Constable Blakeney's revenge on Thomas Nevin 1880

Constable Blakeney"You have a nose on me, and now I have got you."  
"Nevin was asked by the Mayor if he would, 'as a last chance', state who his companion was, but he persisted in declaring his innocence, saying he saw no figure at all, and attributed his arrest to some ill feeling which existed between Blakeney and himself."
The Launceston Examiner, 6 December 1880

Hobart Town Hall with figure at front, probably the keeper, photographer Thomas Nevin
No date, 1876-80, unattributed, half of stereo?
Archives Office of Tasmania
Ref: PH612 high resolution image

Throughout December 1880 and into January 1881, Tasmanian and intercolonial newspapers reported at length on photographer Thomas J. Nevin's sudden dismissal from his position as Hobart Town Hall keeper, a decision reached by the Mayor because of an incident involving Nevin and three constables on Thursday evening, December 2rd, 1880. Nevin was seen in Davey St in close proximity to the "ghost", a person who had been terrorising citizens on Hobart streets wearing a phosphorescent white sheet. Nevin was also seen in company in various hotels during the evening while ostensibly still on duty, and when apprehended on suspicion of acting in concert with the "ghost", was found to be inebriated.

The readers of The Mercury's account of what took place that evening were given a partially accurate report of the meeting of the Police Committee next day where Nevin and Constables Blakeney, Oakes and Priest gave their versions of the events. The Mercury referred to Nevin's stated belief that Constable Blakeney had arrested him as revenge for an incident which took place two months earlier, in October 1880,when Nevin reported Blakeney for being drunk and asleep on duty to Sergeant Dove, who took the matter to Superintendent Pedder and the Mayor. Blakeney's counsel refuted Nevin's claim that Blakeney had said  to Nevin these words as clear intention of retaliation:
By the Mayor : When arresting Nevin, witness [i.e. Blakeney] did not say, " You have a nose on me, and now I have got you," or use any words to that effect.
The phrase used by Blakeney was curiously put: " - you have a nose on me" - by which he meant stalking or surveillance, smelling alcohol on someone found in improper circumstances, and resulting in payback in kind - "and now I have got you". The Launceston Examiner referred more directly to Blakeney's action of arresting Nevin as retaliation for his demotion,  by reporting that Nevin attributed his arrest to some ill feeling which existed between Blakeney and himself.

... Shortly afterwards Oakes and Priest heard cries from two women whom they met that the ghost was in Salamanca Place, and they at once proceeded there, when they saw a figure in white near the Guano Store, and a man (Nevin) on the footpath, struck a light, much more brilliant than a match, and displayed the figure clearly. Constable Blakeney, who arrived upon the scene at the time, arrested Nevin, and the other constables pursued the ghost, but were unable to overtake him. Nevin was asked by the Mayor if he would, "as a last chance," state who his companion was, but he persisted in declaring his innocence, saying he saw no figure at all, and attributed his arrest to some ill feeling which existed between Blakeney and himself. Nevin, who had been repeatedly warned, was dismissed from his situation for drunkenness. The whole affair is still, to a great extent, shrouded in mystery, and the witnesses examined differ as to the precise time that the events narrated took place, but it is believed that the police have now sufficient reason for hoping that they will be able to clear the whole matter up before too long.

[No heading]. (1880, December 6). Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899), p. 3. Retrieved July 30, 2014, from
Constable Blakeney: drunk and asleep on duty at 3 am
Constable John Blakeney was hoping to make the rank of Sergeant when his dereliction of duty - being drunk and asleep at 3am in the first week of October 1880 - was reported by Nevin to the Police Office and Mayor as a potential risk to the Hobart Town Hall's security. Housed in the Town Hall were not just the full administrative records of the Mayor's court and business dealings of the City Corporation Council; the Hobart Municipal Police Office where criminal registers were kept was also housed there on the ground floor; and the Town library containing valuable volumes was upstairs, while downstairs in the basement were prison cells housing recently arrested offenders.

Sergeant Dove reported Constable Blakeney to Supt Pedder on October 6th, 1880, in this letter, which curiously bears the word "Matter" underscored in red followed by exclamation marks.

Draft Minutes of the Police Committee
21 Feb 1879-25 March 1898
Photos copyright © KLW NFC 2014

Hobart Town
October 6th 1880
Sir I respectfully report for your information that I found Constable Blakeney asleep on his beat at half past three o'clock this morning, Blakeney was under the influence of drink, and admitted that he had a pint of ale, I bring this matter under your notice as a matter of duty and respect, Trusting that you will deal leniently with the matter as Blakeney is a very willing constable
I remain Sir your obedient W Dove Sergeant
Fr Pedder Esq
Supt of police

Superintendent Pedder requested the Mayor to summon Constable John Blakeney to appear before him and the Police Committee on 6th October 1880, because of the complaint lodged by Sergeant Dove. The Mayor approved Blakeney's demotion to 2nd class.

Minutes of the MCC: As a result, Constable Blakeney was demoted from 1st class to 2nd class.
Constable Blakeney was reinstated to 1st class 3 weeks later, on 26 November 1880.

Draft Minutes of the Police Committee
21 Feb 1879-25 March 1898
Photos copyright © KLW NFC 2014

Blakeney's Reinstatement and Revenge

Last entry in the MCC police committee minutes:
Constable Blakeney was reinstated to 1st class on 26 November 1880 after demotion on October 6, 1880

Draft Minutes of the Police Committee
21 Feb 1879-25 March 1898
Photos copyright © KLW NFC 2014

Within a week of being reinstated, Blakeney was intent on compromising Nevin. He had most likely coerced the other two constables, Oakes and Priest, to invent the story that "the ghost" had appeared in Nevin's company, since their witness accounts were not consistent. Nevin denied having seen anyone dressed in a white sheet. Blakeney's demotion was the result of intoxication, and he was intent on making Nevin suffer the same fate when he sought out Nevin on the night of the arrest.

According to the Mercury's report, on Thursday night, 2nd December 1880, Constable John Blakeney told the Police Committee in Nevin's presence that he had arrested photographer and Hobart Town Hall keeper Thomas J. Nevin "because he thought he [Nevin] had some apparatus for producing the phenomenon of a ghost" (Mercury, Saturday 4 December 1880, p.2). Nevin had been seen earlier that evening in the company of fellow photographer Henry Hall Baily, carrying photographic equipment.

Nevin was taken to the police watch house by Blakeney, and searched for photographic items. He was found to have none and was released by Sub-inspector Connor without charge. The next day, Friday, 3rd December 1880, he appeared at a special meeting of the Police Committee held at the Town Hall in the presence of the Mayor, Aldermen Harcourt and Espie, and Superintendent of Police F. Pedder. Proceedings began with derogatory comments about Nevin's coloured photography -"ornaments of different colour" - (read the full article here) which may have been a reference to his hand-coloured cartes-de-visite mugshots of prisoners, eg. Job Smith, Walter Bramall, James Sutherland etc. The three constables, Oakes, Priest and Blakeney, gave witness accounts.

During proceedings, Constable Blakeney addressed Thomas Nevin with this snide comment, reprised and denied by his counsel  Alderman Harcourt:

To Nevin : You then wore the same clothing that you do now. I have no ill-feeling against you.'

By the Mayor : When arresting Nevin, witness did not say, " You have a nose on me, and now I have got you," or use any words to that effect.

In other words, Constable Blakeney lied to the Mayor and Police Committee, denying he was out for revenge because of Nevin's complaint leading to his demotion two months earlier. Nevin was adamant he was being framed by the "ghost" story:

Thomas Nevin: “I hope that you have not got it in your mind that I am implicated with the ghost“.

Excerpt: The Mercury 4th December 1880
John Blakeney, constable in the City Police, deposed that he was on duty on the wharf as acting-sergeant, the previous night. While walking in the direction of Mr. Knight’s stores, he saw two men at the corner. He walked over to them to ascertain who they were. As he was approaching them, both began to walk up Salamanca Place towards Davey-street. One split off into the middle of the road, and the other remained on the path on the left hand side, near the stores. Witness did not know who they were. The man in the centre of the road threw a reflection upon the one alongside the wall. The reflection was also upon the wall for a height of about 7 ft. Witness walked quickly towards the man in the road, and at the same time two men came stealthily out of George-street. Witness then commenced to run. One of those who came out of George-street said, “Come back, George.” Witness replied, “Don’t you see this fellow playing the ghost?” when the man in the middle of the road again threw a reflection upon the ghost. Witness arrested this man, who proved to be Nevin. The other two me pursued the man who had been acting as ghost. Nevin was taken to the police station, where he was searched at his own request. There was nothing that would account for the appearance of the ghost found upon him. 
By Mr. HARCOURT: Nevin might have thrown anything that he had away before being searched. 
By the MAYOR: Witness arrested Nevin because he thought he had some apparatus for producing the phenomenon of a ghost. The light that was ignited was not similar to that produced by a match, but was much more brilliant. Witness arrested Nevin between half-past 12 and a quarter to 1 o’clock. Nevin was under the influence of liquor. 
To Nevin: You then wore the same clothing that you do now. I have no ill-feeling against you. 
By the MAYOR: When arresting Nevin, witness did not say, “You have a nose on me, and now I have got you,” or use any words to that effect. 
Sub-inspector Connor, who was on duty when Nevin was taken to the police station, stated that after searching Nevin at his own request, he discharged him. His reasons for doing so were that nothing was found upon Nevin which would account for the appearance of the ghost, and that Constable Blakeney did not make a specific charge against Nevin. Witness knew that the “ghost” business had given the police a lot of trouble. He considered that Blakeney simply brought the man Nevin to the station in order to obtain his (Mr. Connor’s) advice. Witness felt embarrassed about the case. Nevin was under the influence of liquor. 
Read the full article here and at Trove
Source: THE "GHOST.". (1880, December 4). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954), p. 2. Retrieved July 30, 2014, from

Sub-Inspector John Connor

John Connor had enjoyed just a few months of promotion to the rank of Sub-Inspector when he found himself being admonished by the Mayor in front of the Police Committee and three constables for releasing Thomas Nevin from the watch house on the night of 2 December 1880. John Connor was sympathetic to Nevin's situation, and considered him a friend. The Mercury report of the Mayor's meeting (4 December 1880) said that John Connor (viz, witness quoted below)  "felt embarrassed about the case. Nevin was under the influence of liquor":
The MAYOR: Don’t you consider that, in view of the excitement occasioned by the appearance of the ghost, and the dangerous circumstances which might arise in consequence of children, and especially women, being frightened by it, that a man arrested under the circumstances under which Nevin was apprehended, ought to be detained and locked up? 
Witness: Unquestionably so, if a distinct charge had been made against him. It was, however, principally owing to the fact that I knew Nevin well and the position that he occupied, and further, that if released and he should afterwards be required, he might readily be found to answer to any charge.

Letter written by John Connor to the Mayor etc expressing gratitude for his promotion.
Draft Minutes of the Police Committee
21 Feb 1879-25 March 1898
Photos copyright © KLW NFC 2014

Police Station
Hobart Town
April 12th 1880
The Right Worshipful the Mayor and Aldermen in Council
I beg leave most respectfully to convey to you my most grateful thanks for having been pleased to promote me to the rank of Sub-Inspector in the City police and to reassure you that I will use my best endeavours to give satisfaction by a faithful discharge of my duty.
I remain
Your Obt Servant
John Connor
The dismissal from the position of Hall keeper was in some respects a relief for Thomas Nevin and his family. There were the good times when the Hall was filled to capacity with crowds visiting the bazaars, moving panoramas, and concerts, but there were the bad times when the Chiniquy riots resulted in damage to the building and violent confrontations with protesters. Their third child Sydney John died in January 1877 at the Hall just four months after birth.

The Mayor's Committee expressed deep regret at the dismissal (reported in The Mercury late December and early January 1880-1881), and mindful of his growing family, the Council decided to retain Nevin's photographic services to police. Assisted by his younger brother Constable John Nevin at the Hobart Gaol, Campbell St, Thomas Nevin was re-assigned with warrant and photographic duties as assistant bailiff with The Municipal Police Office, Hobart Town Hall. Working principally in the City Police Court, the Hobart Gaol, and Supreme Court Hobart as assistant to Sub-Inspector John Dorset(t), Nevin continued to provide identification photographs of prisoners up until 1889, a service he had provided for the Prisons Department and MPO since 1872. Many of these mugshots were collated with the Municipal Police Office issued warrants; two death warrants with Nevin's photographs of the condemned man attached (e.g. Sutherland 1883; Stock 1884) now survive intact in the Mitchell Collection at the State Library of NSW. But the incident with Constable Blakeney had clearly affected his opinion of the police. As he was reported to say at a meeting at the Hall in 1888 when government legislation pertaining to police administration was signed as a resolution on the occasion of a bill to be introduced in the House of Assembly to effectively centralise the various municipal and territorial forces:

"Mr. Thos Nevin was under the impression that the police should be under stricter supervision."
The Mercury, 19 July 1888

Constable John (W. J.) Nevin ca. 1880.
Photo taken by his brother Thomas Nevin
Copyright © KLW NFC & The Nevin Family Collections 2009 ARR

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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.