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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nankervis, Alfred Roy (1885–1956)

by K. W. Major

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Alfred Roy Nankervis (1885-1956), public servant, was born on 10 March 1885 near Kadina, South Australia, third of eight children of Henry Nankervis, accountant, and his wife Mary Elizabeth, née Davis. Roy attended school at Kadina and entered the South Australian Public Service on 23 October 1899 as a telegraph messenger. Transferring to the Commonwealth Postmaster-General's Department in 1901, he moved in 1907 to Melbourne where he worked in the clerical division. On 12 July 1910 at St Columba's Anglican Church, Hawthorn, Adelaide, he married Nellie Ward. In the following year he was appointed a receiver of public moneys and paying officer in the South Australian naval office of the Department of Defence. He joined the Department of the Navy on its formation in 1915 and reverted to Defence when the separate naval administration was disbanded in 1921.

By 1919 Nankervis was serving with the finance branch at Navy Office, Melbourne. He held increasingly senior positions. Early in 1938 he was appointed to the National Insurance Commission, Canberra, but in September was recalled to Navy Office to succeed Ralph Abercrombie as director of navy accounts and as finance and civil member of the Naval Board. After World War II broke out, the government again divided the Department of Defence. Nankervis was appointed secretary of the new Department of the Navy, established on 13 November 1939. With the enlargement of the Naval Board in October 1940, his finance and civil responsibilities passed to Raymond Anthony. Nankervis continued as an ex officio member of the board.

As secretary through the hectic war years, Nankervis kept a close watch on expenditure and worked harmoniously with most uniformed members of the Naval Board. Although his particular strength was finance, he also dealt effectively with policy issues and with political decisions affecting the department. He was at ease in his relations with a string of ministers—Sir Frederick Stewart, A. G. Cameron, W. M. Hughes, N. J. O. Makin, A. S. Drakeford, W. J. F. Riordan and (Sir) Josiah Francis. Nankervis's style was that of a shrewd businessman: he thought ahead, alert for trouble, and was prepared to act decisively.

Always well dressed in the fashion of a senior public servant, 'Nanky' clung to tradition by wearing spats in winter. He was about 5 ft 11 ins (180 cm) tall and lightly built. In his later years he walked with a stoop. While his demeanour was usually serious, it was enlivened by a puckish sense of humour. Nankervis expected high standards from his staff and was sharply critical when they failed to meet them. He was a good permanent head, but would have been better had he been as tolerant of all his officers as he was of the few he trusted. On 9 March 1950 he retired from the public service. That year he was appointed O.B.E. He was a member of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria and of the Navy, Army and Air Force Club. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, he died on 11 July 1956 at his Camberwell home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Hyslop, Aye Aye, Minister (Canb, 1990)
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 July 1956
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

K. W. Major, 'Nankervis, Alfred Roy (1885–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 7 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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