Recently a photograph from the New Zealand Police Museum’s collection has generated a lot of attention. It is a mug shot of what is thought to perhaps be New Zealand’s most photogenic criminal, Daniel Lohill.
The photograph is from this fantastic Online Exhibit at the New Zealand Police Museum. I became aware of the story last week when a selection of photographs from the collection featured in this write-up by Fairfax. It looked pretty interesting but I didn’t have a thorough look at the collection until a friend sent me a link to Daniel Lohill’s photo which had gone viral.
Admirers are talking about him over on Reddit, Facebook, and across countless blogs and photo upload sites. This guy even took the time to colour the photo (doing a pretty good job of it)! This upload has nearly half a million hits and I suspect if you include reposts, Facebook feeds and the original article then the entire audience would be well into the tens of millions. But what is the real story behind this good-looking rogue?
According to this original post by the NZ Police Museum the photograph shows Daniel Lohill (b. 1883) who was charged with theft and on 2nd March 1908 in Napier was sentenced to 4 months. It also notes that he had earlier convictions for theft.
I wanted to know more about this character so went to Papers Past, a fantastic online collection of digital copies of New Zealand newspapers. Reports on Daniel Lohill seemed a little scarce with only this one article on his court appearance. There is a good reason for the lack of information – everyone has his name wrong! There never was any Daniel Lohill, his name was actually Daniel Tohill.
His name was spelled incorrectly on the original photograph and over one hundred years later the same mistake is being circulated en masse across the interwebs. It makes complete sense in retrospect as I couldn’t find a single Lohill in the New Zealand white pages but a similar search for Tohill has many results. A search with the correct name on Papers Past brings up dozens of hits. So what terrible crime did Tohill commit? Here is the original article.
It turns out that he was acquitted on the charge of stealing a bicycle but was sentenced to 4 months for stealing…. a fur necklet!
As for his earlier convictions, in September 1907 an acting-porter by the name of Daniel Tohill was found guilty of stealing from a railway goods shed in nearby Waipawa. It is reasonable to presume that this is the previous conviction referred to.
There may also be an earlier incident. This article from 1906 refers to a case in Christchurch where a Daniel Tohill was found guilty of stealing two ferrets. Geographically the dots don’t connect automatically, but while it is highly possible that this was another Daniel Tohill I really really want it to be the same guy. To graduate from stealing ferrets to then enter the high rolling world of fur necklet pinching seems like the perfect career for New Zealand’s most photogenic criminal.
To confirm this I’d need to trawl through microfilm, look through some Hawkes Bay newspapers, navigate court records (I’m guessing in person either in Wellington or Napier) and I’m sure with some digging a more complete picture could be drawn. But in the meantime I’m happy to at least give this loveable rogue back his original surname.
The 21st century is a funny time to live in. It is a world where thanks to the internet an otherwise forgotten criminal from small town New Zealand can end up as a minor international celebrity over one hundred years after his conviction. However one downside of living in a high-speed and connected world like this is that misinformation can also go viral and mistakes can be perpetuated more easily than ever before.
This much we do know. Over one hundred years ago a good-looking thief was sentenced to four months for stealing a fur necklet – and his name was Daniel Tohill. The two big unanswered questions left in my mind is was he also a ferret pincher and was the necklet for himself or for a significant other? What do you think?
UPDATE: Chelsea Nichols, the curator of the original online exhibition that sparked interest in the photo has posted some more information on Tohill’s background over on her fantastic blog, The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things.
She has accessed Tohill’s criminal record which adds more details to his story. It reveals that he was originally from Dunedin (where I’m currently based), but most importantly it also confirms that he was indeed convicted of ferret pinching. History really makes me laugh sometimes!
© Lemuel Lyes