Herbert Ellis sits with his arms folded waiting for his photograph to be taken. He’s perched on a chair, back against a wall, legs apart, wearing a three-piece suit, a white shirt with stud collar, a knitted tie and a slick Fedora. Ellis could be a guest at a dinner party, the groom’s best man at a wedding, an actor on a film set, or a model showing off the latest cut for a fashion spread. He looks cool, almost smiling at some private joke, seemingly at ease with what’s going on all around him.
But looks can be deceptive. Ellis has just been yanked off the street by two cops. They arrested him in connection with a burglary. Ellis is a “suspected person.” He has a reputation as a housebreaker, a shop breaker, a safe breaker, and receiver of stolen goods. Herbert Ellis is a criminal. He’s having his mugshot taken at the Central Police Station, Sydney sometime around 1920. As soon as the cops pulled in a suspect they took their prints and flashed their photo against a wall. Most of the time, the arrestees did not pose according to the positions of the latest standardized mugshot. Instead they sat or stood, wore what they liked, kept their coats and hats on and even smiled at the camera. As Peter Doyle curator of the Justice and Police Museum, Sydney, Australia notes these men and women “recently plucked from the street, often still animated by the dramas surrounding their apprehension.”
Ellis had a string of petty convictions to his name including “goods in custody, indecent language, stealing, receiving and throwing a missile.” His MO was noted as:
...seldom engages in crime in company, but possessing a most villainous character, he influences associates to commit robberies, and he arranges for the disposal of the proceeds.
He was nicknamed “Curly” down to his thinning hair and “Deafy” as by the time this picture was taken he was stone deaf.
Most of the criminals photographed by the New South Wales Police Department between 1910 and 1930 were taken in the cells of the Central Police Station, Sydney. The mugshots documented the various men and women arrested on charges as diverse as theft, larceny, violence, or procuring an abortion. The photos look unlike most other standard mugshots and could easily be portraits of family, friends or actors on a set.
B. Smith, Gertrude Thompson and Vera McDonald, Central Police Station, Sydney, 25 January 1928.
Special Photograph no. 1608. This photograph was apparently taken in the aftermath of a raid led by CIB Chief Bill Mackay - later to be Commissioner of Police - on a house at 74 Riley Street, ‘lower Darlinghurst’. Numerous charges were heard against the 15 men and women arrested. Lessee Joe Bezzina was charged with ‘being the keeper of a house frequented by reputed thieves’, and some of the others were charged with assault, and with ‘being found in a house frequented by reputed thieves’.
The prosecution cast the raid in heroic terms - the Chief of the CIB, desperately outnumbered, had struggled hand to hand in ‘a sweltering melee in one of the most notorious thieves’ kitchens in Sydney’. The defence, on the other hand, described ‘a quiet party, a few drinks, some singing ... violently interrupted by a squad of hostile, brawling police’ (Truth, 29 January 1928).
Hampton Hirscham, Cornellius Joseph Keevil, William Thomas O’Brien and James O’Brien, 20 July 1921, Central Police Station, Sydney.
Special Photograph no. 446. The quartet pictured were arrested over a robbery at the home of bookmaker Reginald Catton, of Todman avenue, Kensington, on 21 April 1921. The Crown did not proceed against Thomas O’Brien but the other three were convicted, and received sentences of fifteen months each.
More Antipodean mugshots and arrest details, after the jump…