Poster of Thomas Nevin's convict photographs 1870s

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 when they were isolated in silence for a month after sentencing. If sentenced for a long term 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.

One of the two rooms used by the photographers was located above the women's laundry and demolished in 1915. The majority of these photographs were salvaged from the laundry and the Sheriff's Office at the Hobart Gaol by Beatie's Studio, Elizabeth St. for display at local and interstate exhibitions, e.g. in conjunction with convictaria from the hulk Success at the Royal Hotel, Sydney, 1916.

The Nevin family solicitor since 1868, Attorney-General William Robert Giblin, had requested Thomas J. Nevin to visit the Port Arthur penitentiary, 60 kms south of Hobart, with a view to photographing prison inmates during the visit of the former Premier of Victoria, Sir John O'Shanassy and Howard Spensley, Solicitor-General, in January 1872. W. R. Giblin's decision was in force by October 1873 when Thomas J. Nevin photographed William Smith per Gilmore 3 on discharge from the Hobart Gaol. This early prisoner mugshot was printed from his negative and stamped verso with his government contractor's stamp which included his name, studio address and Royal Arms insignia. The Royal Arms insignia was printed on all government contractors' documents and displayed prominently at their business premises.

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. KLW NFC Imprint ARR.

This poster or wall chart was purchased at the National Trust's Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site, adjacent to the site of the former Hobart Gaol. Its montage of Thomas Nevin's portraits of Tasmanian convicts (1870s) was compiled from John Watt Beattie's donated collection (ca. 1927) at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston. The Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority is credited with its production, according to the caption on lower border, left, and presumably for its large titles: "WHO WERE THEY?" and "THE CONVICTS OF PORT ARTHUR". The poster or wall chart was published as a booklet ca. 1991, according to Libraries Australia catalogue notes:

Several of these convicts were indeed incarcerated as transportees at the regional Port Arthur penintentiary, 60 kms from Hobart, at some time during their criminal careers, and some were local offenders or "native". But they were not photographed because they had been transported convicts per se as some sort of museological collection (transportation ended in 1853), but because they were habitual offenders, escapees and recidivists. Their photographs were commissioned by the Tasmanian government in 1871 and used by the Town Hall Municipal Police Office, The Tasmanian Supreme Court  at the Hobart Gaol, and the Prisons Department in the course of daily detection and surveillance. All of these photographs of the so-called "Port Arthur convicts" were taken by the brothers Thomas and Constable John Nevin at the Hobart Goal whether prior to the prisoners' deportation from Hobart to Port Arthur in the early 1870s or after being returned from Port Arthur to Hobart 1873-1874, a process which was systematically deployed as early as 1871 through to the Port Arthur closure in 1877. All prisoners by July 1873 with sentences longer than 3 months were being received at the prison in Hobart Town from regional lock-ups. Thomas J. Nevin was the government contractor who held exclusive rights to the commission while still an independent commercial photographer (1871-1876), and continued jointly from the Hobart Gaol and Municipal Police Office studios with his brother when appointed full-time to the civil service at the Town Hall (from 1876-mid 1880s).

Detail: the PAHSMA accreditation on lower left border with this caption:
"Produced by Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority, with photographs (circa 1870) from the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery Beattie Collection.

These prisoner photographs were displayed at the QVMAG in 1938
Title: "When in Launceston, visit the museum"
Creator: Examiner (Launceston, Tas.)
Publisher: Launceston, Tas. : Examiner Office, 1938?
Description: 1 poster : col. print on paper ; 95 X 61 cm
ADRI: AUTAS001126077270
Source: Tasmaniana Library

John Watt Beattie's collection of Thomas Nevin's original identification photographs or mugshots of Tasmanian prisoners taken between 1871 and 1884 came into Beattie's possession in the late 1890s. Beattie acquired many of these original mugshots from the Supreme Court registers and police records at the Sheriff's Office ca. 1895 and reprinted them in the 1900s for sale in his convictaria museum as tourist tokens of Tasmania's penal history. They were resurrected as an exhibition at the QVMAG in 1977. This notice appeared in the Mercury, 10th March, 1977:

Nevin's convicts exhibition 1977

"The work of T. J. Nevin..."
The Mercury, March 3rd, 1977

Contributory researchers included the curator John McPhee, State Librarian Special Collections Geoffrey T. Stilwell, and Professor Joan Kerr (University of Sydney). In her massive publication, The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, (1992, Melbourne: OUP), Professor Joan Kerr included on page 568 in the entry for Thomas Nevin one of these photographs, a "booking photograph" of Thomas Harrison (middle row, centre) :

Caption: Thomas Harrison - 3 months for being idle and disorderly

Entry on Thomas Nevin in Kerr 1992
Photos © KLW NFC 2010 ARR

Stilwell and Kerr's entry for Thomas J. Nevin, on p. 568, The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870 included this booking shot of Thomas Harrison:

Booking photograph of Thomas Harrison.
Photographer: T. J. Nevin
QVMAG Ref: 1985:P:113

William Smith per Gilmore 3
This photograph of convict William Smith (below centre) is one of the several extant prisoner photographs which Nevin stamped verso with the Royal Arms insignia signifying his contract as prisons photographer for the Municipal Police Office and Prisons Department:

Detail: poster inclusion of reproduction of Nevin's photograph of William Smith

This loose copy bearing T. J. Nevin's government contract stamp is a prison record photograph of William Smith per Gilmore 3  now held at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston.

Recto and verso of convict Smith carte with T. J. Nevin's government contractor stamp
Carte numbered "199" on recto
QVMAG 1985:p131 & AOT Ref: 30-3244.

Why does this carte of Smith bear T. J. Nevin’s studio stamp? The question has been asked by photo historians with little consideration to the realities of government tender. It is not a commercial stamp but one signifying the photographer's status as a government contractor. This prisoner cdv was one of several chosen by Thomas Nevin to access his commission, register copyright on behalf of the colonial government, and renew his contract under the terms of the tender. Only one was required per batch of 100, the verso stamp used to identify the photographer’s joint copyright under contract. The registration lasted 14 years from the second year of registration (1872-1874 to 1886).

CONVICT RECORDS Description of William Smith


Description of William Smith per Gilmore 3, 27 years old, 5'5½ tall. Distinguishing marks - two large blue marks on face MA woman. fish bird WxS 1835 on right arm bird form 1817. PHEASANT bird below elbow left arm. G.S. heart T.S above elbow etc
Source: TAHO Ref:CON18-1-36_00104_L

[Below]: Prisoner no. 9438, SMITH, William: The record below was incomplete, noted on his police gazette record when received from Port Arthur. His Ticket of Leave was gazetted on 5-9 September 1873 when T. J. Nevin first photographed him. Smith was then convicted of larceny in 1875, and of burglary and uttering in 1879. He was discharged to freedom, on 9th June 1883.

Prisoner no. 9438, SMITH, William
TAHO Ref: CON33-1-39_00262_L

POLICE RECORDS for William Smith per Gilmore 3:

William Smith per Gilmore 3 was discharged with a TOL 10 September 1873, received from Port Arthur. Note that his age and physical measurements are not recorded at the Police Office because no photograph existed prior to his release. When Nevin photographed him on discharge in 1873, Smith was dressed and ready for freedom. The photograph exhibits a degree of liminality of the prisoner's state: free on a ticket of leave but classed as a criminal. William Smith re-offended again in April 1874, and was discharged 12 months later.

Wm Smith discharged 1st April, 1875. Photographed again on release by T. J. Nevin.

Suspicion attaches to William Smith per Gilmore 3, 23rd April, 1875

Wm Smith per Gilmore 3 Warrant for arrest 23 April 1875. Thomas Nevin's face-to-contact with William Smith while photographing him 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 was arrested at Richmond, notice of 9th July, 1875.

Thomas Nevin photographed William Smith again wearing the prisoner issue black leathern cap. This photograph was taken on the prisoner's incarceration at the Hobart Gaol, in July 1875.  The visitor to the Hobart Gaol in 1882 noted this uniform with the cap in his report to the The Mercury, (as above), on 8th July 1882:

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.

William Smith per Gilmore 3. Photo by Thomas Nevin, July 1875
Verso with Nevin's government contractor's stamp 
Mitchell Library NSW PXB 274 No.1
Photo copyright © KLW NFC 2009 Arr

The first prisoner carte of William Smith per Gilmore 3 is numbered "199". This, the second photograph by T. J. Nevin of the same prisoner William Smith is numbered "200". The numbers were applied when these two photographs among several dozen more were salvaged by John Watt Beattie from the Hobart Gaol Sheriff's Office ca. 1915 and displayed in his museum in Hobart. Some were sent to an exhibition at the Royal Hotel in Sydney in 1916 in conjunction with a display of convictaria associated with the hulk Success.

William Smith per Gilmore 3 was sentenced to a further 4 years in December 1879, per this record from the Hobart Supreme Court Rough Calendar: No. 9438 William Smith per Gilmore 3,
Original sentence was for Life. Pleaded guilty on 9 December 1879 for Breaking and entering a dwelling house of George Manning of Richmond - date not given on warrant. Found guilty, sentenced to 4 years, 9.12.79

Rough Calendar Hobart Supreme Court TAHO Ref: GD70-1-1 Page 79

William Smith at TROVE
Employees of the State Library of Tasmania who devise records for the search engine TROVE at the National Library of Australia wish to suppress the fact that Thomas J. Nevin photographed this and many more prisoners in the 1870s with catalogue entries such as the one below (webshot)- "No photographer name or studio stamp appears on the original photograph", in accordance with the vague prevarications and error of the few authors, e.g Warwick Reeder 1995; Chris Long, 1995, etc, which appeared in print, for example, the A-Z directory Tasmanian photographers 1840-1940, Winter, G. (ed) 1995, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Webshot 2013.

Australia's first MUGSHOTS


Below each image held at the National Library of Australia is their catalogue batch edit which gives the false impression that all these "convict portraits" were taken because these men were transported convicts per se (i.e before cessation in 1853), and that they might have been photographed as a one-off amateur portfolio by a prison official at the Port Arthur prison in 1874, which they were not. Any reference to the Port Arthur prison official A. H. Boyd on the NLA catalogue records is an error, a PARASITIC ATTRIBUTION with no basis in fact. The men in these images were photographed in the 1870s-1880s because they were repeatedly sentenced as habitual offenders whose mugshots were taken on arrest, trial, arraignment, incarceration and/or discharge by government contractor, police and prisons photographer T. J. Nevin at the Supreme Court and adjoining Hobart Gaol with his brother Constable John Nevin, and at the Municipal Police Office, Hobart Town Hall when appearing at The Mayor's Court. The Nevin brothers photographed more than 2000 prisoners, the bulk now lost or destroyed. These extant mugshots were the random estrays salvaged - and reproduced in many instances- for sale at Beattie's local convictaria museum in Hobart and at interstate exhibitions associated with the fake convict ship Success in the early 1900s. The mugshots were selected on the basis of the prisoner's notoriety from the Supreme Court trial registers (Rough Calendar), the Habitual Criminals Registers (Gaol Photo Books), warrant forms, and police gazettes records of the 1870s-1880s. The earliest taken on government contract by T. J. Nevin date from 1872. The police records sourced here are from the weekly police gazettes which were called (until 1884) Tasmania Reports of Crime Information for Police 1871-1885. J. Barnard, Gov't Printer.