Mary Maloney was a 53-year-old American-born widow who lived in Paddington from the 1890s, and spent about 25 years in and out of ‘Inebriate Institutions’ for alcohol addiction.

Maloney’s is one of many stories told in the NSW State Archives’ Captured! Portraits of Crime:1870-1930 exhibition launched at the University of Wollongong library yesterday.

“Confined for a period at a time, inebriates, it was thought, could recuperate and improve their health and moral attitude,” Maloney’s description read.

“It seems that despite these attempts, she was unable to break her addiction.”

Captured! includes 15 of more than 46,000 digitised records from archived NSW jail books.

Curator Dr Penny Stannard said she chose stories that would compel and lend empathy to “ordinary people who for one reason or another – through choice through circumstances, whatever – ended up being incarcerated in the NSW jail system.”

“It’s only a part of their story, and their story changes according to the lens through which we look at it,” she said.

“One thing that probably has started to come into popular culture is the underbelly, the narrative of the gangster criminal, the glamorising of the criminal, and this exhibition doesn’t do that.”

“You can see in the reflection of the subject’s eyes, you can see the cameraman.” – Dr. Penny Stannard
Photo of Mary Maloney

Dr Stannard said the exhibition’s digital archive – made into an ebook – made NSW history more “accessible, much more compelling, and much more interactive space to work with.”

“It opens up the interpretation of history, the understanding of history, to a lot more people, including the people who aren’t the history experts,” she said.

“I think, in order to ensure that history can be valued, (and) that we can learn from history, that does need to happen.”

Captured! Portraits of Crime:1870-1930 is open and free to the public at the UOW Library Panizzi exhibition room until July 28.