By Tom Dare
FASCINATING PHOTOS of Australian men and women arrested in the early 1900s in Sydney have helped to capture the expressions on the faces of some of the country’s most brutal criminals just moments after they were apprehended.
Images, some of which form part of a new colourised photo-book called Retrographic by author Michael D. Carroll, include those of killers, paedophiles and backstreet abortionists arrested by the New South Wales police between 1910 and 1930, with each posed in front of various backgrounds.
One photo in particular, seemingly of a man arrested in 1920, has a fascinating story behind it. It actually shows Eugenia Falleni, a woman who posed as male cleaner Harry Crawford for 21 years between 1899 and 1920. ‘Crawford’ married widow Annie Birkett in 1913, but Ms Birkett went missing just four years later under mysterious circumstances, with ‘Crawford’ insisting that she had had an affair and ran away.
It wasn’t until three years later, after ‘Crawford’ had met and married another woman while posing as a man, that the charred body of Ms Birkett was found and traced back to ‘Crawford’, who was then revealed to have been Eugenia Falleni all along. Upon hearing about his true gender, it was recorded that Falleni’s second wife had remarked “I always wondered why he was so painfully shy.”
There are several other incredible stories behind the mugshots. One is of a woman put behind bars for her role in offering backstreet abortions to women, with the practice illegal in Australia at the time. Another is of a British-born woman, Phyllis Carmier, who stabbed her ‘bludger’, or pimp, to death during a violent altercation in Crazy Cottage, a sly-grog shop in Surry Hill. One particularly disturbing photo shows two men, one of whom is smiling, sitting for mugshots shortly after being arrested for “attempting to carnally know a girl eight years old,” and “wilful and obscene exposure.”
The pictures feature as part of a series of around 2500 “special photographs” taken by New South Wales Police Department photographers between 1910 and 1930 and featured at the Sydney Living Museum.
Mostly taken in the cells at the Central Police Station, Sydney, the photos are, according to museum curator Peter Doyle, of “men and women recently plucked from the street, often still animated by the dramas surrounding their apprehension”.
“The subjects of the Special Photographs seem 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.”
Michael D. Carroll’s book Retrographic: History’s Most Important Images Transformed into Living Colour, is currently available on Amazon for a discounted price of £14.97 (RRP £19.95)
For more information see https://www.amazon.co.uk/Retrographic-Historys-Exciting-Images-Transformed/dp/1908211504