Vintage Police Record Photographs

The Historic Houses Trust in Australia has a forensic photography archive at the Justice & Police Museum which contains an estimated 130,000 images created by the New South Wales Police between 1910 and 1960.

1. Car Crash early 1940s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Car crash, night time, early 1940s. Details unknown, but possibly Liverpool street, Sydney.

2. Group Shot of Criminals, 1921

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

This negative was found wrapped in a paper sleeve on which is written: ‘Group of criminals, Central 1921′. The subjects are not named, but the woman on the left is believed to be Eileen Leigh or Barry (daughter of Kate Leigh). The man on the far right in the back row may be Stephen Doyle, and the man to the left of him Kenneth McLelland (or McCrerrand). The man third from the left in that row may be the pickpocket and three-card trickster known as Frederick Mewson, and the man far left in the front row is likely the pickpocket known as Norman Smith.

3. Corpse, late 1930s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

The bottle next to the man is Waterbury’s Compound, a popular tonic and cough remedy. Spots of blood can be seen on his shirt. Other negatives indicate the site to be a toilet, apparently open to the sky, situated between two buildings, underneath a footpath/bridge in the inner city somewhere. It is unclear whether the man fell from the footpath/wall above, but the entire series of police photographs (from above looking down, from below looking up) suggest that police entertained that possibility.

4. Missing Persons Photo – Rene Flowers, c1929

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Police photographers routinely made copies of studio photographs of missing people, then known officially as ‘missing friends’. This particular missing friend, Rene Flowers, had clearly been a vaudeville performer.

5. Breaking and Entering, late 1930s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Other negatives found with this one show the exterior of the Camellia Grove Hotel (now the Sports Bar), Henderson Road, Alexandria, and various shots of a basement/cellar, showing signs of breaking and entering. These may all be related, in which case the photo shown here would likely be the hotel office, photographed following an attempt to crack the safe.

6. Masked detectives and civilians, 1933

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

This photograph was published in Sydney newspapers in 1933, apparently at the behest of the then Commissioner of Police to demonstrate to a sceptical press and public that police could in fact operate undercover. This was apparently in answer to a suggestion that so distinctive was the build of the average detective, effective undercover work was out of the question. The men seen here are a mix of detectives and civilians. The figure third from the right is believed to be Sergeant Frank Fahy, aka “The Shadow”, the force’s most effective undercover operative at the time.

7. Bucket, turpentine bottle and funnel, 1919

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

From a negative found in a box marked ‘IWW Dope’. The International Workers of the World, or ‘Wobblies’, carried out a program of direct action (which included sabotage and incendiarism) in Sydney in 1916, agitating for the release of their leader, Tom Barker. Barker had been jailed for sedition after making an anti-war speech in the Sydney Domain. ‘Dope’ refers to incendiary materials, such as cotton waste, turpentine, phosphorous and kerosene, allededly found during police raids on IWW headquarters in Sussex Street and in the rooms of various IWW members.

Although the police evidence was considered slim, the ‘IWW Twelve’, were convicted of conspiracy and sedition, and all received long jail sentences. A royal commission in 1920 overturned the convictions. Detective Arthur Surridge, whose name can be read on the label here, led the police action.

8. Collapsed Awning Fatality, c1926

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Street scene, Old South Head Road, Double Bay Sydney, showing collapsed shop wall and awning. Inscribed ‘Awning fatality Double Bay’, around 1926, details unknown.

9. Illegal Abortion Room, late 1930s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Interior of commercial-industrial premises with bed and dresser. Details unknown, but assumed to be premises used for illegal abortions. Late 1930s.

10. Car Crash, early 1940s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Exterior, scene of car crash, from bridge onto storm water canal cover, early 1940s. Details unknown.

11. Identifying Illegal Ticket Sellers, 1948

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

One of a series of photographs found in an envelope labelled ”persons selling tickets, Barrack St Sydney”. The unauthorised sellers have shrewdly set themselves up outside the State Lotteries Office. This photograph presumably taken without the subjects’ knowledge.

12. Unknown Crime Scene, mid-1940s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Bedroom with man’s hat on bloodstained bed. Mid-1940s. Details unknown.

13. Pickpocket Demonstration for Police Education Purposes

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Demonstration of the techniques of pickpockets. Details unknown, but clearly a staged photograph, presumably made for police educational purposes.

14. Ziegfeld Club, King Street, Sydney – May 22, 1951

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

John Frederick ‘Chow’ Hayes most daring crime was the 1951 shooting of boxer William ‘Bobby’ John Lee. Late on the 22 May at the busy Ziegfeld Club on King Street, Sydney, Hayes shot Lee in front of friends and fellow underworld figures, in a revenge attack. Hayes had not intended to shoot Lee inside the club but was provoked by the line ‘you wouldn’t do it here, with all the lights shining and all the people around’. ‘Chow’ shot Lee five times in the stomach and back. Despite all the witnesses, Lee refused to identify Hayes and he died in hospital later that night. Hayes was not convicted of Lee’s murder.

15. Unverified Photograph of Sydney Gangster ‘Big Jim Devine’, early 1930s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Unknown men, presumably suspect (centre) and detective (right) at an unidentified police station, Sydney, early 1930s. It has been suggested (but not verified) that the subject of this photograph may be the well known Sydney gangster “Big Jim” Devine, husband of Tilly Devine.

16. Backyard, scene of attempted suicide, North Sydney – 1948

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

17. Aftermath of shopfront fire in the Sydney Arcade – c1937

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

18. Accident by Sydney Harbour Bridge – June 11, 1947

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Northern approach of Sydney Harbour Bridge, night-time, 11 June 1947, showing wrecked two door convertible sports car.

19. Crime Scene, late 1930s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Bedroom, with bloodstained bed reflected in dressing table mirror. Details unknown, late 1930s.

20. Murder/Suicide Crime Scene – May 2, 1944

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Dining room with blood spatters and signs of struggle, scene of shooting murder of Alice Isabella Anderson by Maurice Reuben John Anderson, and the subsequent suicide of the latter, at 75 Birrell St Waverley, NSW, 2 May 1944.

21. Tram and Coal Truck Collision, early 1940s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Street scene, collision between tram and coal truck, Botany Road, Mascot, early 1940s.

22. Self-Defence Demonstration for Police Education Purposes, 1930s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Three men demonstrating self-defence techniques. Details unknown, late 1930s.

23. Car Accident, early 1940s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Detail of scene of accident involving two trucks, corner of Balfour and Meagher Streets, Chippendale, early 1940s.

24. Four Men in Connection with Motor Accident, early 1940s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Four men, one partly obscured, photographed in connection with motor accident in the vicinity of Market Street, Sydney, early 1940s. Other details unknown.

25. Child Found Wandering, mid 1920s

Photograph via The Historic Houses Trust

Young girl sitting on packing case. Photograph inscribed “Child unknown found wandering at large”. Mid 1920s, details unknown.