1920s Fashion Through the Lens of Police Mugshots


Between 1910 and 1930, a series of 2500 ‘special photographs’ were taken by the New South Wales Police Department. As curator Peter Doyle of the Justice & Police Museum in Sydney explains:

These ‘special photographs’ were mostly taken in the cells at the Central Police Station in Sydney and are of men and women recently plucked from the street, often still animated by the dramas surrounding their ‘apprehension’. Compared with the subjects of prison mug shots, the subjects of the special photographsseem to have been allowed – perhaps invited – to position and compose themselves for the camera as they liked.

Their photographic identity thus seems constructed out of a potent alchemy of inborn disposition, personal history, learned habits and idiosyncrasies, chosen personal style (haircut, clothing, accessories) and physical characteristics.

Via [TwistedSifter]

For more information on all of Sydney’s ‘Living Museums’, visit www.hht.net.au/


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Group of Criminals, Central 1921

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.


‘Hayes’, early 1920s


Emma Rolfe (aka May Mulholland, Sybil White, Jean Harris and Eileen Mulholland), 1 April 1920

Emma Rolfe better known as May Mulholland (also as Sybil White, Jean Harris and Eileen Mulholland) had numerous convictions in the period 1919-1920 for theft of jewellery and clothing (all quality items: silk blouses, kimonos and scarves, antique bric a brac etc) from various houses around Kensington and Randwick, and from city shops. She appears as a mature woman in the NSW Criminal Register of 5 December 1934. By that time she is well known for shoplifting valuable furs and silks from city department stores. ‘When subjected to interrogation by Police who are not acquainted with her character’, the entry notes, ‘she strongly protests her innocence, and endeavours to repress her interviewers by stating she will seek the advice of her solicitor.’


Harris Hunter, 17 September 1924

Hunter is listed in the NSW Police Gazette, 1924 as charged, along with William Munro, with receiving stolen goods to the value of 536 pounds 4 shillings and 1 penny, the property of Snow’s department store.


“Mrs Osbourne” circa 1919


Vera Crichton, 21 February 1924

Vera Crichton, 23, and Nancy Cowman, 19, are listed in the NSW Police Gazette 24 March 1924 as charged, along with three others, with “conspiring together to procure a miscarriage” on a third woman. Crichton was “bound over to appear for sentence if called upon within three years”.


Elsie Hall, Dulcie Morgan, Jean Taylor c. 1920

The names inscribed here do not appear in police records for 1920-21, and it is likely the women were photographed simply because they were found in the company of known criminals. A copy of this photograph has been sighted elsewhere in police archives, in which the figure here labelled ‘D Morgan’ is additionally annotated ‘lives with Paddy Brosnan’.


Ah Chong, 11 July 1928

Special Photograph no. D62 (Drug Bureau photograph): An ‘Ah Chong’ is listed in the NSW Police Gazette of 21 June 1922, convicted of two charges of receiving, for which he received 12 months hard labour.


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1920s Fashion Through the Lens of Police Mugshots

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