Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Nicolay, William
NICOLAY, Sir WILLIAM (1771–1842), colonial administrator, was born in 1771 of an old Saxe-Gotha family settled in England. He entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, as a cadet 1 Nov. 1785, but did not obtain a commission as second lieutenant royal artillery until 28 May 1790. In April 1791 he embarked for India with two newly formed companies of royal artillery, known as the ‘East India Detachment,’ which subsequently formed the nucleus of the old sixth battalion (Duncan, Hist. Roy. Artillery, ii. 2). He served under Lord Cornwallis at the siege of Seringapatam in 1792, and was an assistant-engineer at the reduction of Pondicherry in 1793. Meanwhile, with some other artillery subalterns, he had been transferred in November 1792 to the royal engineers, in which he became first-lieutenant 15 Aug. 1793 and captain 29 Aug. 1798. He was present at the capture of St. Lucia, and was left there as commanding engineer by Sir John Moore. He afterwards served under Sir Ralph Abercromby at Tobago and Trinidad until compelled to return home by a broken thigh, which incapacitated him for duty for two years. When the royal staff corps was formed, to provide a corps for quartermaster-general's and engineer duties which should be under the horse guards (instead of under the ordnance), Nicolay was appointed major of the new corps from 26 June 1801, and on 4 April 1805 became lieutenant-colonel. He was employed on the defences of the Kent and Sussex coasts during the invasion alarms of 1804–5, and on intelligence duties under Sir John Moore in Spain in 1808, and was present at Corunna. He became a brevet-colonel 4 June 1813. In 1815 he proceeded to Belgium in command of five companies of the royal staff corps, and was present at the battle of Waterloo (C.B. and medal) and the occupation of Paris. There he remained until the division destined to occupy the frontier, of which the staff corps formed part, moved to Cambray. He became a major-general 12 Aug. 1819. He was governor of Dominica from April 1824 to July 1831, of St. Kitts, Nevis, Antigua, and the Virgin Islands from January 1831 to December 1832, and of Mauritius from 1832 to February 1840, an anxious time, as, owing to the recent abolition of slavery and other causes, there was much ill-feeling in the island towards the English.
Nicolay, a C.B. and K.C.H., was promoted to lieutenant-general 10 Jan. 1837, and was appointed colonel, 1st West India regiment, 30 Nov. 1839. He died at his residence, Oriel Lodge, Cheltenham, on 3 May 1842. He married in 1806 the second daughter of the Rev. E. Law of Whittingham, Northumberland.[Kane's List of Officers Roy. Art. 1869 ed. p. 20; Vibart's History Madras Sappers, vol. i., for accounts of sieges of Seringapatam and Pondicherry. Nicolay's name is misspelt Nicolas; Philippart's Royal Military Calendar, 1820, iv. 43; Basil Jackson's Recollections of the Waterloo Campaign (privately printed); Gent. Mag. 1842, ii. 205.]