Long before the discovery of using fingerprinting as a method of detecting serious crime, Prison Governor George Stephens was one of the first men in the world to realise that the new technology of photography could create a useful official record of suspect’s faces. Many criminals would go on to reoffend and give false names when caught, but the mug shots would enable the authorities to identify people who had been convicted previously under a different name. George Stephens was a keen photographer. He served with the Metropolitan Police in London before being drafted in to Carmarthen to help deal with the Rebecca Riots, which started in 1839 with the destruction of a tollgate at Efailwen. George and his family arrived in Carmarthen from London in 1844. In 1851 the Census records Mary as being the Matron of the Gaol and George the “Turnkey”
George Stephens managed the town’s prison for 33 years from 1845 to 1878 and retired with a pension of £166.9s.8d and died aged 81, in 1897. His first successful photograph of a felon was of James Jones, a weaver who was sentenced to be hanged in January 1858 for attempted murder, the sentence later commuted to penal servitude for life. Prior to this, his first wife Mary, as matron of the gaol for ten years, assisted him in experimenting with his passion of photography using what was called the Collodian process which was in its infancy but sadly Mary was never to see the fruits of their labour as she died three years before her husband’s first photograph appeared in what is called the FELONS REGISTER. George Stephens was born in Devizes Wiltshire in 1816 and his first wife Mary came from Middlesex. Mary Franklin (Arnold) married George Stephens in St Pancras London in September 1839 aged 18, the same year the Bow Street Runners, the Foot and Horse Patrol and the Thames River Police were amalgamated to form the Metropolitan Police. He had nine children with his first wife who died in July 1855 aged just 37.
Mary is buried here in St David’s Cemetery together with their youngest child Beaumont Crook who died two months later in September 1855 aged two, and also their daughter Helena Maud who died in 1872 aged 21. Very interestingly, also buried in the same grave is eight week old Ernest Wycliffe Stephens who died in 1869, a child of George’s second marriage to Sarah Ridgeway Stephens.
Both George himself and his second wife Sarah retired to a property near Fountain Hall Terrace, and George died in 1897 aged 81 and Sarah the following year aged 77. Both are buried in Carmarthen Town Cemetery in Trevaughan Road. Why George decided to be buried there other than in St David’s cemetery close to his first wife and children is a mystery which we will never know but his foresight in the use of photography as a means of crime detection was at the time unparalleled in the world. He was also one of the first in the world to photograph prisoners, in 1858 when photography itself had hardly been invented.
A true genius who has really never been given the credit he deserves, thanks to his late wife Mary and the encouragement, and support she provided. His legacy will live on in the Felons Register – a remarkable historical record of a bygone era.
The Felons Register entries –July/August 1866
- John Gwynne aged 29. Convicted of stealing five spoons valued at two shillings
- Lettice Harries aged 37. Convicted of concealing the birth of her child.
- Hannah Davies aged 30. Convicted of attempting to conceal the birth of her child.
- David Jones aged 30.Convicted of stealing a coat.
- Mary Ann Gallaga aged 19. Convicted of stealing 6 shillings from the Parson.
- Thomas Lewis aged 21. Convicted of stealing butter.
The image of the Felons Register and James Jones are reproduced by kind permission of the Carmarthenshire Archive Service.
James Jones aged 28 from Danyrallt, Llanllwni Carmarthenshire, originally convicted of attempted murder in January 1858. This is the first image of a prisoner successfully developed by George Stephens.