Library shines light on State's old-time crooks

05 Dec 2018

A lifelong criminal who picked pockets under the watchful eye of her husband on Newcastle's colonial streets features in a new exhibition about New South Wales lawbreakers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
On at Newcastle Region Library until Saturday 16 February, Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930 shines a light on the ordinary men, women and children caught on the wrong side of the NSW criminal justice system, whether by choice or circumstance.

Among those was Sarah Clifford, a former convict and known pickpocket in both Tasmania and NSW, whose early convictions took place in Newcastle.
Twelve years after arriving in Hobart from Ireland in 1852, Clifford, her husband and kids were living here when she was caught pickpocketing.
But Sarah was discharged on the presumption of law ‘where a woman committed a felony in the presence of her husband that she was acting under coercion’.
Clifford’s crimes continued for the next four decades until her last conviction in 1910 at the age of 76. By this time she had spent more than 36 years in gaol.
Suzie Gately, City of Newcastle's Manager Libraries and Learning, said the exhibition tells extraordinary stories of ordinary people.
“Captured highlights the untold stories of individuals in the historic NSW justice system,” Ms Gately said.
"It also sheds light on the practice of photographing prisoners, which was introduced in NSW in 1871, and about two decades earlier in France and Britain. These photographic portraits give us a glimpse into the lives of criminals in Australia that we would not otherwise have."
Developed by NSW State Archives, the exhibition features a wide selection of records and images sourced from 46,000 inmate records contained in 199 gaol photographic-description books.
NSW State Archives undertook a project in 2016 to digitise items in the Collection of Gaol Photographic Description Books, many of which were at risk of being lost to physical deterioration or because they were kept on obsolete technology.
During the process of digitising the records, staff also combed the histories for the most interesting stories for the exhibition and catalogue, said exhibition curator Dr Penny Stannard.
“Our expert staff and research archivists have peeled back the layers of these historical records and illuminated the events that led these people to commit a crime,” she said.
“We looked at the offence type, gender, age and location of crimes to piece together a collection of compelling stories.”
Visit Captured: Portraits of Crime at Newcastle Library, Laman Street, Newcastle in the Local Studies Lounge until Saturday 16 February.
For more information visit the NSW State Archives website or view the exhibition catalogue.
Media contacts:
Dana Fischetti, Media Officer, City of Newcastle, 02 4974 2264
Kristoff Clark, Create NSW Media & PR Manager,
Curator's Talk
Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930
Dr Penny Stannard with NSW State Archives will bring the stories from the exhibition to life.
Penny will unravel the compelling case studies of individuals captured in the criminal justice system and their contribution to the history of NSW.
WHEN: Thursday 6 December, 12.30pm
WHERE: Newcastle Library, Local Studies Lounge
COST: Free