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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Library

It is only because they confessedly constitute the most rascally and villainous population that were ever congregated together on the surface of this habitable globe; … because they are the most murderous, monstrous, debased, burglarious, brutified, larcenous, felonious and pickpocketous set of scoundrels that ever trod the earth; and because they were accustomed to look on Botany Bay as the alternative of the gallows; that we care one pin about [the inhabitants of New South Wales] at all.

Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine November 1827

By the end of the 18th century, crime, criminals and punishment were standard subjects for those engaged in the English print trade. Starting with the cheap and quickly-produced execution broadsides of the early 1700s, printers adapted to the tastes of an increasingly literate and middle-class market, graduating to higher quality portraits and publications of and about infamous malefactors.

Concurrent improvements in the production and circulation of prints made it possible for many people to gratify their curiosity about a scandal, trial or murder. The decision to establish a penal colony in New South Wales, therefore, and the concept of a society founded by convicts, provided further stimulus to an industry already accustomed to profiting from images of infamy and transgression.

The same subjects came to constitute a proportion of the output of the print trade that developed in the Australian colonies in the early 19th century, with local artists catering to curiosity about the country’s natural history and Indigenous people, and the corrupted composition of its new, non-native population.

3 portraits

1 The Memoirs of George Barrington, 1790 an unknown artist, J. Bird & Simmonds. 2 Thomas Muir of Huntershill, 1838 John Kay.

Related information

Ned Kelly death mask
Ned Kelly death mask
Ned Kelly death mask
Ned Kelly death mask

Sideshow Alley

Infamy, the macabre & the portrait

Previous exhibition, 2015

Death masks, post-mortem drawings and other spooky and disquieting portraits... Come and see how portraits of infamous Australians were used in the 19th century.

The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night
The National Portrait Gallery building at night

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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