The life of New Zealand’s latest criminal celebrity: the ridiculously photogenic Daniel Tohill (Lohill)

Mug shot of Daniel Lohill, thief.

Daniel Tohill (incorrectly labelled as Daniel Lohill), born in 1881 in New Zealand. Charged with theft and sentenced to 4 months hard labor on 2 March 1908 in Napier. Photograph taken on 11 June 1908 by the New Zealand Police; image via the archives  of the New Zealand Police Museum.

I’ve posted before about Suspicious Looking, the exhibition I curated a few years ago at the New Zealand Police Museum on 19th and early 20th century mug shots (see original post here), but after the mug shot of Daniel ‘Lohill’ went viral as the “ridiculously photogenic 19th century NZ criminal” meme, I thought it was worth another mention.

The internet is a funny place, where a petty antipodean criminal from a century ago can suddenly become a minor celebrity overnight. It started last week when Stuff NZ (an online news website operated by Fairfax Media) featured a brief article about the online exhibition, which prompted the mug shot of Daniel to begin trending on reddit and imgur. The photograph was actually mislabeled as Daniel ‘Lohill’ at the time it was taken in 1908; the real name of this handsome rogue is Daniel TOHILL, and he was convicted of theft in Napier, New Zealand and sentenced to 4 months hard labour on March 2, 1908.

Read on for more about Daniel Tohill’s background and crimes….

Meme of Daniel Lohill's mug shot, with the words 'Got Caught Stealing Hearts'

I planned to write a post to clarify Tohill’s real name and to give some additional background information on this fellow, but Lemuel Lyes on the fabulous History Geek blog beat me to the punch, so I only have a few things to add to his thorough account of Tohill’s crimes. (I also have to applaud Lemuel’s exceptional historical detective skills for managing to figure out that the photograph was mislabeled without having a copy of Daniel Tohill’s criminal record on hand!). Despite the claims of this amusing meme, Tohill was not actually arrested for stealing hearts. As Lemuel mentions, Daniel Tohill was charged with stealing a fur necklet and  a bicycle, but was only convicted for the theft of the fur. His mug shot was taken because he had previous theft convictions: he was given a six month sentence for stealing from a railway shed while he was working as a railway porter in Waipawa in 1907, and was fined for stealing two ferrets in Christchurch in 1906.

Daniel Joseph Tohill was born to John & Sarah Ann Tohill in 1881 (and not 1883, as it states on his criminal record) in Ravensbourne, Dunedin. He was the third of EIGHTEEN children (his poor mother simply dropped dead at the age of 45 after running to catch a train…supposedly due to undiagnosed heart disease, but probably because she hadn’t slept in 20 years). In 1903, at the age of 22, he married 20 year old Frances Anna O’Kane in her hometown of Waitahuna. They had three children: a daughter named Frances Mary Veronica in 1904, another daughter named Iris in 1906, and a son Daniel Cyril in 1908. It seems rather funny that his seemingly short-lived crime spurt roughly coincided with the births of his children. Perhaps the family had fallen on hard times and he was doing what he had to do to provide for them…or maybe he saw jail as a welcome break from the stresses of dealing with three little children (in which case MAN UP, your mother had to deal with eighteen of you). The couple apparently weathered the storm though, eventually moving to Auckland by the end of the 1920s, and buying a house together on Tennessee Drive in Mangere in 1944. Daniel and Frances (Sr) both died in 1950, at the ages of 68 and 67, respectively.

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My information was gleaned from Daniel Tohill’s criminal record in the mug shot books at the New Zealand Police Museum, New Zealand Births, Marriages and Deaths online, Archives New Zealand, and Papers Past.

I should also note that there was a second Daniel (McErlane) Tohill living in New Zealand at roughly the same time, who was not a criminal and shouldn’t be confused with the Daniel (Joseph) Tohill from the mug shot. Daniel (McErlane) Tohill was born in 1891, and lived in Alexandra, a small town in Central Otago, New Zealand. He married Kathleen Bertha McGinnis in 1925, served in the army  during WWI, and worked in Alexandra as a presumably law-abiding laborer until his retirement.

Elsewhere on the Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things:

Mug shot of Mary Spanger, 19th century New Zealand criminal

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28 thoughts on “The life of New Zealand’s latest criminal celebrity: the ridiculously photogenic Daniel Tohill (Lohill)

  1. this is fantastic … After using google to search Tohill and New Zealand for long lost relatives I came to this post and noted the resemblance of Daniel Tohill to my grandfather and uncle … My grandfathers mother was a Tohill from Dunedin with parents of the same name who fled New Zealand and landed in Sydney where she married and had 4 children until her death from TB in 1929. Turns out Daniel Tohill is my great great uncle! Thank you for all the family history you have filled in for us including newspaper reports of my great great grandmothers demise on the train! From Sydney descents of the Dunedin Tohills.

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  3. If anyone has seen the general format of the recent FCUK ads (with their questionable grammar), this man looks like he could fit right now. Quite amazing how fashionably dapper he seems even today!

  4. To be honest this is an excellent indepth article however as with all excellent authors there are some factors that is proved helpful about. But never ever the particular much less it turned out intriguing

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  13. As for descendants of Daniel Tohill of Ravensbourne?? Who knows. My mother was a member of the Alternative Tohill clan from Alexandra, that wee town in Central Otago. That union was blessed with Seventeen Children. Daniel Tohill of Alexandra was a cousin of that family as well as the Ravensbourne clan. Alexandra’s Daniel Tohill was son of Henry Tohill who owned the Criterian Hotel in the Gold rush days as well as the local horse drawn taxi.. Henry’s son Daniel was not to my knowledge a labourer (my memories are not of a high energy person) but lived in accommodation above the hotel with his wife Cass.Daniel Tohill of Alexandra spent many happy hours propping up the bar at the Criterian Hotel in Alexandra. As for descendants, if the Tohill family in Alexandra spawned 70 plus grandchildren, you can bet the Ravensbourne clan did likewise. Oh and Daniel Tohill of Alexandra had one son Daniel Tohill (Fireman) as did the other Tohill clan in the town ( Daniel Tohill: Electrician).

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  16. Thanks for mentioning my blog and congrats on the success of your exhibition! It must have been a very rewarding project to work on and it is good to see it get some extra exposure over the past week.

    I’m stoked that you have access to Tohill’s criminal record and have been able to shed some more light on his background. I’m particularly thrilled that you’ve confirmed that he was indeed the same Daniel Tohill that got done for ferret pinching. I suspect that many people may have seen his photo and presumed that he was a highwayman, a bank robber, or something equally romantic but the truth makes for an even more fascinating story!

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