Constable John Nevin at Trucanini’s funeral 1876

Constable John Nevin (1852-1891), brother of photographer Thomas J. Nevin, joined the civil service as an 18 year old in 1870 and was stationed at the Cascades Gaol and Reformatory until transferred to the Hobart Gaol in 1877. He was on duty at the burial of Trucanini, regarded in that era as the “last Tasmanian Aboriginal”, on 10th-11th May 1876 at the Cascades cemetery. Located on a patch of ground -“a vacant spot opposite the Cascades” as the press described it (South Australian Register 12 May 1876) – that patch is now identified as No. 2, Nevin Street (Tasmanian Heritage Council 2007).

Constable W. John (Jack) Nevin ca 1874-6
Photographed by his brother Thomas J. Nevin
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint & Private Collection (Shelverton family) 2006 ARR.

Trucanini [var. Truganini] died on the 8th May, 1876, aged 73 years. Her body was guarded by a constable at the city hospital “to prevent any mutilation or snatching” until just after 11pm on Wednesday evening, 10th May 1876 when she was secretly removed from the hospital and transported personally to the Cascades by the Superintendent of the Cascades Gaol and Reformatory, the much reviled former Commandant of the Port Arthur prison, A. H. Boyd. He had suddenly appeared at the hospital and demanded her body be handed over to him, much to the surprise of staff on duty and the undertaker next day who arrived and left with an empty coffin. During the long night of Wednesday May 10th and the morning of Thursday May 11th until the time of her burial at midday, Trucanini’s body, now at rest in the Cascades Chapel, was guarded by Constable John Nevin. The Sergeant-at-Arms, Mr. Calder, did not arrive till the proceedings were over.

Above: Trucanini (var: Truganini) is seated here in this reproduction on glass by Anson’s Photographs ca. 1880 of an original photograph attributed to C. A. Woolley taken in 1866.
The verso below bears Anson’s label and the handwritten inscription “Last Aborigines of Tasmania”:
Copyright © KLW NFC Imprint & The Private Collection of John and Robyn McCullagh 2007 ARR.

Detail of portrait: Trucanini’s hands

The verso of this portrait bears (John) Anson’s label and the handwritten inscription “Last Aborigines of Tasmania”
Copyright all photos © KLW NFC Imprint & The Private Collection of John and Robyn McCullagh 2007 ARR

Public Outrage at Government deception
The public expected a funeral procession would take place at noon, and that a hearse carrying Trucanini’s body would proceed from the hospital where a crowd waited, not knowing they had been deceived. This angry report appeared in the Mercury the following day, 12th May (full transcript below), and another which attempted an explanation, on the 13th May 1876.


FUNERAL OF QUEEN TRUCANINI. (1876, May 12). The Mercury

The remains of the last of the original inhabitants of Tasmania were yesterday consigned to their final resting-place, without any of that ostentatious display which took place at the burial of King Billy. Whatever difference of opinion there may be on the point whether there ought to have been any pageantry on so important an occasion, there can be no doubt that the Government, in their ostensible desire to interdict any such scandal as that which stirred up public indignation in 1869, have laid themselves open to blame, and to a feeling on the part of the public that they were simply playing into the hands of the Royal Society, which body was so anxious to obtain possession of the remains. Let the facts speak for them- selves. Trucanini died early on Monday afternoon, and her body was at once removed to the hospital, a constable being specially told off to watch over it, and prevent any snatching or mutilation. There was, of course, considerable anxiety felt as to where the remains were to be deposited, and when the funeral was to take place ; but it was Wednesday night before the Press was made acquainted with the decision of the Government, and not till yesterday morning was the information conveyed to the public. It was then done in such a manner as clearly to show that an attempt was to be made to deceive the public. The note from the Colonial Secretary, which appeared in yesterday’s issue, after stating that the Government had refused the body to the Royal Society, ran thus :—”The Government have given orders for the decent interment of the corpse ; but, to prevent a recurrence of the unseemly scenes which were enacted in March, 1869, it has been deemed expedient to inter the body at the Cascades, in the vacant spot immediately in front of the chapel. The funeral will take place at noon to-morrow.” The inference drawn from such information, when it was well-known that the body was at the hospital, was that the funeral would take place from that institution at noon, and that there would be a hearse, with the usual procession of mourners ; for there were many citizens who, prompted by a desire to show respect to the deceased, would have followed her remains. Towards noon numerous inquiries were made at the hospital, and up to one o’clock people were standing at street corners on the route which it was thought the cortége would take, waiting to see it pass ; but the Government had taken as much pains as possible to deceive them. It appears that at 11 o’clock on Wednesday night, Mr. A. H. Boyd, Superintendent of the Cascades Gaol and Reformatory, went to the hospital, armed with an authority from the Government, and demanded the body of the deceased Queen. It was, of course, given up, though the officials were taken completely by surprise, and evidently had never dreamt that any such demand would have been made upon them at that unseemly hour. At all events, the body was placed in the cart, and in the dead of the night, when all good citizens had retired to rest, it was borne through the streets of the city up to the Cascades institution. In this way, by a stratagem for which there was not the least necessity, and which does no credit to the Government, was the public frustrated in their desire to see proper respect paid to the last member of a now extinct race. To show how secret this removal of the remains was, and the duplicity which it was considered necessary should be practised, no intimation of it was conveyed to the undertaker, Mr. Hamilton. He, therefore, acting on instructions received, went to the hospital yesterday morning with the coffin, and was as much surprised as anyone when he found what had taken place. There is no palliation for the conduct of the Government in this matter. The remains were sufficiently protected by the presence of a constable, and the deliberate deception practised upon the public in the way we have described merits the strongest condemnation.

The funeral would have rejoiced the hearts of those who are strenuously advocating a reform in all matters pertaining to the burial of the dead. It was of the simplest character imaginable, entirely devoid of all that useless paraphernalia, all those expensive and showy trappings, which in these times are looked upon as emblems of sorrow and respect for the deceased. In the little Protestant chapel at the Cascades Reformatory, the body of “our native Queen” lay stiff and cold in the plainest of coffins ; no ornamentation of any kind, with the except of the usual silver plate, being upon it. The sombre black contrasted with the white shroud, which, when turned back, revealed the dusky features of her whose life was one romance. We have heard some doubts expressed as to whether the coffin really contained the remains of Trucanini — doubts quite excusable, remembering the mutilation of King Billy and the conduct of the Government on this occasion—but our readers may rest assured on that point. Previous to the lid being screwed down several spectators, our reporter among the rest, were shown the face of the deceased Queen, and one lady, of eccentric habits, and who assumes to herself a title as high as that of poor Trucanini, touched the face, as if to make “assurance doubly sure.” All this time the bell in the reformatory yard was tolling, and as none of the inmates of the institution, a few of the officials and servants excepted, were to be seen in the spacious enclosure, a death-like silence pervaded the place. The coffin screwed down, the spectators assembled in the chapel. They did not number, including some children, more than twenty-five. Among those present was the Hon. A. Kennerley, Premier ; the Hon. G. Gilmore, Colonial Secretary ; the Ven. Archdeacon Davies, Rev. W. W. Spicer, Mr. J. W. Graves, Dr. Lewis, Mr. Whitcombe, Mr. Gravenor, Mr. A. H. Boyd, etc. The Rev. Canon Parsons read the beautiful burial service of the Church of England, commencing “I am the resurrection and the life,” and after the Psalm and the Lesson, the coffin was carried out of the chapel and placed over a grave that had been dug just in front of the door, all present following and assembling round the grave. The coffin having been lowered, the officiating clergyman read those solemn words beginning “Man that is born of a woman,” etc., and committed “our dear departed sister” to the grave in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life. Before it was placed in the grave, Mr. Gravenor, of New Town, who mixed as much with the natives in years gone by as any one now living, touched the coffin and uttered some native word, very much like farewell. After the ceremony was over Mr. Graves threw a sprig of heliocrysum (Graves-eye) into the grave ; and when just about to leave, an officer came up with a pretty bunch of native flowers and berries, kindly sent by Mrs. Dandridge, with whom Trucanini lived for the long period of twenty years, and in whose house she died. The bunch was handed to Mr. Boyd, who passed it to Mr. Graves, and that gentleman deposited it on the coffin. The inscription on the coffin was simply : “Trucanini. Died 8th May, 1876. Aged 73 years.” There is no doubt that the number of spectators would have been much larger had the arrangements been thoroughly understood. The invitation of the Government to “any friends and sympathisers” reads now like a huge joke, and, under the circumstances, might well have been omitted. Among those who were specially anxious to be present was Mr. Calder, the Sergeant-at Arms, but he did not arrive till the proceedings were over. We may mention, to satisfy some doubts, that Trucanini was baptised at Oyster Cove by Bishop Nixon. We understand that a monument of some kind is to be erected over the grave, and Mr. Graves has been requested to write an epitaph for it. He has willingly undertaken the task, and proposes that it shall be inscribed in both the English and native languages.

Source: FUNERAL OF QUEEN TRUCANINI. (1876, May 12). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved January 24, 2014, from

READ THE ARTICLE of 12 May 1876 here [pdf]
READ THE ARTICLE of 13 May 1876 here [pdf]

The Memorial
Exactly 100 years after her burial, Trucanini was cremated. Her ashes were scattered in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel off the Neck beach, and a memorial was erected in Truganini Park, Mt Nelson, on 8th May, 1976.

Source: ABC Radio National “Hindsight”. Truganini, bushranger 12/4/2012

Waxwork, Trucanini, Madame Tussaud’s, Darling Harbour, Sydney
Photo copyright © KLW NFC 2012 ARR

The Cascades Prison for Males ca. 1880
Source: University of Tasmania ePrints “Cascades Factory” No’s 2-4