Mary Florence Elizabeth Nevin, b. 1872); and Sonny ( Thomas James Nevin jnr, b. 1874) - until her husband Thomas J. Nevin was appointed to the Keeper's position at the Hobart Town Hall, residency included, in 1875. Whenever Thomas Nevin was absent from the Elizabeth St. studio in 1874, on government business, for example, at the Port Arthur prison working with the Commandant-Surgeon Dr. Coverdale in preparing photographic documentation of prisoners being relocated to the city prison, the Hobart Gaol, or travelling with fellow photographer and close friend Samuel Clifford on commercial photographic excursions, Elizabeth Rachel Nevin's father - master mariner Captain James Day - would stay with her, He registered the birth of their first son - Thomas James Nevin jnr - in May 1874 during her husband's extended stay at Port Arthur (60 kms from Hobart).

Above: Stereo viewer and stereo of a photographer seated in his studio surrounded by chemicals and apparatus. From The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Collection. The catalogue number is written on the viewer.

For more, see these 1860s tutorials:
By mid 1875, Thomas J. Nevin had set up studios at the Hobart Gaol in Campbell Street (above the women's laundry) and at the Mayor's Court and Municipal Police Office, Hobart Town Hall where he was soon to take up permanent residency with wife Elizabeth and the first two of his six children to survive, May (b.1872) and Thomas (b.1874), both of whom were born at the old city studio. He  advertised the sale of the studio at 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart, but retained his commercial practice with Samuel Clifford, who retired in 1878 and Henry Hall Baily. On departure from the Hobart Town Hall keeper's position in 1880, Thomas J. Nevin resumed commercial and government contract photography at his New Town studio until ca. 1888.

View of  Thomas Nevin's double-windowed shop, former residence above, and glass house across the laneway.
Undated (possibly 1890s); unattributed
Courtesy State Library of Tasmania
Ref: AUTAS001126251552

Thomas Nevin's shop and glass house TO LET,
Source: Mercury 24 June 1875

TO LET, those eligible BUSINESS PREMISES in Elizabeth-street, presently occupied by Mr. Nevin, photographer. It is a double-windowed shop, has a large glass-house or gallery at the back, and has a side cart entrance. Apply to
These two later photographs of a total eight extant photographs taken by Thomas J. Nevin of his wife Elizabeth Rachel Day date to ca.1878 and 1900 respectively, held in private collections:

Elizabeth Rachel Nevin nee Day (1847-1914)
Photograph by T. J. Nevin ca. 1878 (reprint),
Copyright © KLW NFC 2010 & Private Collection

Elizabeth Rachel Nevin nee Day (1847-1914)
Detail of painted photograph by T. J. Nevin ca. 1900
Copyright © KLW NFC 2010 & Private Collection

Addenda: common photochemicals 1860s
Source: Towler, John. The Silver Sunbeam. Joseph H. Ladd, New York: 1864. Electronic edition prepared from facsimile edition of Morgan and Morgan, Inc., Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Second printing, Feb. 1974. ISBN 871000-005
Chapter XVII.
Fixing solutions consist of chemical substances that dissolve the sensitized salts of silver on plates or paper, on which photographic images have been developed. The parts which form the image are covered with reduced silver, or an altered iodide or chloride of silver, which is insoluble in the fixers; whereas those parts which have not been impressed by the actinic rays are made transparent with the fixing solutions, which dissolve the opaline silver compounds, and cause the picture afterward to be unchangeable when exposed to light. The fixing solutions at present in use are: Cyanide of potassium, Hyposulphite of soda, and Sulphocyanide of ammonium.
Symbol, C2N, or Cy. Combining Proportion, 26. Spec. grav. 1.819.
This substance is properly a Bicarbide of Nitrogen; it is a very important material, as being the type of what are denominated compound salt-radicals; it was the first of this class of bodies discovered. Cyanogen is always produced in combination when an alkaline carbonate is heated with organic matter containing nitrogen. It does not exist either in a free or combined state in nature; it is a production of decomposition, in which the elements contained in it are brought together in the nascent state, in connection with some metallic base.
Preparation of Cyanogen.
This compound radical is obtained by heating either a cyanide of silver or of mercury in a flask of hard glass; a gas, the substance in question, is produced, which may be collected, by reason of its greater specific gravity than air, in a tall glass jar, by directing the outlet tube to the bottom; or it may be collected over mercury. It is colorless, but its odor is quite peculiar and characteristic. It barns with a peach-colored flame, yielding carbonic acid and nitrogen. Water dissolves four volumes of this gas, and alcohol as much as twenty-five volumes. An aqueous solution is decomposed when exposed to light into a variety of ammoniacal compounds. By the pressure of four atmospheres it is reduced to the liquid state. It combines with alkaline solutions precisely in the same way as chlorine, iodine and bromine, and gives rise to salts denominated cyanides.
Hydrocyanic Acid-Prussic Acid.
Symbol, H Cy.
This acid is obtained from the cyanides or the ferrocyanides by the superior affinity of the mineral acids for their bases in a manner similar to that by which the other hydracids are obtained. Take, for instance, three parts of the yellow prussiate of potash (ferrocyanide of potassium) in fine powder, two parts of sulphuric acid, and two of water, and distill the mixture in a flask or retort; the vapor which passes over is condensed in a receiver surrounded by ice. Prussic acid is a colorless liquid of the specific gravity of 0.6969. It is exceedingly poisonous.
Cyanide of Potassium.
Symbol, K Cy.
This substance, so exceedingly useful to the photographer, might be formed by passing the vapor of hydrocyanic acid through a solution of potassa to saturation, and then evaporating to dryness without access of air. It is formed, however, by heating ferrocyanide of potassium in an iron bottle to an intense red heat; the tube of the bottle dips into water to conduct away the gases. The cyanide of iron becomes decomposed into carbide of iron and charcoal, and its nitrogen is given off, whilst the cyanide of potassium remains undecomposed, and when melted swims on the surface of the porous black mass below. It is afterward pulverized and dissolved in boiling weak alcohol, from which it crystallizes as the alcohol cools; or whilst in a fused condition it is poured upon marble slabs and afterward broken up and bottled. This substance is almost as poisonous as hydrocyanic acid, but being a fixed salt it is easily detected in the stomach; whereas hydrocyanic acid, by reason of its volatility, seldom leaves any trace behind by which the cause of death can be recognized. This salt is decomposed by the red oxide of mercury into cyanide of mercury and potassa, showing the superior affinity of cyanogen for mercury. On this account the ordinary tests for mercury do not act on cyanide of mercury, with the exception of hydrosulphuric acid; analogous to hyposulphite of silver in which hydrochloric acid or a soluble chloride does not precipitate the chloride of silver, hydrosulphuric acid alone being capable of forming a precipitate.
Sulphocyanide of Potassium.
Symbol, Cy S2 K.
This salt is obtained by a process similar to the last with an addition of sulphur to the amount of half the weight of the ferrocyanide of potassium used. It is an excellent test of the persalts of iron, with which it produces blood-red precipitates. I do not see why this salt may not be used instead of the following as a fixer; it certainly can be more easily procured, and is no doubt just as poisonous.
Sulphocyanide of Ammonium.
Symbol, Cy S2 NH4.
This is the new fixing salt of Meynier which is said to be endowed with properties for photographic purposes as powerful as those of cyanide of potassium, without having the poisonous and otherwise deleterious properties of this salt. Meynier, I think, must have made a mistake as to this latter property. Sulphocyanide of ammonium may be formed by distilling the vapor of hydrocyanic acid into a solution of sulphide of ammonium and evaporating the solution at a very gentle heat; or still better by neutralizing hydrosulphocyanic acid by means of potassa.
Hydrosulphocyanic Acid.
Symbol, Cy S2 H.
This acid is analogous with the hydracids; it is obtained as a colorless liquid by decomposing sulphocyanide of lead by means of dilute sulphuric acid; and sulphocyanide of lead results from the decomposition of sulphocyanide of potassium with acetate of lead.
Hyposulphite of Soda.
Symbol, N4 0, S2 O2.
This very important salt is obtained by digesting sulphur in a solution of sulphite of soda, which dissolves a portion of sulphur. By slow evaporation the salt crystallizes. Hyposulphurous acid can not be isolated from any of its combinations. When this salt is pure it produces no precipitate with nitrate of baryta. The crystals contain five equivalents of water, and are soluble in a very high degree in this menstruum. Its taste is nauseous and bitter.
The photographic properties of the three salts, whose preparations have been just indicated, are to dissolve the chloride, iodide, and bromide of silver in their recently formed state, without acting as solvents on the altered chloride, iodide, and bromide, after decomposition by light and developers. In all cases of solution they form cyanide, sulphocyanide, or hyposulphite of silver, which frequently enters into combination with the solvent and gives rise to a double salt, as the hyposulphite of silver and the hyposulphite of soda, together with either chloride, bromide, or iodide of sodium. Chloride and bromide of silver are soluble to a greater extent than iodide of silver in hyposulphite of soda. Cyanide of potassium is not only a solvent of the silver salts above mentioned, but also a reducing agent; it thus produces in the ambrotype and the melainotype a whiteness in the silver film which can not be effected with hyposulphite of silver. For this reason it is regarded by many photographers as the fixing agent peculiarly adapted for collodion positives by reflected light; whereas in the negative, where the whiteness of the silver film is of little or no consequence, hyposulphite of soda is regarded as the proper fixer. Many photographers disregard these refined distinctions, and use, in consequence of the superior solvent properties of cyanide of potassium, this substance as a fixing agent indifferently for negatives and positives. But because cyanide of potassium dissolves the silver salts so easily, it has to be used in a dilute condition, and to be watched very closely, otherwise it will dissolve at the same time the fine parts of the image. Another reason why cyanide of potassium is preferred in all collodion operations, arises from the difficulty of washing the hyposulphite of soda and of silver from the collodion film; for if any trace of these salts be left, the collodion film will eventually be destroyed by crystallization taking place on its surface, accompanied with a decoloration and soiling of the image.
Source: Towler, John. The Silver Sunbeam. Joseph H. Ladd, New York: 1864. Electronic edition prepared from facsimile edition of Morgan and Morgan, Inc., Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Second printing, Feb. 1974. ISBN 871000-005

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Lyn Hagan: art from Nevin's 'Tazmanian' convicts

Lyn Hagan is a British artist who used these two photographs by Nevin of prisoners James Harper (on left) and Charles Downes (on right) to create her own images.

... Thomas J Nevin's photographs of Tazmanian convicts.

Read more at Post mortem/convict

Lyn Hagan comes from Newcastle, UK. She graduated from the Chelsea School of Art in 2004 and attended the European Graduate School ...

Her approach:
The emphasis of my work is on experimentation and chance, rather than meaning. It is also on the spectacular, rather than art as a commodity or a communication with other people. I see art also as a communication with self and make the images that I want to see that would not exist if I didn't make them.
Lyn Hagan ...

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