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Exhibition shines light on criminals from 1870 to 1930

James Dwyer. Image provided by the NSW DSFI

A new exhibition that explores the criminal pasts of NSW lawbreakers from 1870 to 1930 opened at the State Archives and Records NSW in Western Sydney.

Captured: Portraits of Crime shines a light on the ordinary men, women and children from this era who found themselves caught in the NSW criminal justice system either by choice, or circumstance.

Geoff Hinchcliffe, Executive Director of State Archives and Records NSW, said the exhibition features a wide selection of records and images sourced from 46,000 inmate records contained in 199 gaol photographic description books.

“These records have all been digitised to ensure we can preserve history and protect this information for future generations,” said Mr Hinchcliffe.

Exhibition curator, Dr Penny Stannard said working with a team of research archivists from all different backgrounds ensured we identified the most interesting stories.

“Our expert historians have peeled back the layers of these historical records and illuminated the events that led these people to commit a crime,” Dr Stannard said.

“We looked at the offence type, gender, age and location of crimes to piece together a collection of compelling stories.”

Among those featured is the story of James Dwyer, a 25 year old Assistant Postmaster at Oxford St Post Office in Sydney who planned to defraud the postal system and was sentenced to seven years at Goulburn Gaol. Whilst in prison Dwyer learned to write, and with the help of a prison guard, his work was anonymously published in The Bulletin Magazine until his release.

When released, Dwyer moved to London to pursue a writing career and found great success in the United States and Europe as a best-selling author until his death in 1952. Dwyer buried his past as a convicted criminal until later in life when he published his autobiography, Leg-Irons on Wings.

Captured: Portraits of Crime is open at State Archives and Records NSW Western Sydney Records Centre in Kingswood until 28 April 2018. The exhibition will also tour through regional NSW.

Source: NSW Government

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