Nicholson, Charles (DNB12)

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NICHOLSON, Sir CHARLES, first baronet (1808–1903), chancellor of the University of Sydney, New South Wales, born at Bedale, Yorkshire, on 23 Nov. 1808, was only surviving child of Charles Nicholson of London, by Barbara, youngest daughter of John Ascough of Bedale. Graduating M.D. at Edinburgh University in 1833, he emigrated to Australia, and settled on some property belonging to his uncle near Sydney in May 1834. Here for some time he practised as a physician with success. A good classical scholar, well read in history and science, an able writer and lucid speaker, he soon prominently identified himself with the social and political interests of the colony. In June 1843 he was returned to the first legislative council of New South Wales as one of the five members for the Port Phillip district (now the state of Victoria). In July 1848, and again in Sept. 1851, he was elected member for the county of Argyle. From 2 May 1844 to 19 May 1846 he was chairman of committees of the legislative council, and on 20 May 1847, in May 1849, and October 1851, he was chosen speaker, retaining the office until the grant to the colony of responsible government in 1855-6, when he became for a short time a member of the executive council.

When in 1859 the district of Moreton Bay was separated from New South Wales and formed into the colony of Queensland, Nicholson was nominated on 1 May 1860 a member of the legislative council of the new colony, and was president during the first session, resigning the office on 28 Aug. 1860.

Nicholson was from the first a powerful advocate of popular education in New South Wales. He was a member of the select committee to inquire into the state of education in the colony moved for by Robert Lowe (afterwards Lord Sherbrooke), on whose report the educational systems of the Australian colonies have in the main been based. But his name is more intimately associated with the foundation of the University of Sydney. He watched over its early fortunes with unremitting care, was a generous donor to its funds, and endowed it with many valuable gifts, including the museum of Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, and Roman antiquities which he collected with much personal exertion and at considerable cost. He was instrumental in obtaining a grant of arms from the Heralds' College in 1857, and the royal charter from Queen Victoria in 1858. On 3 March 1851 he was unanimously elected vice-provost, and delivered an inaugural address at the opening of the university on 11 Oct. 1852. He was chancellor from 13 March 1854 till 1862, when he left Australia permanently for England. There he chiefly resided in the country near London, actively occupied as a magistrate, as chairman of the Liverpool and London and Globe Insurance Co., and as director of other undertakings, at the same time interesting himself in Egyptian and classical and Hebrew scholarship. Gardening was his chief source of recreation. Preserving his vigour till the end, he died on 8 Nov. 1903 at his residence, The Grange, Totteridge, Hertfordshire, and was buried in Totteridge churchyard.

Nicholson was knighted by patent on 1 March 1852, and was the first Australian to be created a baronet (of Luddenham, N.S.W.) (8 April 1859). He was made hon. D.C.L. of Oxford in 1857, hon. LL.D. of Cambridge in 1868, and hon. LL.D. of Edinburgh in 1886.

Nicholson married on 8 Aug. 1865 Sarah Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Archibald Keightley, registrar of the Charterhouse, London, and had three sons, of whom the eldest, Charles, succeeded to the baronetcy. A portrait by H. W. Phillips hangs in the hall of the university at Sydney; another by H. A. Olivier belongs to his widow.

[Burke's Colonial Gentry, i. 289; The Times, 10 Nov. 1903; Mennell's Dictionary of Australasian Biography, 1892; Martin's Life and Letters of Robert Lowe, Viscount Sherbrooke, 1893; Sir G. Bowen's Thirty Years of Colonial Government, 1889; Barff's Short Historical Account of Sydney University, 1902; Lancet, 21 Nov. 1903; Colonial Office Records; information from relatives.]

C. A.