Underworld mugshots on display at Museum

07 Mar 2019

Haunting mugshots of Sydney’s bosses, plotters, bruisers and petty criminals of the 1920s – some with felonious links to Newcastle and the Hunter - will be on display at Newcastle Museum from today.

UNDERWORLD: Mugshots from the Roaring Twenties investigates the life and times of Sydney’s seedy underworld during the 1920s – a time most remember for jazz, Art Deco, glitz and glamour.

Criminal Rose Engebritsen 14 November 1925. Credit: NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive,
Sydney Living Museums

But the age had a much more sinister undertone when gangs, guns and violence played a major role.

Criminal Rose Engebritsen, it’s understood, worked in Newcastle as a singer. Although ‘Deported from America’ is noted under a photograph of her kept by police, a woman with the same name was advertised as singing during a film screening in Newcastle.

Snowy Cutmore, who had connections with horse racing at Cessnock, was a gunman, a sly-grog seller and housebreaker with multiple convictions for assault. His death at the hands of another gangster, Squizzy Taylor, were chronicled in The Cessnock Eagle and South Maitland Recorder in 1927.

These local examples of life in the ‘Roaring Twenties’, as they were known, were part and parcel of the brave new world many people were living in post-World War One.

John D ‘Snowy’ Cutmore, 5 July 1922. Credit: NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive, Sydney Living Museums

“These fascinating tales of real-life events occurred during an era of lax law enforcement and a rise in criminal activity,” Newcastle Museum Director Julie Baird said.

“Each of the 130 candid and compelling mugshots taken by NSW Police between 1920 and 1930 offers its own poignant look at a period which saw criminals cash in on illegal markets thanks to advances in new technology.”

“The striking detail and expressions present on the faces of the photographed, the clothes they’re wearing and the locations they’re shot are so different to any mugshot taken today. It’s a fascinating exhibition and one the museum is very much looking forward to displaying.”

Augustine ‘Gus’ Gracey and Edgar ‘Eddie’ Dalton circa 1920. Credit: NSW Police Forensic Photography Archive,
Sydney Living Museums

Exhibition Curator Nerida Campbell said the exhibition explored the dark side of the Roaring Twenties where “you’ll meet the bosses, plotters, bruisers and petty crims who ruled Sydney’s mean streets.”

“The photography in this exhibition is amazing,” she said.

"The mugshots taken by Sydney police are unlike any you’ll see anywhere in the world; They’re candid, and compelling, and the stories behind the people in them are amazing.

“Stories of people struggling with bad choices, stories of people possibly in the wrong place at the wrong time and the dyed-in-the-wool criminals who wouldn’t change even if they could.”
Reproduced from glass plate negatives, the images retain a high-quality level of clarity almost a century after they were taken.

The exhibition will be on display from today until 30 June. For more information on the exhibition, visit the Newcastle Museum exhibition page at http://www.newcastlemuseum.com.au/Exhibitions/Exhibitions/UNDERWORLD