An exhibition exploring the criminal past of NSW lawbreakers from 1870 until 1930 has opened at the Old Dubbo Gaol.
Captured: Portraits of Crime 1870-1930 sines a light on the men, women and children caught on the wrong side of the NSW criminal justice system, whether by choice or circumstance.
Among the stories featured in the exhibition is that of Arthur Astill, a 16-year-old apprentice labourer from Orange imprisoned in the Dubbo Gaol in 1893 for the murder of Jessie Hamling – the wife of his boss William Hamling (a selector with land at Coalbaggie Creek near Dubbo) – who was found dead at her home.
From the time Astill was first questioned by police, to the time of his trial, his story changed considerably.
At first he told police that he’d found the body after returning from fixing a water tank, however on being charged confessed that ‘the truth’ was that he had been aiming for a hawk but stumbled over a pet kangaroo causing him to fire the shotgun in the direction of Mrs Hamling.
Astill was eventually found not guilty.
He married Sarah (Dollie) Seymour in Narromine in December 1901 and they had a large family.
Old Dubbo Gaol’s visitor experience officer Chris Anemaat said the exhibition told some extraordinary stories of ordinary people.
“The Captured exhibition highlights the untold stories of individuals in the historic NSW justice system,” Mr Anemaat said.
Exhibition curator Dr Penny Stannard said the exhibition featured a wide selection of records and images sourced from 46,000 inmate records contained in 199 gaol photographic description books.
“These records have all been digitised to ensure we can preserve history and protect this information for future generations,” Dr Stannard said.
“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.
“We looked at the offence type, gender, age and location of crimes to piece together a collection of compelling stories for the exhibition and catalogue.”
The practice of photographing the prisoners was first introduced in NSW in 1871.
There were differing views of the practice. Some said the photographs of the prisoners degraded the photography art form, while others said it was a way to punish the criminals even after their sentence had ended.
The exhibition can be seen until Friday, February 1.
Old Dubbo Gaol is open seven days a week – excluding Christmas Day – from 9am until 4pm.
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