Nicholl, John (1759-1838) (DNB00)

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NICHOLL, Sir JOHN (1759–1838), judge, second son of John Nicholl of Llanmaes, Glamorganshire, by his wife Elizabeth, daughter of James Havard, was born on 16 March 1759. He was educated first at the neighbouring town of Cowbridge, and afterwards at Bristol, and on 27 June 1775 matriculated from St. John's College, Oxford, where he was elected to a founder's kin fellowship. He graduated B.C.L. on 15 June 1780, and D.C.L. on 6 April 1785. Giving up his original intention of taking orders, Nicholl was admitted an advocate at Doctors' Commons on 3 Nov. 1785, and in 1791 was appointed a commissioner to inquire into the state of the law of Jersey. He quickly gained an extensive practice, and on 6 Nov. 1798 succeeded Sir William Scott (afterwards Lord Stowell) as king's advocate, having been knighted on the previous 31 Oct. (London Gazette, 1798, p. 1039). At the general election in July 1802 he was returned to the House of Commons for the borough of Penryn, Cornwall. On 11 Feb. 1805 he defended the conduct of the government with reference to the Spanish war, and maintained that it was ‘authorised by the established usage or law of nations’ (Parl. Debates, 1st ser. iii. 405–8). He represented Hastings in the short parliament of 1806–7, and at the general election in May 1807 was returned both for Great Bedwin and for Rye. He elected to serve for Great Bedwin, and continued to sit for that borough until his retirement from parliamentary life at the dissolution in December 1832. He took part in the debate on the order of council respecting neutral vessels in February 1807 (ib. viii. 633–40), and in February of the following year warmly supported the Orders in Council Bill (ib. x. 666–76). In February, and again in June 1812, he spoke strongly against Roman catholic emancipation (ib. xxi. 500–14, 547, xxiii. 684–6). At the meeting of the new parliament he proposed the re-election of Charles Abbot [q. v.] as speaker (ib. xxiv. 2–6), and in May 1813 opposed Grattan's Roman Catholic Relief Bill (ib. xxvi. 328–37). In May 1817 he opposed Sir Francis Burdett's motion for a select committee on the state of the representation in a speech of considerable length, and declared that any attempt to change the constitution as it then existed ‘would be more than folly; it would be the height of political criminality’ (ib. xxxvi. 735–52). On 2 June 1817 he proposed the election of Charles Manners-Sutton [q. v.] as speaker in the place of Abbot (ib. xxxvi. 843–6). Nicholl unsuccessfully contested the university of Oxford against Richard Heber at a by-election in August 1821 (Gent. Mag. 1821, pt. ii. pp. 103–4, 273). In May 1829 he brought in his Ecclesiastical Courts Bill (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. xxi. 1318), which passed through both houses and became law in the following month (10 Geo. IV. c. 53). He does not appear to have spoken in the house after this session, though he voted against all three Reform Bills. He took a leading part in Glamorganshire politics, and was a consistent supporter of Sir Christopher Cole, who represented the county in several parliaments in the conservative interest.

Nicholl succeeded Sir William Wynne as dean of arches and judge of the prerogative court of Canterbury in January 1809, and on 6 Feb. following was admitted to the privy council and made a member of the board of trade. On the death of Sir Christopher Robinson, Nicholl was appointed judge of the high court of admiralty, and took his seat in that court for the first time on 31 May 1833 (Haggard, Admiralty Reports, iii. 65). In 1834 he became vicar-general to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and resigned the offices of dean of arches and judge of the prerogative court.

As a judge Nicholl was distinguished ‘for inflexible impartiality and for great strength and soundness of judgment’ (Legal Observer, xvii. 3). His conduct during certain proceedings in the prerogative court formed the subject of a debate in the House of Commons in July 1828. There, however, appeared to be no foundation for the complaint, and the petition presented by Joseph Hume was not allowed to lie on the table (Parl. Debates, 2nd ser. xix. 1749–62; see also 1694–7). His judgments will be found in the ‘Ecclesiastical Reports’ of Phillimore, Addams, and Haggard, and in the third volume of Haggard's ‘Admiralty Reports.’ One of the most important cases which Nicholl decided was that of Kemp v. Wickes (3 Phillimore, 264), where he held that a child baptised by a dissenter with water and the invocation of the Trinity was baptised in the sense of the rubric to the burial service, and of the sixty-eighth canon, and therefore the burial of such child was obligatory on the clergyman, a decision which gave rise to a considerable controversy, and was subsequently brought under the review of the court of arches in Mastin v. Escott (Curteis, Eccl. Rep. ii. 692; Moore, Privy Council Cases, iv. 104). Several of Nicholl's speeches and judgments have been separately printed.

Nicholl is said to have been one of the most active promoters of a volunteer corps among the advocates and proctors in the last decade of the last century, and on 3 Aug. 1803 was appointed lieutenant-colonel commandant of the St. George's, Bloomsbury, volunteers. He assisted in the establishment of King's College, London, and was nominated a member of the provisional committee in June 1824 (Gent. Mag. 1824, pt. i. p. 544). He was a member of the judicial committee of the privy council, and a fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries. He died at Merthyr-Mawr, Glamorganshire, on 26 Aug. 1838, and was buried in the churchyard of that parish.

Nicholl married, on 8 Sept. 1787, Judy, youngest daughter of Peter Birt, of Wenvoe Castle, Glamorganshire, by whom he left one son, John, and three daughters. His wife died in Bruton Street, Piccadilly, on 1 Dec. 1829, aged 70. Portraits of Nicholl by Sir Thomas Lawrence and William Owen, R.A., are in the possession of Mr. J. C. Nicholl of Merthyr-Mawr. There are engravings of Nicholl by Meyer, after Owen, and by Tomkins, after Shee.

[Diary and Correspondence of Lord Colchester, 1861; Catalogue of English Civilians, 1804, p. 130; Georgian Era, 1833, ii. 323–4; The Glamorgan, Monmouth, and Brecon Gazette, 1 Sept. 1838; The Cambrian, 1 and 8 Sept. 1838; Legal Observer, xvii. 3–4; Gent. Mag. 1787 pt. ii. p. 836, 1829 pt. ii. p. 648, 1838 pt. ii. 546–7; Ann. Reg. 1838, App. to Chron. p. 223; Wilson's Biog. Index to the House of Commons, 1808, pp. 58–9, 518–19; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886; Burke's Landed Gentry, 1879, ii. 1166; Official Return of Members of Parliament, pt. ii.; Haydn's Book of Dignities, 1890; private information.]

G. F. R. B.