Saturday, January 17, 2015

A remarkable New Town studio stamp: Thomas Nevin+s

Thomas J. Nevin ca. 1863
Untitled, and held at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, this example by Thomas Nevin of a popular and much photographed vista of the Queen's Orphan School and St John's Church, New Town Tasmania, could be titled "Long shadow with guard at the entrance to St John's Avenue, New Town". Its uniqueness as an artefact is the very rare studio stamp on the verso.This is the only extant example (to date) of Thomas Nevin's earliest photography which bears the design with the wording "Thomas Nevins New Town Tasmania" set against a ribbon in three flat loops, enfolding a flowering plant, and printed in bright blue ink. Nevin was barely out of his teens when he took this photograph, still a bachelor, and living with his parents in the house built by his father John Nevin next to the Lady Franklin Museum at Kangaroo Valley (New Town, Hobart, Tasmania.) It is entirely possible that Thomas Nevin's early training and first photographic equipment prior to 1865 was obtained from photographer Douglas Kilburn's declining interest as his political aspirations took precedence. It was through Kilburn's neighbour master mariner Captain Goldsmith that Thomas met his future wife Elizabeth Rachel Day, who was the elder daughter of Captain James Day and Captain Goldsmith's niece.

The wording on this unique stamp is typical of commercial branding; the prospective client would know from common speech that "Photographic Studio" are the missing words, and no generic apostrophe denoting possession was necessary or even grammatically logical because of the omission, viz. Nevin's (? what?). Comparative usage today goes unnoticed, eg. Myers, Woolworths, Coles, and Harrods, are the founding family surnames of large retailers where both the apostrophe before the "s" and the thing of possession have been dropped. The American department store, Macy's is a notable exception.

The stamp was devised around 1863 at Thomas Nevin's studio in New Town (Hobart) prior to his acquisition of Alfred Bock's stock, studio and glass house at 140 Elizabeth St. Hobart in 1865 and prior to his partnership with Robert Smith 1867-68. The more usual New Town stamp which Nevin printed verso on the dozens of stereographs taken during his partnership with Samuel Clifford - and continued to use until ca. 1888 - was a completely different design (see below).

Verso of "Long shadow with guard at the entrance to St John's Avenue, New Town"
Photos recto and verso copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2014-2015
Taken at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 10 November 2014
TMAG Collection Ref: Q1990.22.4

"Long shadow with guard at the entrance to St John's Avenue, New Town"
Photos recto and verso copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2014-2015
Taken at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 10 November 2014
TMAG Collection Ref: Q1990.22.4

Thomas J. Nevin took this photograph in the early evening of a summer's day when the shadows were long and the watch house at the entrance to the avenue was manned by at least two constables, given there are two canvas stools outside the porch on the right. The figure sitting against the perimeter fence may have been a guard, or even Nevin's assistant, or quite possibly his younger brother Jack Nevin, who was both his assistant and a constable, Constable John (W. J.) Nevin. The original plans for these two sandstone watch houses included a separate reception room each for men and women plus three small cells in one, and in the other, three rooms for constables. Watch houses on the busy New Town road (the main road leading to the north of the island) were considered a necessary police measure by the 1840s. These lodges were constructed in 1841, the church and schools were built in 1834-35 (TAHO, CSO 5/1/283/7452). The striations across the road at the entrance in this image could be the result of carriage wheels, or chemicals used in the printing process.

Nevin may have taken this photograph with the dual purpose of producing a commercial image for sale and a documentary record for the Queen's Orphan School's administrator, Dr John Coverdale, whose predecessor Adolarious Humphrey Boyd was dismissed from the post after less than two years as Superintendent (July 1862-October 1864). This same A. H. Boyd was despised by the public throughout his career as an administrator of the Orphan School, as Commandant of the Port Arthur Penitentiary, and administrator of the Cascades Asylum for Paupers, evidence of which proliferates in Parliamentary Papers seeking his dismissal, and in newspaper articles of the day decrying his bullying of staff and misuse of public funds. A. H. Boyd's descendants in the 1980s - who appear to have inherited their ancestor's nasty disposition - desperately tried to bring him up from history smelling like roses with a photographic attribution to the hundreds of extant police mugshots taken by Thomas Nevin in the 1870s. A. H. Boyd was no photographer, amateur, official or otherwise, in fact, no single document or photograph exists which substantiates the ridiculous and aggressive deceptions of Boyd's descendants to credit him as a photographer "artist" of any persuasion. No doubt Boyd knew Thomas Nevin from his work such as this photograph of the St. John's Church and Orphanages, and from Nevin's studio portraiture at Alfred Bock's in the early 1860s. He knew too that his brother-in-law, the Hon. W. R. Giblin, Attorney-General 1870-77, was Thomas Nevin's family solicitor. A. H. Boyd's misogyny cost him the job of Superintendent at the Orphan School. He was dismissed in October 1864.

We understand that the subject matter into which the Board, referred to in our last issue as having been appointed in connection with the above establishment, is the dismissal of one of the female officials, in consequence of a report by the Superintendent to the Government. The Board hold a protracted sitting on Saturday, but we have not heard the decision arrived at. We understand that a board of ladies, and presided over by Mrs. C. Meredith, also held an enquiry within the past few days into some charges preferred by another female against the Superintendent, and that the report of this Board was condemnatory of the proceedings of Mr. Boyd.
THE ORPHAN SCHOOL. (1864, May 17). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved January 31, 2015, from

MR. A. H. Boyd is to be removed from his position as superintendent of the Queen's Asylum. Dr. Huston, at present superin- tendent-surgeon of the Hospital for the Insane, New Norfolk, is to take Mr. Boyd's place. And Dr. Coverdale, of Richmond, is to take Dr. Huston's place at New Norfolk How Mr. Boyd is to be provided for, we have not heard, but things have been made plea- sant enough with regard to the other two gentlemen. For instance, Dr. Huston is to have £500 a year, as superintendent of the Queen's Asylum, with allowances, which means, we suppose, the £150 a year, now given to Dr. Smart, as medical officer and for travelling expenses,-thus making his salary, as Superintendent of the Asylum, £650 a year, that is, £350 a year more than was allowed to Mr. Boyd. On the other hand, Dr. Coverdale, who has long been on the look-out for something, gets the £500 a year that was allowed to Dr. Huston at New Norfolk. At these changes, few will be taken by surprise. They are just such as might have been expected from persons, who have so many political hangers-on to reward for past services. And we hear that there are other debts of political gratitude to be paid at no very remote date. What those are, are well enough known, without our further hinting at them, if never so much inclined. But we let the whole pass without farther remark, until the first batch of appointments are officially announced.which will be the case in the course of a few days. Of course, there is nothing corrupt in this. It is simply the exercise of a little political patronage. And if the country loses a few hundreds a year by it, it can well afford to do so.
OFFICIAL CHANGES. (1864, October 5). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved January 31, 2015, from

Medical practitioner Dr John Coverdale M.D. (1814-1896) was working for the Police Department with the title of 'medical officer, special duties at the gaol' by 1844. He was appointed to the Board of Medical Examiners in 1863, and superintendent of the Queen's Asylum for Orphans at New Town in 1865, about the time Thomas Nevin took this photograph. Dr Coverdale was to endorse Thomas Nevin's photographic commissions at the Port Arthur prison and Hobart Gaols when he (Coverdale) assumed the post of Commandant-Surgeon of the Port Arthur penitentiary in January 1874 after Adolarious Humphrey Boyd's sudden dismissal from the post for corruption. Dr. Coverdale stayed as civil commandant until the Port Arthur prison was abandoned in 1877. Next year he took charge of the Hospital for the Insane at the Cascades, near Hobart. On the 19th July 1866, Dr Coverdale's report on the state of children at the Queen's Asylum (Orphan School) was published in the Mercury:

Queen's Asylum, New Town,
July 2nd, 1866.
SIR,-I have the honor to furnish the annual report of this institution for 1865.... etc etc
... With reference to the general health of the children, it is pleasing to be able to make a most favorable report. Ophthalmia, once so general, has almost disappeared ; the few cases remaining simply going in support of the rule. A cutaneous disorder of a pustular nature, however, has been experienced more especially by the younger children, and has been of a troublesome and persistent character, and not unfrequently recurring after an apparent cure.
Two deaths only have taken place during the year - the one that of an imbecile boy bedridden with scrofulous sores for 3 years ( the other, also a boy, with inflammation of the pericardium and pycemia.
Vaccination during the spring months was successfully performed in 104 cases.
The question of education comes next, and it is one that has engaged much serious attention. With the valuable aid of the Inspector of School's measures have been adopted which it is hoped will lead to improvement in that essential branch of the establishment.
If that success the anxious philanthropist could wish has not attended the exertions made in that department, it has been owing to causes to a large extent beyond control.
Considering the idiosyncrasies of the children the surrounding circumstances of their early life, and the character of their parents, it would be too great a stretch of charity to believe that the unfortunate inmates of the Asylum, as a body, could be otherwise than defective in mental capacity and physical vigor.
Under these circumstances the task of instructing is not an easy one ; and when coupled with the condition spoken of by the Rev. Thomas J. Ewing, the protestant chaplain to the institution in 1862, who writes, " Where they are deficient, perhaps, is in intellectual development and in their want of comparison, arising in a great measure from their restricted intercourse with the world," that task is made even more difficult.
These observations are not intended to convey the impression that the children are incapable of improvement, or are insensible to kindness ; and whilst, therefore, scholastic duties and industrial training are strictly enjoined, one great aim has been to impart, as far as practicable, to the establishment the character of a home.
With this view, and to neutralise that feeling of seclusion from the world, periodical walks abroad have been established, and attendance at public places of amusement occasionally allowed.
The band also, established in 1864 at the instigation of Captain Clinch, has been continued by private contributions ; but as they are likely to fall short in support of what is now an admittedly essential item in the economy of the institution, a sum for a drill and band master has been placed on the estimates for 1867. .... etc etc

I have the honor to be, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,
Source: CHARITABLE INSTITUTIONS. (1866, August 6). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved January 23, 2015, from

Thomas Nevin soon after reprised his photography of the avenue leading to St John's Church, this time as a stereograph, pasted to a square yellow frame. This one is inscribed on verso "Queens Orphan Asylum, New Town", in either Nevin's or Samuel Clifford's handwriting. An additional and later inscription in pencil,  "G. Turner", possibly refers to Rev. G. Lawrence Turner who may have donated the photographs to the Narryna Museum, Battery Point, Tasmania where this stereograph was on display in 2008.

"Queens Orphan Asylum, New Town"
Verso of a stereograph by Nevin and/or Clifford held at Narryna Heritage Museum, Hobart
Photography © KLW NFC Imprint 2008 ARR

Samuel Clifford 1863
In Nevin's photograph, the small white box next to the watch house on the right at the end of the low wooden fence was possibly a dog house. The low wooden gate next to the box leads to a pit. The gate used to enter the pit is closed and not visible. Similarly, in this next photograph there is no open, low wooden gate at the entry to the pit on the viewer's right, adjacent to the watch house in the foreground at the entrance to the avenue leading to the church at centre and the orphan schools on either side. The photograph has been attributed and dated to 1863 by successive archivists and publishers using the stereo frame and notebooks of Clifford's contemporary, namely photographer, horologist and meteorologist Alfred Abbott, so Thomas Nevin's photograph of the same view minus the open gate can also be dated to around 1863 or earlier. In this stereo bearing Clifford's name transcribed on the recto, a male figure stands quite formally outside the gate keeper's porch on the viewer's left; in Nevin's photograph a male figure sits closer to the main road, outside the perimeter fence, and on the right. The publisher has dated the image to March, 1863 when the deciduous tree outside the school on the left was still leafy.

Title: Orphan Schools, New Town / Clifford photo
Creator: Clifford, Samuel, 1827-1890
In: Abbott album Item 75
Publisher: 1863
Description:1 stereoscopic pair of photographs : sepia toned ; 8 x 7 cm. each
ADRI: AUTAS001136189297
Source: W.L. Crowther Library
Notes: Title printed on label and pasted below images
Inscribed lower left in ink: Clifford photo. ; right: Mar. 1863
Exact size 73 x 64 mm. each
For descriptive notes by Alfred Abbott see his notebook item 197

Unattributed - 1870s
This later photograph (below) of the Orphan School and St John's Church New Town was taken in winter after heavy falls of snow on Mount Wellington. The tree on the viewer's left of the avenue outside the Orphan school has lost its foliage. The low gate on viewer's right next to the gatekeeper's lodge is open and hangs evenly, unlike the same gate in the later photograph (see below, attributed to H. H. Baily) where it hangs down on its hinges. This image was reprinted in an album ca. 1870 and titled "Church and Orphan Schools New Town with Mount Wellington."

Title: Queens Orphan Asylum New Town
In: Tasmanian scenes P. 21, item 41
Publisher: [1863] [incorrect?]
Description: 1 photograph : sepia toned ; 11 x 19 cm
ADRI: AUTAS001124075235
Source: W.L. Crowther Library

Title: Photograph - New Town - St John's Avenue - church and orphan schools
Description:1 photographic print
ADRI: PH1-1-15
Source: Archives Office of Tasmania
Series: Album of Photographs of Tasmania, 1870 (PH1)
Notes: 1870

The photograph (above) was also taken in winter. The tree outside the school building (left of church) is again bare of leaves, and snow has fallen along the slopes of Mount Wellington. Some decorative objects were placed outside the gatekeeper's porch on the left: a milk can and a birdcage. Two canvas stools stand on either side of the gatekeeper's porch on the right, but the guards who sat on them are missing. The photograph (below) was taken in summer, an appropriate capture for the emergent tourist market. It would become one of the most common scenes reproduced in albums and postcards at the close of the 19th century.

Title: Photograph - Church & Orphans School (St John's Park) - St John's Avenue New Town
Description: 1 photographic print
ADRI: PH30-1-6284
Source: Archives Office of Tasmania
Series: Miscellaneous Collection of Photographs. 1860 - 1992 (PH30)

Henry Hall Baily (attributed) 1876
Historic photographs collated into albums held at the Tasmanian Archives Office and catalogued with a photographer's name such as "Allport or "Clifford" or "Baily", as is this one, Baily album: Souvenir of Tasmania, are more often than not compilations of scenes and portraits by various photographers, put together by publishers such as Walch's for the tourist market, or included in family albums displaying bought scenes and family mementos, or by archivists anxious to tidy up disparate piles of donated items, with only a small number bearing evidence of attribution, such as a photographer's studio stamp. H. H. Baily and Samuel Clifford were both victims of Joshua Anson's theft of plates, frames, chemicals, albums etc (1877) while he was Baily's apprentice, so a catalogued album bearing their names might suggest attribution where none had been established from signs on the single item, nor from the contexts of capture, acquisition and accession.

Title: Queen's Asylum, New Town
In: Baily album: Souvenir of Tasmania P. 6
Publisher: [ca. 1875]
Description: 1 photograph : sepia toned ; 11 x 18 cm
ADRI: AUTAS001124850645
Source: W.L. Crowther Library

The New Town Studio Stamp 1860s-1888
Thomas Nevin used eight different commercial stamps, labels, government insignia stamps and handwritten inscriptions for four different studio locales between 1863 and 1888: the New Town studio; the Elizabeth St, studio (late A. Bock's); the Hobart Town Hall and Municipal Police Office where he was Keeper; and the Hobart Gaol photographer's room (the Royal Arms insignia stamp for government commissions) plus handwritten inscriptions for photographs taken on the road with Samuel Clifford. These stamps were registered between 1863, the date of this unusual "Thomas Nevins" New Town stamp, and 1888, the date when he ceased commercial and police work per evidence from official records, eg. birth registration of last born children and Mercury notices, although he continued producing family photographs well into the 1900s, most likely in the company of his father's second wife's nephew James Chandler (of the Genge family). The more usual commercial stamp used by Nevin operating from his studio at New Town was this one:

Vista of New Town, Hobart, Tasmania towards the former Methodist church
Stereograph by Thomas J. Nevin, New Town ca. 1866
Photos recto and verso copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2014-2015
Taken at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 10 November 2014
TMAG Collection Ref: Q1994.56.28

This stereograph (above) taken by Thomas J. Nevin ca. 1866 (verso has his usual New Town stamp) may be a view from the Swan family property, Beaulieu, looking across to the former Methodist church on New Town Road (at the junction of Pedder St). However, given the height at which it was taken, Nevin may have captured the scene from the tower of the large (pink-coloured) building now the Divisional Headquarters of the Salvation Army at 4 Bay Road New Town, called Brightside, which was the residence of a key figure in Thomas Nevin's life, Police Superintendent Richard Propsting of the Municipal Police Office, Hobart Town Hall.

The 1900s 
Trees were planted along St Johns Avenue to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. New fences were built adjoining the gatekeepers' lodges, the dog house was removed and the pit planted with a tree, but the white pebbles at the entrance to the porches, visible from Nevin's 1863 photography, were retained.

St John's Church 1930s
TAHO Ref: PH30/1/6135

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