Found Photos: young criminal

I’d like to start a few regular posts here at Historian@work – themes I can come back to regularly or semi-regularly. This one is called Found Photos because every now and again I come across a photo, an image or diagram that means a lot in the context of what I’m researching and it is fun to share (or, I think so anyway). The Found Photos posts will be at the whim of the research goddesses.

Today’s Found Photo is the mug shot of Robert Kavanagh (alias Cavanagh, alias Smirk). This is Johanna Smirk’s son when he was about 20 years old and arrested the first time of many for stealing, drunkenness and not paying fines.  I really never expected to find a photo of him and I didn’t even realise that the Police Gazettes I was looking at had photos. I was in the Reading Room at Battye researching his various criminal activities and I saw a reference to his photograph that was in another volume. I had to try not to run across the silent, sombre room to grab the fragile book – almost 100 years old. It was rather exciting – yes, I’m quite aware of how that sounds!

Just out of interest, they published the mugshots of prisoners when they were to be released and montaged the shots of all the about-to-be-freed prisoners on one page, so that the one that Robert here is on looked like this:

I remember back when I was doing my undergraduate degree at the University of Western Sydney, happily just down the road from NSW State Archives, looking at the photographs of convicts and being totally freaked out (we were standing in the depths of the stack somewhere, surrounded by towering shelves of old-smelling books and stacks of paper). If I look at this page too long it does get a bit freaky. By the way, the Thomas Cavanagh up in the top right hand corner is no relation and unfortunately I’ll have to revise some of my research work because of that (I thought it was Robert’s grandfather, but no.)

Note for researchers: to look at these Police Gazettes (from 1901 onwards) you’ll need a Researcher’s Ticket and ask the nice librarians at Battye to help you (the Gazettes are in the Leah Jane Cohen Reading Room). You can search the earlier Gazettes online.

2 Responses to “Found Photos: young criminal”
  1. Karen Smirk says:

    I have just come across your note re robert kavanagh alias smirk, i am a smirk by marriage and have shown this to my husband, the smirk cottage is part of my husbands ancestry, to see a picture of an alias has been exciting for us, thanks and keep up the work you are doing…
    Karen Smirk
    Manchester, UK

    • Thanks very much Karen. It is great to hear from someone connected to this family. Yesterday was a re-opening day of the cottage and another building at the museum with new interpretation that I worked on, including a panel about Robert Kavanagh. The people on the tours I did were fascinated about his story, but also about the cottage too. I will write a post about it this week, so stay tuned!!

      Thanks again

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