Constable had gruesome task of recording Bulli disaster victims

An artist impression of the Bulli engine shed, at the corner of today's Hobart Street and the Prince's Highway, where the bodies of the victims of the Bulli Colliery explosion were prepared for burial. This picture shows Constable Richard Trevillian recording the unfortunate men's names.

An artist impression of the Bulli engine shed, at the corner of today’s Hobart Street and the Prince’s Highway, where the bodies of the victims of the Bulli Colliery explosion were prepared for burial. This picture shows Constable Richard Trevillian recording the unfortunate men’s names.

Sergeant "Dick" Trevillian

Sergeant “Dick” Trevillian

POLICE officer Richard Trevillian had the unfortunate and gruesome job of recording the names of the victims of the Bulli colliery explosion, which claimed the lives of 81 men and boys on March 23 1887.

Some of the victims were never identified because they were so badly disfigured and burnt.

The victims were laid out in a large timber shed located at the corner of what is today Hobart Street and the Princes Highway. From here the bodies were taken by horse and carriage to graveyards belonging to the Church of England in Park Road Bulli, the Presbyterians in Grey Street Woonona or the Catholics on the Princes Highway at Corrimal.

Constable Trevillian’s job was horrific. He mingled among the dead, the grieving, and those employed to wash and shroud the remains. The Bendigo Advertiser reported on Friday 25 March 1887:

The scene at the mouth of the mine is most heartrendering, wives and families of imprisoned men crowding round as the blackened and charred corpses of those dear to them are brought out, filling the air with their lamentations. Up to the present time about 20 bodies have been recovered, and as they are brought they are laid in one of the mine buildings to await the coroner’s inquest. The force of the explosion is testified to by the mangled and mutilated state of the bodies, and the sad business of identification is rendered even more than usually painful. A number of bodies have been found scarcely disfigured. They were clasped in each others arms, and had evidently died from suffocation. Some twenty men are engaged clearing away the fallen rocks, to enable the bodies to be brought out. A van load of coffins has been brought on the ground.

R. TREVILLIAN. The death has occurred of Mr. Richard Trevillian, former detective-sergeant of the New South Wales police, at his residence, Rosehill-street, Parramatta, He was 75 years of age. Mr. Trevillian was born at Cornish- town, Victoria, and joined the police force at the age of 21. He was first stationed at Bulli, and five years later was transferred to Parramatta, where he served for 35 years. He retired about 15 years ago, and was awarded the long service medal. He was a member of the Parramatta Bowling Club and the Parramatta branch of the Protestant Alliance Friendly Society, and of Lodge Earl Carnarvon, U.G.L. (Auburn). He is survived by four sons and four daughters. The funeral took place at the Western-road Cemetery, where the Rev. A. R. Setchell (St, John’s, Parramatta) officiated.

– Sydney Morning Herald Monday 8 February 1937.

“The place that knew him once shall know him no more.” That is, officially, for Plain Clothes Sergeant Trevillian, so well known in Parramatta as the senior detective, is now on final leave, and goes on a well-earned holiday after many years of good and faithful service to Parramatta citizens and to the State at large. He carries with him the commendation and the good wishes of all and sundry. Under the conditions attaching to the service Sergeant Trevillian is now retiring, after having done splendid work for 35 years. His experience has been varied and at times sensational, and a brief outline of his career will prove interesting.

Sergeant Trevillian was born in Victoria on August 25, 1861. He was educated at Chiltern, better known as “Cornishtown,” a farming and gold mining centre in Victoria, and came to New South Wales in May, 1885. In June of that year he joined the police force, and was drafted to Bulli. He reached there by coach, for the railway did not extend to the Illawarra in those days, and remained there till March, 1889.

The Illawarra line was then in course of construction. There were large camps of navvies, consequently the young police man had some tough stuff to deal with, and had many a good old rough-and tumble, in which the other fellow generally came off second best, for “Dick” Trevillian in those days did not carry the adipose tissue that he does now. He was an all-round athlete, and in the pink of condition. In 1886, when the strike at the 0ld Bulli mine was on, some 40 or 50 special constables were sent there, and there were some exciting times when the police were escorting the “free labor” from the boat to the mine. Then came the explosion in the mine in 1887, when over 60 miners were killed. The bodies, as they were recovered, were brought to the surface and laid in a big shed, where Trevillian was assigned the gruesome task of examining and searching over 50 bodies for the purpose of identification. In this sad work he was engaged continuously from 8am till 9am the following day.

Leaving Bulli in 1889, Sergeant Trevillian got his first promotion to charge of a station, and he went to Figtree near Wollongong, where he remained for six months. A branch railway line was being run from there to Port Kembla, and some lively times were experienced now and then with the miners. It was here that he saved the life of a young woman who attempted suicide by jumping into the creek near Mount Kembla Hotel where she was at service.

Leaving Figtree in August, 1889, Sergeant Trevillian came to Parramatta where he put in the rest of his time. He was under Inspector Latimer and Sen. Sergeant Megarvey in uniform for the first three or four years, and then he was engaged on plain clothes duty till he re- tired. During his term he served under Inspectors Latimer, Morrow, Grudgeon, Trenchard, Musgrave, Bedinfeld, Park and Lucas. While in Parramatta Sergeant Trevillian was many times requisitioned for special duty elsewhere. He formed one of the party searching for the bodies of Leweller and Preston, the victims of the notorious Butler in the Mountain murders, and he helped to disinter the body of Leweller, found near Glenbrook, buried about 5ft. deep on a spur of the mountains, underneath a hanging rock. Preston’s body was afterwards found further west, buried in a similar manner.

The search was carried on for some weeks in very hot weather, and Sergeant Trevillian’s bag of game included several snakes and a very big adder. Snake-killing was an every-day occurrence. Another stirring event in which the subject of our sketch took part was the tracking of the man Cusack, who murdered the caretaker and his wife at the Rookwood cemetery. It will be remembered that this unfortunate man, after committing the deed, got over the river to Subiaco, where at night he went to Father Kerwick to confess.

The good priest, after taking the confession, advised the man to give himself up to the police, but, instead, he went into the scrub near the old rifle butts and shot himself; and the body was discovered some days afterwards. Another experience was the search for Peisley and Hunter, implicated in the shooting of Constable McLean at Liverpool. McLean was in the act of arresting these men on a charge of stealing, when, in a scrimmage, they wrested the revolver from him, shot him in the wrist, and got away.

Sen. Sergeant James Chalmers was in charge of the search party. Day and night they scoured the bush as far as Tom Ugly’s Point and Campbelltown, and eventually Peisley was arrested near Como and Hunter at Richmond. The next chase Trevillian was in was the search for the notorious coiners, Shaw and Skidmore, who when Constable Guilfoyle stopped them in Parramatta-street, shot him dead, and also wounded another constable.Shaw was arrested in Melbourne, after shooting another constable there. Skidmore got clean away. Then came a good spell in the bush hunting for the half-caste, Lock, who was wanted for a serious offence on a young girl out Riverstone way. They got so hot on the track that Lock headed for Ryde, where he gave himself up. Another case was the shooting of a Chinaman in his garden at North Rocks, on a Sunday morning. Trevillian effected the arrest, and, with detectives Banmon and Moore, worked up the case which ended in acquittal on the plea of self defence. One of the lads concerned was afterwards killed at the memorable landing at Gallipoli.

Another stunt was in connection with the £5 note forgery by the I.W.W. gang. One of the notes came into the hands of the late Mr. A. E. Marsden, Church-street, Parramatta, and was handed to Sergeant Trevillian, who soon picked up a clue which took him to Sydney, where he joined up with the detectives, and dufing that night three of the gang were arrested. Trevillian shared in the Government re- ward for the apprehension and conviction. His next good haul was the recovery of a parcel of jewellery, valued at £1200, the property of Mr. Lenneberg, of Rocky Hall. Lenneberg left it in the train, whence it was stolen between Parramatta and Blacktown. After a four days’ search, Sergeant Trevillian located it buried underneath the flooring boards of a house in Wentworthville. A conviction followed. On one occasion when there were a number of robberies at Windsor and Richmond, and the railway station at Clarendon was burgled and the safe removed and the contents stolen, Sergeant T’revillian was sent up to investigate, and he soon had under arrest two brothers, who were afterwards convicted. The Sergeant had a wide field to cover and worked the Parramatta sub-district as far as Katoomba, Uranderie Hawkesbury River, Berrima, Moss Vale, and as far as Nowra, investigating many robberies, one in particular, a gold robbery from the Homeward Gold Mine. Here he did good work, and unravelled some of the mystery as to where the gold was going. In the eighties there were about ten tote shops being run in Parramatta, and when the powers that be decided to stop this nefarious business Sergeant Trevillian was put on to the job, and after two convictions of the offenders the business was a thing of the past.

Judge Murray several times complimented Sergeant Trevillian for his good work, doing so both from Parramatta and the Sydney Bench. Every crime in the calendar Trevillian has dealt with. One thing to his credit is that he has warned many lads and their parents just in time to save them from further trouble, and it is satisfactory to know that his good advice in many instances was accepted and after- wards gratefully acknowledged. By this timely advice he put many a lad back on the right track, and so altered the whole course of their lives. Thus lie played the role of the watch-dog, and not the sleuth hound. In severing his connection with the Department, he does so with the good wishes of his superiors, follow officers, heads of the detective department, and the citizens of Parramatta. In civil life Sergeant Trevillian is a Freemason of long standing, and for over 30 years has been a member of the P.A.F.S. He reared a large family, the members of which have proved a credit to himself, his wife, and the old town it self. Good luck to him, and may his years to come be restful, happy and prosperous.

– The Cumberland Argus (Parramatta) Wednesday 20 October 1920, page 3.

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