Sydney’s Special Mugshots

Day 74 of Colourisation Project – July 20

In 1990 the Historic Houses Trust of NSW, Australia rescued an extensive collection of NSW Police forensic photographs from a flooded warehouse in Sydney’s western suburb of Lidcombe. Forgotten for half a century, the archive contains 130,000 highly detailed glass plate negatives created by the NSW Police Department between 1910 and 1964, and featuring crime scenes, police activities and forensic evidence as well as a stunning collection of mugshots.

Revealing more than a century of Sydney’s underworld these images caused a sensation when they were first exhibited at Sydney’s Justice and Police Museum in 2005 and you can see why here. Taken mostly in the cells at the Central Police Station, Sydney, the mugshots offer viewers a compelling glimpse into the notorious underbelly of early 20th century Australian life.

Mugshots Sydney

Photo credit NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Justice & Police Museum and Historic Houses Trust of NSW – Special Photograph no. 446. Colourised by Loredana Crupi

What makes this collection extraordinary is that all the mugshots are of a generally high production standard, in sharp focus, and tonally well-balanced. Someone in the Police Department clearly had the foresight to invest in up to date technology, time and effort to visually record the darker side of the city. It is known for certain that the task of taking the photos was left to police photographers and not outsourced. They knew what they were doing. The images themselves are of excellent quality, strategically composed and in many cases exhibit an artistic approach.

Today’s photo for colourisation is one of those mugshots taken 93 years ago on this day, 20th July in 1921. One of a series of around 2500 ‘special photographs’ it features a  group mugshot of 4 detainees; Hampton Hirscham, Cornellius Joseph Keevil, William Thomas O’Brien and James O’Brien at Central Police Station, Sydney.

Unlike your modern day mugshots where the subjects look like stunned rabbits caught in the glare of headlights, these dapper looking gentlemen seem quite self composed, dressed to impress and familiar with the camera. Documents reveal that they were arrested over a robbery at the home of a bookmaker in 1921. The Crown did not proceed against W.Thomas O’Brien but the other three were convicted and received sentences of fifteen months each.

Such is life.


“an intimate, raw and hauntingly beautiful record of the mysterious people and dark places of a Sydney lost”  –  Peter Doyle, Exhibition Curator

This entry was posted in Australia, Colorization, Colourisation, History, Photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Sydney’s Special Mugshots

  1. Pingback: Eugenia Falleni – Ladies’ Man | Random Phoughts

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