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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
"To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life." ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fascinating Vintage Glass Plate Negative Mugshots From the 1920s

These pictures are part of a series of around 2500 "special photographs" taken by New South Wales Police Department photographers between 1910 and 1930. These "special photographs" were mostly taken in the cells at the Central Police Station, Sydney and are, as curator Peter Doyle explains, of "men and women recently plucked from the street, often still animated by the dramas surrounding their apprehension". Doyle suggests that, compared with the subjects of prison mug shots, "the subjects of the Special Photographs seem to have been allowed - perhaps invited - to position and compose themselves for the camera as they liked. Their photographic identity thus seems constructed out of a potent alchemy of inborn disposition, personal history, learned habits and idiosyncrasies, chosen personal style (haircut, clothing, accessories) and physical characteristics."

Here is an incredible collection of vintage mugshots housed by the Historic Houses Trust. Most of these fascinating photographs are also accompanied by a description of the person and the crime(s) they have committed. For example, the image below of Mr. William Stanley Moore was taken May 1st, 1925. The caption describes him as: an opium dealer operating with large quantities of faked opium and cocaine. Also a wharf labourer and associates with water front thieves and drug traders.

 The images themselves are of excellent quality, beautifully composed and in many cases, quite artistic.  I would call them portraits rather than a mugshot.

Photograph by The Sydney Justice & Police Museum

*Click on images for a larger view
 Mr. William Stanley Moore, 1925

Walter Smith – Deember 24, 1924

Herbert Ellis circa 1920
The precise circumstances surrounding this picture are unknown, but Ellis is found in numerous police records of the 1910s, 20s and 30s. He is variously listed as a housebreaker, a shop breaker, a safe breaker, a receiver and a suspected person. A considerably less self-assured Ellis appears in the NSW Criminal Register of 29 August 1934 (no. 206). His convictions by then include ‘goods in custody, indecent langauge, stealing, eceiving and throwing a missile.

 De Gracy (sic) and Edward Dalton circa 1920

Albert Stewart Warnkin and Adolf Gustave Beutler, 18 October 1920

"Albert Stewart Warnkin is listed in the NSW Police Gazette of 10 November 1920, as charged with attempting to carnally know a girl eight years old. No entry is found for Beutler, whose picture is inscribed ‘wilful and obscene exposure’"

 Masterman Thomas Scoringe – November 29, 1922

Ernest Joseph Coffey – June 2, 1922

 “Silent Tom” Richards and T Ross, alias Walton – April 12, 1920

Ernest James Montague – August 29, 1927

Guiseppe Fiori, alias Permontto – August 5, 1924

No entry for Fiori/Permontto is found in the NSW Police Gazette for 1924, although this photo appears in a later photo supplement, in which Fiori is described as a safebreaker.

Thomas Craig, Raymond Neil (aka “Gaffney the Gunman”), William Thompson and FW Wilson, January 25, 1928

This photograph was apparently taken in the aftermath of a raid led by Chief Bill Mackay – later to be Commissioner of Police – on a house at 74 Riley Street, ‘lower Darlinghurst’. Numerous charges were heard against the 15 men and women arrested. It was a house frequented by ‘reputed thieves’.

Sydney Skukerman, or Skukarman – September 25, 1924

Alfred John (or Francis) West – April 7, 1922

Walter Keogh – February 9, 1922

Walter Keogh appears in the Photo Supplement to the 1923 NSW Police Gazette (7 February Group 1 p. 4) identified as a pickpocket, and later in 1928 (26 December, Group 4 p. 15) as a ‘suspected person and bogus land salesman’. Keogh was also profiled in exposes in the newspaper Truth in 1928, as a ‘go-getter’, ie a con man who sells suburban building blocks at grossly inflated prices, by falsely leading the buyers to believe the lots may be promptly resold for a huge profit.

 Ah Low – May 31, 1928

Gilbert Burleigh and Joseph Delaney – August 27, 1920

Gilbert Burleigh on the left is identified as a ‘hotel barber’, and Delaney’s picture is labelled ‘false pretences & conspiracy’. A companion photograph makes it clear that in fact Delaney was the hotel barber – meaning one who books into a hotel, boarding house or residential and robs (or ‘snips’) fellow patrons, usually in the dead of night

Mug shot of Alfred Ladewig, date unknown, possibly Central Police Station, Sydney.

Joseph Messenger – February 15, 1922
Joseph Messenger and Valerie Lowe were arrested in 1921 for breaking into an army warehouse and stealing boots and overcoats to the value of 29 pounds 3 shillings. The following year, when this photograph was taken, they were charged with breaking and entering a dwelling. Those charges were eventually dropped but they were arrested again later that year for stealing a saddle and bridle from Rosebery Racecourse. As an adult Messenger was active in inner-Sydney underworld through the 1920s, and he appears in the NSW Criminal Register (16 July 1930 entry no 171) as a seasoned criminal and gang affiliate.

Eddie McMillan, John Frederick 'Chow' Hayes, Thomas Esmond Bollard, , 6 November 1930,

William Cahill – July 30, 1923

E. Walker, criminal record number 605LB, 12 November 1923. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW

No information about E. Walker has been found. She may have been a vagrant: her clothes are dirty, she wears what appear to be army boots and her head has been shaved to eradicate head lice. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964

Valerie Lowe, 15 February 1922, Central Police Station, Sydney

Hayes, date unknown

Emily Gertrude Hemsworth,  14 May 1925. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW
Emily Hemsworth killed her three-week-old son but could not remember any details of the murder. She was found not guilty due to insanity. Hemsworth was to be detained in custody until judged fit to return to society - it is unknown if she was ever released. Aged 24.

Mary Harris, 15 August 1923. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW

John Frederick 'Chow' Hayes, 6 November 1930, Central Police Station, Sydney

 Frank Murray alias Harry Williams – February 4, 1929
Harry Williams was sentenced to 12 months hard labour on March 1929 for breaking, entering and stealing. Although he ‘consorts with prostitutes’ and ‘frequents hotels and wine bars in the vicinity of the Haymarket’, he is described as being of ‘quiet disposition’.

 Hampton Hirscham, Cornellius Joseph Keevil, William Thomas O’Brien and James O’Brien – July 20, 1921

  Eugenia Falleni, alias Harry Crawford, 1920
When ‘Harry Leon Crawford’, hotel cleaner of Stanmore was arrested and charged with wife murder he was revealed to be in fact Eugeni Falleni, a woman and mother, who had been passing as a man since 1899. In 1914, as ‘Harry Crawford’, Falleni had married the widow Annie Birkett. Three years later, shortly after she announced to a relative that she had found out ‘something amazing about Harry’, Birkett disappeared.

 Kong Lee – November 27, 1922
Kong Lee makes numerous appearances in the NSW Police Gazette as a ‘safe blower’ and ‘thief’, and is noted in the issue of February 1929 as having recently been seen riding trains ‘in the company of card sharpers and spielers’.

 Frederick Edward Davies, July 14, 1921

The handwritten inscription on this unnumbered Special Photograph reads ‘Frederick Edward Davies stealing in picture shows and theatres Dets Surridge Clark and Breen Central 14-7-21′. Police held sneak thieves in particularly low regard, which may account for the decision to photograph Davies in front of the police station’s toilet stalls.
Thomas Bede – November 22, 1928

 George Whitehall – February 24, 1922

George Whitehall, carpenter, handed himself into Newtown police after hacking to death his common-law wife, Ida Parker on Thursday afternoon 21 February 1922, at their home in Pleasant Avenue, Erskineville. This photo was apparently taken the following morning at Newtown Police Station

Sidney Kelly – June 25, 1924

find more photographs here


  1. Fantastic stuff...thank you

  2. So frightning & sexy!!!

    LOUIS (France)

  3. Wow! this looks good!

  4. These are great. Thanks for posting.

  5. You are very welcome Rob! Thanks for dropping by.


  6. Amazing stuff and interesting, especially if doing your own family tree.
    thk u very much


  7. gr8 stuff and worthwhile viewing. thks for researching and sharing .