Back in the ’20s, New South Wales police were experimenting with a new style of mugshot. Rather than simply taking a picture, the photographers treated the mugshots more like a form of portraiture, capturing the clothes, postures, and attitudes of their subjects.
Whilst the practice was eventually abandoned, today it constitutes an incredible record of the characters of Sydney’s underbelly.
In the 1920s, NSW police began experimenting with stylised mugshots. Now, these photos provide an amazing insight into the secret lives of Sydney’s lawbreakers.
The photographs became known as The Specials. Now they’re exhibited at the Justice & Police Museum, one entity which makes up Sydney’s Living Museums. (If you haven’t heard of it, Sydney Living Museums is a collection of NSW’s most important historic houses and museums).
In the images, subjects are either captured alone or in groups, often holding things like handkerchiefs or handbags, or else smoking cigarettes. Each photo is accompanied by a caption which gives insight into the crime perpetrated and even the name of the suspect.
Curator Peter Doyle describes that, compared with the subjects of regular mugshots, “the subjects of the Special Photographs seem to have been allowed – perhaps invited – to position and compose themselves for the camera as they liked.
“Their photographic identity thus seems constructed out of a potent alchemy of inborn disposition, personal history, learned habits and idiosyncrasies, chosen personal style (haircut, clothing, accessories) and physical characteristics.”
The mugshots provide an amazing record of crime, fashion, physical appearances, and everyday life in Sydney during the ’20s.
Check out some of the shots below. To see more, head over to the website.
Mug shot of Alice Fisher, 23 May 1919. When this photograph was taken, Fisher, 41, was serving two consecutive sentences of four months for larceny.
Mug shot of William Cahill. 1923, Central Police Station, Sydney. Details unknown.
Dorothy Mort, 1921. Convicted of murder. Mrs Dorothy Mort was having an affair with dashing young doctor Claude Tozer. On 21 December 1920 Tozer visited her home with the intention of breaking off the relationship. Mort shot him dead before attempting to commit suicide. Aged 32.
Alma Henrietta Agnes Smith, 1929. Smith worked as an illegal abortionist in the northern NSW town of Tamworth. A young woman, who later died as the result of a botched abortion, identified Smith as the abortionist. Smith denied knowing the woman but was convicted and sentenced to five years gaol. Aged 34.
John Frederick ‘Chow’ Hayes, 1930, Central Police Station, Sydney.
Mug shot of Daniel Ligores, 1920. Enraged over his wife’s participation in a Surry Hills based ‘free love religious cult’ (variously called ‘Abode of Love’ or ‘Free Love Mission’ by the newspapers, or ‘Apostolic Faith Mission’ by its leader), Daniel Ligores, Salvation Army cook, of 110 Palmer Street Darlinghurst, shot his wife Gertrude Grace Ligores dead at the mission’s premises in Holt Place, off Elizabeth Street, in late November 1920.
Eugenia Falleni, alias Harry Crawford, special photograph number 234, Central Police Station Sydney, 1920. When ‘Harry Leon Crawford’, hotel cleaner of Stanmore was arrested and charged with wife murder he was revealed to be in fact Eugenia Falleni (sometimes spelt as Eugeni), a woman and mother, who had been passing as a man since 1899. In 1913, as ‘Harry Crawford’, Falleni had married the widow Annie Birkett. Four years later, shortly after she announced to a relative that she had found out ‘something amazing about Harry’, Birkett disappeared. Crawford told neighbours that she had run off with a plumber. In 1919 Birkett’s young son, who had remained in Crawford’s custody, told an aunt of attempts made on his life by his drunken stepfather. The aunt contacted police. A charred body which had been found in Lane Cove in 1917 was belatedly identified as Birkett’s. ‘Crawford’s’ astonished second wife, when finally convinced of Falleni’s true gender remarked, “I always wondered why he was so painfully shy …” The photograph shown here shows Falleni in male clothing, probably on the day of her arrest. The negative was found in a paper sleeve inscribed ‘Falleni Man/Woman’. It is also possible that Falleni was made to dress in a man’s suit for the photograph.