Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nevin setting the police at defiance 1881


Thomas J. Nevin was retained as police photographer and assistant bailiff by the City Corporation on compassionate consideration for his family after his dismissal in December 1880 from the full-time civil service position of Town Hall keeper, ostensibly on the grounds of inebriation while on duty. However, the City Corporation had stopped payments to civil servants in the aftermath of the public outcry at police mismanagement of the Chiniquy riots in 1879, and a failing economy underscored by corruption within government ranks and over-expenditure on railways led to default of the Supply Bill. With payments stopped to the Civil Service, Nevin's position at the Town Hall had become untenable, both in terms of his family's upkeep, and maintenance of the Town Hall building.

In addition to complaints, there was residual resentment by Nevin and others at the law's laxity in pursuing the Chiniquy rioters when charges were dropped against the ringleaders in July 1879 by Magistrate Tarleton at the Bench.

Magistrate W. Tarleton
Cartoon by Thomas Midwood
Courtesy State Library of Tasmania

By early 1881, just weeks after his dismissal from the Town Hall keeper position (and obligatory relocation of his family), Nevin found himself in a situation to test the legislation pertaining to the rights of assembly, congregation and disturbing the peace. On 28th February 1881, Nevin and two other men were standing on the footpath outside the All Nations Hotel at the corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets, Hobart, when they were reported by the police for obstructing the thoroughfare and requested to make a court appearance.The charges again were dropped by Magistrate Tarleton at the Bench.

Click on images for large view

All Nations Hotel
Unattributed photographs 1870s,1880 and 1905
Courtesy State Library of Tasmania


Thomas Nevin had extensive experience working with police by 1881, both as the designated photographer of prisoners for the Municipal Police Office and Prisons Dept,and as a Special Constable. He no doubt assumed he had some authority and rank over constables on the beat. When approached by Constable Beard, he not only challenged the constable, he told Beard to "move on."


OBSTRUCTING THE THOROUGHFARE - Thomas Nevin, Thomas Paul and Thomas Hodgson were charged with having on the 28th of last month stood on one of the footways of a public street within the city, so as to prevent the free passage of others, and refused to pass on when ordered to do so by a constable.

Plea: not guilty. Mr. SARGENT for the defence.

Constable Beard deposed to the three defendants having ... standing at the corner of Elizabeth and Collins Streets and causing other passers-by to go into the gutter. He asked the defendants to move on one side, when they said they were going away in a minute. When he returned in five minutes' time, Paul said, "Look out, here comes Beard again". Hodgson replied, "It don't matter; we're talking on business." He again asked them to move on, but they declined to do so, and ten minutes afterwards, when he again returned, he found them in the same place. Paul then wanted to know why he was disturbing them so much and could not go and look after other people; and Hodgson asked if he wanted to put them out in the road. Nevin said, "We'll not move till we're forced", and took a piece of chalk out of his waistcoat pocket, and marked with it on the footpath. He then stood on the mark and said he would continue to do so until he was taken into custody. Nevin then waved his hand to witness and told him to "move on" .

TO Mr. SARGENT: The defendants were standing outside the All Nations Hotel. When he spoke to them the third time they moved about a foot from the kerbing. Could not say the width of the footpath. He ordered them all to move on. There was a good deal of traffic on this evening. Nevin was setting the police at defiance by his action. To the Bench: Mr. Hodgson is a contractor on the wharf, and the other two are in his employment. He did not listen to their conversation, or know what it was about.

Mr. TARLETON said that the Bench did not think it necessary to ask for any defence, as the by-law under which the charge was enacted, as its preamble explained, for the preventing of the congregation of idle and disorderly persons in the streets and public places, and was certainly never meant to prevent two or three respectable citizens talking over social matters or business affairs, as in this case. It would be a monstrous strain of the by-law to consider this a breach of it, and the information was therefore dismissed.

Thomas J. Nevin: Obstructing the Thoroughfare
The Mercury 8th March 1881

These and other by-laws were to become the testing ground as the Labor and Union Movement gathered strength through the 1890s Depression. "We, the Working Men of the City of Hobart Town" were how the supporters of Superintendent Propsting - the man held chiefly responsible for police mismanagement of the Chiniquy riots - identified themselves in The Mercury on 8th July 1879:

The Mercury July 1879
Click on images for readable view

RELATED POSTS main weblog

How do you like me now?