Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Securing a proper likeness": Tasmania, NSW and Victoria from 1871

Extant examples of Thomas J. Nevin's photographs taken in the 1870s of Tasmanian prisoners - or "convicts" which is the archaic term used in Tasmanian tourism discourse up to the present - number more than 300 in Australian public collections. These two different photographs of prisoner George Leathley are typical of his application of commercial studio portraiture. They were taken by Thomas J. Nevin between Leathley's conviction for murder in 1866 and Leathley's discharge with a ticket of leave in 1876.

Prisoner George Leathley No. 89
Photographer; T. J. Nevin
Carte-de-visite originally held at the QVMAG
Now held at the TMAG,  Ref: Q15588

Prisoner George Leathley
Thomas Nevin's original print from his glass negative
Reprinted by John Watt Beattie on a panel for sale, 1916
Held at the QVMAG Ref: 1983_p_0163-0176

Prisoner George Leathley No's. 14 and 226
National Library of Australia collection
Title: George Leathley, per ship Blundell, taken at Port Arthur, 1874 [picture]
Creator: T. J. Nevin
Date: 1874.
Extent: 1 photograph on carte-de-visite mount : albumen ; 9.4 x 5.6 cm., on mount 10.4 x 6.4 cm.
Context: Part of Convict portraits, Port Arthur, 1874 [picture]
Series: Convict portraits, Port Arthur, 1874.
Title from inscription on reverse.
Inscription: “nos. 14 & 226”–On reverse.

Professional photographer Thomas J. Nevin was commissioned by his family solicitor, the Hon. Attorney-General W.R. Giblin, to photograph prisoners for the Colonial Government of Tasmania as early as 1871, the year the government of NSW authorised the Inspector of Prisons, Harold McLean, to commence the photographing of all prisoners convicted in the NSW Superior Courts.

New South Wales
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 the former Premier and Solicitor-general from the colony 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 in the adjoining Hobart Gaol. Those men who were convicted in regional courts with sentences longer than three months were transferred to Hobart. 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 ordinary or street clothing as soon as convicted; the second was taken fourteen days prior to the prisoner's discharge. 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.

Above: One of earliest tenders taken up by Nevin at the Office of the Superintendent of Police
for provision of police and gaol registers photographs, The Mercury 23 December 1872.

The photographs (there are 300+ extant of Tasmanian "convicts") were printed first on paper and mounted in oval frames as cartes-de-visite, both as loose duplicates and as cdvs pasted in the Hobart Gaol Photo Books containing summaries of the prisoner's criminal record.The loose duplicates were made for circulation to local and intercolonial authorities. Forty (40) or so unmounted prints from Nevin's original glass negatives survive from his government contract in the 1870s, and are held at the QVMAG. These forty sepia prints were collated on three panels in 1916 by John Watt Beattie and offered for sale from his museum and shop in Hobart. The majority, however, survive as cartes-de-visite in oval mounts, typical of Nevin's commercial studio portraiture in the decade 1870-1880 (examples are held at the NLA, QVMAG, TMAG, SLNSW Mitchell Library, PCHS and in private collections). The cdv's were formatted to fit onto the prisoner's record sheet, a blue form, held at the Hobart Gaol. The original negatives were held at the Mayor's Court and the Office of Inspector of Police at the Hobart Town Hall where Thomas Nevin held the government contract which became a full-time position with residency in late 1875.

Darlinghurst Gaol (NSW) 1871
This selection (below) of mugshots was made from searching the NSW State Records Office Prisoners Photos Index to the photographic books for the earliest date recorded for a mugshot. It appears to have been September 1871 at the Darlinghurst Gaol, Sydney, although the months of April and May 1871 appear in the search totalling approx. 165 prisoners in the index for 1871. These are among the earliest, all taken with the male prisoner seated in an office chair, in no particular pose apart from directing his gaze slightly to the viewer's left of frame, and with hands folded in his lap.

William McGrath, sentenced to two years for receiving stolen cattle.
Photographed on 16th September, 1871

RAP SHEET NOTES for James Peake
James Peake alias Pake alias Moocher
PEAKE James 1806 Staffordshire Darlinghurst 16/09/1871 44 43 NRS2138 [11/17378] 5133 Alias: PAKE, James Alias: MOOCHER, James 2138_a006_a00611_1737800043r
Record No. 44
Date when portrait was taken 16th September 1871
Tried at Bathurst QS 6th September 1871. Offence was stealing in a dwelling, sentenced to 2 years hard labour, It was his 3rd conviction, served a sentence on Cockatoo [Island], supposed to be a Vandemonian
Born 1806, Staffordshire, arrived on the Red Jacket in 1856, C of E, no education, 5 feet 4 half inches. weight 124 lbs, brown and grey hair, grey eyes, scar on under lip, a woman and three fishes on right forearm

NB: Dictionary meaning of "moocher" at
Sense of "sponge off others" first recorded 1857. Whatever the distant origin of mooch, the verb *mycan and its cognates have been part of European slang for at least two millennia. [ Liberman] Related: Mooched; mooching. As a noun meaning "a moocher," from 1914.

William Richards was sentenced to 2 years for horse stealing. He was discharged from Darlinghurst Gaol on 10th September 1871.

Joseph McGrath #1 and Jospeh McGrath alias Lee #2: stealing from the person, discharged from Darlinghurst Gaol on 4th October, 1871.

Source: Photographic Description Books [Darlinghurst Gaol] NRS 2138

Margaret Greenwood, NSW 1875

Margaret Greenwood, 1875, photographed at the Darlinghurst Gaol NSW
NSW State Records Archives

Booking photo, cdv in oval mount, of George Miller 1881, 
Gaol Photograph of George Miller [NRS 2138 Vol. 3/6044 Photo No. 2688 p. 219]
Unattributed photo:State Archives NSW

NSW State Records Archives Investigator - Series Detail
Series number: 2138
Title: Photographic Description Books [Darlinghurst Gaol]
Start date: by 12 Aug 1871
End date: by 13 Jul 1914
Contents start date:  12 Aug 1871
Contents end date:  13 Jul 1914
Descriptive note:

The taking of prisoner 'portraits' was formally authorised to be carried out at Darlinghurst Gaol by a memo from Harold Maclean (Inspector of Prisons) to the Principal Gaoler on 5 August 1871 (1). This document noted:

Authority to introduce Photography
Portraits will be taken of all prisoners convicted at the Superior Courts, except those convicted of trifling misdemeanours and who do not belong to the Criminal Class.

Portraits will also be taken of prisoners summarily convicted where the Police require it, or the Principal Gaoler thinks it desirable to secure a perfect description.

These portraits will be photographed after conviction and fourteen (or more) days prior to discharge, in private clothing where practicable.

Any prisoner refusing or by his or her behaviour putting obstacles in the way of securing a proper likeness will be brought before the Visiting Justice for disobedience and the case reported to the Inspector of Prisons with a view to the stoppage of remission indulgences and gratuities. .

The figures are to be taken ¾ size unless in exceptional cases where there may be reason for taking them in full. The negatives will be numbered to correspond with the Photographic Register, and carefully packed away under lock and key.

Twenty five copies of each portrait are to be printed and furnished to the Inspector General of Police through this Office.

Harold Maclean
Inspector of Prisons
BC 5:8:71

The Principal Gaoler
A slightly earlier general order from the Acting Inspector of Prisons on 27 July 1871 (2) dealt with some of the practical aspects of implementing photography of prisoners:

Prisoners to be photographed
Prisoners convicted at the Superior Courts and being forwarded to serve their Sentences in Darlinghurst Gaol, or to Darlinghurst Gaol en route to Berrima or other prisons, will not be shaved and their private clothing will be sent with them in order that they might be photographed as nearly as practicable in their ordinary appearance.
Harold Maclean
Actg Inspr of Prisons
The Gaolers

The photographing of prisoners appears to have been confined to Darlinghurst Gaol (the principal prison in the Colony) until the mid-1870s, after which it began to be introduced at the major country gaols. On 15 February 1877, a general order was sent to Berrima and Goulburn Gaols advising that when a prisoner who had been photographed was transferred to another gaol, a copy of his photograph, mounted on the usual form, was to be attached to his papers. (3)

In addition to at least one photograph of each prisoner, this series contains the following information: number, prisoners’ name, aliases, date when portrait was taken, native place, year of birth, details of arrival in the colony - ship and year of arrival, trade or occupation, religion, degree of education, height, weight (on committal, on discharge), colour of hair, colour of eyes, marks or special features, number of previous portrait, where and when tried, offence, sentence, remarks, and details of previous convictions (where and when, offence and sentence).

There appears to have been one face-on photograph per individual until about June 1894 when there was both a face-on and a side-on photograph per individual.

While the information recorded varied little over time, there was some variation in the format of the records, particularly in the first eight years (August 1871 to April/May 1879). For this period, the primary and more complete sequence of records was kept in a double-page format, with the descriptive information recorded (with photographs) on the left hand page, and criminal history/previous convictions on the right-hand side. The original intention appears to have been to have two photographs of each prisoner, on arrival and discharge. This seems to have been done only occasionally (mainly in the first few years of the system).

An incomplete sequence of records in a single-page format has also survived as part of this series, covering the period August 1871 to March 1875. This is particularly important, as it includes some records for periods where there are gaps in the surviving primary sequence of records (particularly for the period August 1871 to February 1872, and November 1872 to October 1873).

From April/May 1879 onwards, the single page format became the standard for these records.
For the period July 1904 to July 1914, there is a parallel set of records for Darlinghurst at NRS 1942 (this series also contains records for the other NSW gaols).

Custody History
[11/2205] was an archival estray received from Mr F. Rogers of the Hastings District Historical Society.
1. NRS 1824, 4/6478, p.496, no.71/2676.
2. NRS 1834, 5/1826, p.144, no.71/31.
3. NRS 2179, 5/1823, p.334.
Home location: These records are held at Western Sydney Records Centre

Victoria had yet to adopt the NSW system by September 1872, according to this anecdotal report which appeared in the Melbourne Argus and the Empire, NSW:

Prison Photography
Empire, NSW, 19 September 1872


A VERY good plan for assisting the police to recognise criminals is adopted in New South Wales, and might well be followed by the prison authorities in this colony. Every prisoner before he leaves the prison at the expiration of his sentence is photographed, and the likeness gives the police all over the colony the best possible description of every bad character who is at large. Copies of some of these photographs are sent to the detectives here, and one was used at the City Court on Monday. On Saturday evening a man, who gave the name of Wm. Phillips, was caught upstairs in the private bedroom of the landlord of the Dover Hotel, corner of Victoria and Lygon streets. He was wearing over his boots a pair of felt slippers, which enabled him to walk noiselessly, and on the ground which he had passed over a skeleton key was found. He was recognised as an old offender, known as Isaac Williams, with half a dozen aliases, who had been convicted repeatedly in Victoria and New South Wales. A book containing his photograph, taken just before he left the gaol in New South Wales, was produced, and placed his identity beyond doubt. His defence was that he had been doing a job at "shingling," though he was a tailor, and had put on the felt slippers to prevent him slipping off the roof he was working upon. When he went into the hotel he got past the bar and into the bedroom upstairs by mistake. He was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment with hard labour, and feeling agrieved gave notice of appeal. The photographer sometimes has difficulty when "taking off" a prisoner. One man whose portrait was in the book produced was represented in the act of executing a most comical wink, and a marginal note intimated that he had tried to spoil the likeness by contorting his features at the moment the picture was being taken. - Melbourne Argus.
Source: PRISON PHOTOGRAPHY. (1872, September 19). Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1875), p. 4. Retrieved from

Pentridge Prison (Vic) 1874

Launceston Examiner 22 Aug 1874


VICTORIA. The system of taking photographic likenesses of prisoners at the Pentridge Stockade is stated to have proved of great assistance to the police department in detecting crime. The system was commenced at Pentridge about two years ago, and since then one of the officials who had a slight knowledge of the art, with the assistance of a prisoner has taken nearly 7000 pictures, duplicates of which have been sent to all parts of this and the adjacent colonies. But it has been considered rather too expensive, to employ an official entirely for the purpose, and as constant employment could not be provided in the future, a photographer has lately been appointed, who will visit the stockade twice in the week, and the hulks at Williamstown once. -- Argus. Launceston Examiner 22 Aug 1874
The Victorian government employed a commercial photographer to visit the Pentridge prison twice weekly, and to visit the hulks moored at Williamstown once a week. The photographer conventionally accredited as the Pentridge photographer for more than twenty years is Charles Nettleton (1826-1902) - for example, this statement which appears in an online biography at the ADB:
He was police photographer for over twenty-five years and his portrait of Ned Kelly, of which one print is still extant, is claimed to be the only genuine photograph of the outlaw.
Yet Nettleton's name does not appear in the Victorian Gazette as a photographic contractor to any  government department during the entire period of the 1870s and 1880s. His name only appears on these dates:

1863: Partnership dissolved with John Calder

Victorian Government Gazette 16 June 1863

1879: Patent for photogravure

Victorian Government Gazette 10 April 1879

1886: Insolvency again

Victorian Government Gazette 9 April 1886

This omission was not unusual when commercial photographers operated on commission. The only photographers listed in the Victorian Gazette up until 1875 were Batchelder and O'Neill, who supplied the Department of Lands and Survey with photographic chemicals and materials. The contract dated 17th March, 1865, does not indicate they these two photographers were the ones who would eventually use the  chemicals in government service.

1865: Batchelder and O'Neill contract

Victorian Government Gazette 17 March 1865

1875: Felton, Grimawade, and Co.
This large concern supplied not just photographic materials to the General Stores of the Victorian government; they also supplied medicines etc, all of which were gazetted simply as "Contingencies 1875-76". Likewise, photographic chemicals and materials supplied by tender and used by Thomas Nevin in Tasmania from 1872 onwards were listed in Government stores simply as Supplies, Hobart City Corporation and Office of the Inspector of Police.

Victorian Government Gazette 23 April 1875

The list of chemicals here shows the extent to which the Victorian Government was using documentary photography by 1875. But again, no photographer's contract to the Prisons Department or Office of Inspector of Police was gazetted until John Noone's name was gazetted in August 1881.

Victorian Government Gazette 23 April 1875

Victorian Gazette 6 August 1881

Nettleton's Patent Registrations (Victoria) 1870s

National Archives of Australia Ref: A2388
Registers of Proprietors of Paintings, Photographs, Works of Art and Sculpture
Charles Nettleton’s government commission to take photographs of the Benevolent Asylum, National Museum, the Royal Mint (1873) etc
Photography © KLW NFC 2008 ARR

The stamps appearing on the photographs (below) of Lowry, taken by photographer Charles Nettleton (Victoria), were inscribed with the numbers "189" and "190" when registered as commercial photographs with the Victorian Patents Office in 1870. The use of this stamp continued in Victoria until 1873. The inscription - "The convict 'Lowry' " - on the verso of the mounted cdv suggests it was taken of a prisoner for police and gaol records, because Nettleton was known to have worked for police over a period of twenty years to the 1880s (Kerr, 1992).

State Library of Victoria Catalogue
Creator: Nettleton, Charles, 1826-1902, photographer.
Title: The convict ’Lowry’ [picture] / Charles Nettleton.
Accession number(s): H96.160/1583 H96.160/1584
Date(s) of creation: 1870.
Medium: 2 photographs : albumen silver ;
Dimensions: 10 x 6 cm. each.
Collection: Victorian Patents Office Copyright Collection
Contents/Summary:Two portrait photographs of the convict, Lowry. H96.160/1583 shows him full-length, outdoors and leaning on a steel fence. H96.160/1584, a vignette bust portrait. He wears a shirt and unbuttoned jacket, and has a moustache.
Notes:Title inscribed on verso.
Date of copyright registration ascertained from Victorian Patents Office Copyright Collection (VPOCC) Index: Aug. 6 1870.
VPOCC registration number inscribed on item l.c. & l.r.: 189 & 190.
Registered by Frederick Secretair, Russell Street, Melbourne.
Original Picture Collection location number: Env. 24, no. 39 & 40.
Subject(s):Male prisoners -- Victoria -- 1870.
Portrait photographs ;Albumen prints.
Vignettes. Source/Donor:
Transferred from The Victorian Patents Office to the Melbourne Public Library 1908.
The files which now comprise the Victorian Patents Office Copyright Collection were begun by the Victorian Patents Office in 1870. In order to register copyright, a copy of the photograph, print or illustration was lodged with the Victorian Patents Office at the Melbourne Town Hall. A number was assigned and the photographs were mounted in scrapbooks. The photographs were stamped with the date of registration but this ceased in 1873. The original registers are now in the National Archives of Australia. The Picture Collection holds photocopies of these registers. The registers or indexes contain the following information: Date of registration, name and address of proprietor or author, description of the work and date of first publication. Images were registered from 1870 until 1906. The collection was transferred to the Melbourne Public Library in 1908.
Call number: PIC LTAF 980

Tasmanian Patents 1860s-1880s
In Tasmania, Thomas J. Nevin designed seven studio stamps for commercial use, plus one which appears on the versos of prisoners' identification photographs bearing the Royal Arms government insignia. This was for use on commission with the Hobart Municipal Police Office, and Hobart City Council and registered at the Office of the Registrar of Patents, Customs House, Hobart. These registers are now held at the Archives Office of Tasmania Series RGD9/1/1, RGD12, from 1859-1904.

Webshot: Office of the Registrar of Patents (Archives Office Tasmania)

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