State Archives and Records NSW are developing a new exhibition that deals with NSW gaol photographic description books created between c1870 and 1930. It will present case studies of incarcerated men, women and children and explore the stories, experiences and broader social and legal contexts that led to their imprisonment.

In 1871, photographic portraiture was introduced by the NSW Government to record the identity of those who were incarcerated in the State’s gaols. By 1930, more than 46,000 portraits had been produced, alongside the personal details, crimes, sentences and in some cases, aliases, of offenders. As image and information combine, the circumstances, choices made, and actions taken by individuals that led to their incarceration start to unfold.

The exhibition seeks to illuminate stories that are not well known—those that have been forgotten in the passage of time. There is a sense of the ‘ordinary’ in many of the offenders. However, as their cases unravel it becomes clear that each story is unique, and some, are extraordinary.

The 46,000 inmate records have now been digitised by State Archives NSW – part of a process of conserving archives and making this significant collection of material more accessible to historians, researchers, family historians and the general public. While the exhibition can only present a small selection of cases from the gaol photographic description books, it will hint at the wealth of material on offer and the potential it has for understanding, interpreting and contributing new perspectives to NSW histories

The exhibition will launch in September 2017. Stay tuned for further announcements!

In the meantime, you can read more and start searching the digitised archive at the links below.

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