Skip to main content
Menu

The Portrait Gallery

Wangaratta, Monday - News reached here at ten o’clock yesterday morning that the hell-hound Morgan was shot at Peechelba station, on the Ovens river, about twenty-three miles from Wangaratta... Your reporter at once started off for the station, and arrived there shortly after one o’clock, at which time Morgan was lying at the point of death, and about thirty persons witnessing his dying agonies.

The Age April 1865

Photography played a significant role in the circulation of messages about law and order, and in the creation of sensation and celebrity. Photographers were working in Australia as early as 1842, but it was during the succeeding decades that photographs became widely available, the popularity and accessibility of portrait photography reaching a highpoint with the introduction to the local market of the carte de visite in 1859. These small photographs were produced in such a way that made them affordable, portable, and easily circulated or exchanged, and for these reasons they proved adaptable to a variety of purposes – official, commercial and personal. 

In an era before the existence of police photographers, the authorities commissioned commercial operators to document prisoners, crime scenes and inquests, or collected existing portraits of wanted offenders for copying and distribution. Innocent studio portraits became the basis for the wood engravings of criminals published in illustrated newspapers, the exploits of the Kelly gang notably proving a boon to photographers and graphic artists.

For those seeking the rewards on offer for outlaws, trophy-style photographs of slain bushrangers were proof of the legitimacy of one’s claim, while for those requiring a conversation starter for the family album, portraits of dead reprobates made suitably peculiar souvenirs.