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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.
Inspector of Prisons
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.
Actg Inspr of Prisons
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).
[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.
Microfilm copies. SR Reels 5097-5101 [date range copied 1872-1885], SR Reels 5102-5117 [date range November 1897- July 1914], SR Reels 5133-5134 [date range copied 1871-1875]
Digitised for EmDARA - see file path in archives note
Item lists are available electronically