Isabella Rayner and William Nichollias

Isabella Rayner was born on 23 August 1817 in Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land, the daughter of William Rayner and Susannah Chapman.1 Isabella was their 6th child, and 4th daughter. Her birth date has also been recorded as 3 July 1817, and as 23 July 1817, but it would appear these are transcription errors.2 The birth was not recorded in the state records of the day and this may reflect the status of the Rayner family as Quakers. In 1827 Isabella’s name was recorded on a census of children in the Hobart area, perhaps to determine the future education needs of the area. The register included Elizabeth Rayner (17), Sarah Rayner (13), Isabella Rayner (10), Sophia Rayner (6) and Susan Rayner (4).3 Isabella next appears in the historical records in the minutes of the Hobart Town Monthly Meeting of Friends. During the meeting held at William Holdship's residence on 15 May 1834 Isabella's father William Rayner was accepted into membership of the newly formed gathering in Hobart Town. At their next meeting in June he registered his two marriages, and the births of his children (including Isabella), into the minute books. At the same time Isabella submitted her own application for membership as follows:

Isabella Rayner's Application for Membership

The following Application for Membership has been received.

"To the Monthly Meeting Hobart Town. 5th of the 6th Mo: 1834

Dear Friends, It is my sincere wish and desire to become a Member of the Society of Friends. I have not joined with any Society, nor have I been baptized with any water baptism; and with a conscientious feeling and deep exercise of mind that I sometimes experience, I hope I shall be accepted, and I verily believe with the help of the Lord I shall not do anything for which Friends will have reason to be sorry for receiving me as a Member.

Isabella Rayner.

Abraham C. Flower, James Backhouse and George Washington Walker were appointed to visit Isabella and report back at a later meeting. They did so on 10 July 1834:

Report on Isabella Rayner's case.

The Report of the Committee appointed to visit Isabella Rayner has been received, viz: To Hobart Town Monthly Meeting of Friends. In accordance with our appointment we have visited Isabella Rayner on her application for Membership; our interview with her was satisfactory: though she is young in religious experience, we believe her to be convinced of the principles of our Society, and endeavoring to act in conformity to the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, as perceived by her in the secret of her own mind; trusting also for the remission of past XXX (incomplete).

Isabella was received into Membership and James Backhouse was "appointed to inform her of this decision." He reported at the meeting on 4 September 1834 that he had duly informed Isabella Rayner that she had been accepted into the Society of Friends. Isabella's fate from this time became linked to one William Nichollias, one of his many names.

Family history is generally a process of working our way back through time. With the Nicholls branch we end up in Hobart Town on 6 February 1835. On that day William Nichollias married Isabella Rayner in the house of her father William Rayner.4 Nichollias is an usual surname, and later descendants opted for a number of variations: Nichols, Nicholls, and Nicholas, such that in the ensuing generations these family lines were largely unknown to each other.

The same ambiguity about the surname however is demonstrated throughout the life of William Nichollias himself. As the marriage is our last, or first link, in the trajectory of his life, we should start there in working our way back. Just for this one event as it unfolds in the historical records we can see a number of variations in William's name.

William followed Isabella four months later on 2 October 1834 in submitting an application to become a member of the Society of Friends and this association suggests they probably already knew each other, although how their paths crossed remains unknown. From the later sequence of events leading to their marriage it seems clear even here in the later months of 1834 that they had already formed that intention.

William Nicholas's Application for Membership

The following Application for Membership from Wm. Nicholas of Hobart Town has been received. A. C. Flower, F. Cotton, & T. Pollard are appointed to visit him thereon and report. "To Hobart Town Monthly Meeting of Friends. Friends. I was born and brought up in the Society of Friends until I was fifteen years old, at which time my Father died, and at which time I left home and departed from the paths of rectitude, and got sent to this Country, and was compelled to attend the Established Church, though against my inclination; but now, having become free, and having read 'Tuke's Principles of Friends', and some other Friends' books which were sent one by William Rayner, I am unfeignedly desirous of being accepted into the Society of Friends at this place, and with the assistance of Divine Providence I hope I shall become a good Member, for I know no other religion to which my conscience inclines. I am by trade a Carpenter, and in fair circumstances, and my conduct will bear strict scrutiny.

William Nicholas.
Hobart Town
18th of 9th Mo. 1834.

So in this the first entry to note his existence he is consistently referred to as William Nicholas. A week later the following report was minuted:

Report on Wm. Nicholas's case of Application for Membership.

The report of the Committee appointed to visit Wm. Nicholas on his application for Membership has been received as follows:

"To Hobart Town Monthly Meeting for Friends.

We your Committee appointed to visit Wm. Nicholas on his application to be received into Membership with the Society of Friends, report that we have collectively paid him a visit thereon; since which one of the Committee had a private sitting with him, and the two other have also had an interview with Wm. Nicholas. We have much satisfaction in stating that we were made sensible of a good feeling presiding with us at each interview, & we believe Wm. Nicholas to be earnestly endeavoring to walk in the Truth, as it is in Jesus, & to be seeking after the further unfoldings of it in his own mind, & sincerely desirous to fill up his measure therein. After deliberate consideration we recommend that his Application for Membership be acceded to, believing that thereby he will be encouraged in his way heaven-ward & confirmed therein.

Abraham Chas. Flower, Theophilius Pollard, Francis Cotton.
Hobart Town 25/10 Mon. 1834

It was minuted on 4 December 1834 that Francis Cotton was to inform Wm. Nicholas of the judgement, and the minute was indexed as "Wm. Nichollias", the first time the unusual spelling is introduced. On 1 January 1835 it was further minuted that Francis Cotton had "informed William Nichollias of the decision" with the entry indexed "William Nichollias received into Membership" so at this point the transformation is complete from Nicholas to Nichollias. It's worth noting now, although it will be discussed in greater detail later on, that there was one William Nicholas transported to Van Diemen's Land as a convict but it was in 1846, and no convicts arrived with the surname Nichollias. At that same meeting in January 1835 the pair revealed their marriage plans:

Intention of Marriage between William Nichollias & Isabella Rayner

The following intention of Marriage between William Nichollias and Isabella Rayner was laid before this Meeting by letter with a certificate of approbation to such a step by William and Susannah Rayner, the parents of William Nichollias being deceased; the Signatures of all the Parties are properly attested.

"To Hobart Town Monthly Meeting of Friends. I hereby inform you that it is my intention to take my friend Isabella Rayner to be my wife if the Lord permit.

William Nichollias
Hobart Town
6th of 12th Month 1834

N.B. My Parents who resided at Swansea are both deceased."

"To Hobart Town Monthly Meeting of Friends.

I hereby inform you that it is my intention to take my friend William Nichollias to be my husband if the Lord permit.

Isabella Rayner
Hobart Town
6th of 12th Month 1834"

Witnesses to the signatures of William Nichollias and Isabella Rayner.

Abraham C. Flowers, Elizabeth Allan

"To Hobart Town Monthly Meeting of Friends.

We hereby certify that it is with our consent that our daughter Isabella Rayner lays before you her intention of marriage with her friend William Nichollias. William Rayner, Susannah (her X mark) Rayner Hobart Town 6th of 12th Month 1834" Witnesses to the signatures of William Rayner & Susannah Rayner's mark. Abraham C. Flowers, Elizabeth Allan This meeting appoints Theophilius Pollard and Thomas Squire to enquire into their Clearings from all other marriage engagements and to give notice of their intention at the close of the meeting for worship on First day the 11th of 1st month and report to an adjournment of this meeting.

The Clearances were ultimately minuted on the 29 January 1835 when the meeting was held at Frances Cotton's residence 'Kelvedon', Great Swan Port. Theophilius Pollard and Frances Cotton deposed that there were no obstacles to the proposed marriage. The next meeting was held at the house of William Rayner on 5 February 1835 where it was minuted that "William Nichollias and Isabella Rayner informed that they are at liberty to marry." William Rayner, William Nichollias and Isabella Rayner were in attendance. William Rayner was appointed "to see that the said marriage is conducted with propriety and report to a future meeting." All parties agreed to meet at William Rayner's the following day for worship where the marriage would be solemnised. So it was that on 6 February 1835 William Nichollias married Isabella Rayner in Barrack street, Hobart Town, in the house of her father William Rayner, the first Quaker marriage on the island. William Rayner presented his report on the event on 2 April 1835:

Report of the Marriage of Wm. Nichollias and Isabella Rayner

William Rayner reports that the marriage of William Nichollias with Isabella Rayner took place on 6th day, the 6th of 2nd Month 1835, a meeting for worship being held especially for that purpose, and that the marriage was conducted in an orderly and consistent manner. He also produced two registers of the marriage which our Registrars are requested to preserve and record at the end of this minute book and of which the following is a copy: On this sixth day of the Second month One Thousand Eight Hundred and Thirty Five, William Nichollias of Hobart Town, Carpenter, son of William Nichollias, Swansea in Wales, and Elizabeth, his wife (both deceased) and Isabella Rayner, daughter of William Rayner of Hobart Town, Yeoman, and Susannah his wife, took each other in marriage, in a public assembly of people called Quakers in Hobart Town, in the presence of us who as witnesses thereof, and of the signatures of the said parties have also subscribed our names, the day and year above written. This marriage was solemnised between us,

William Nichollias Isabella Rayner Abraham Charles Flower, Hobart Town, Yeoman Sarah Benson Mather, Robert Rayner, Hobart Town, Minor Sarah Crouch, Hobart Town

The facts so far were summarized in a research paper available from the Friend's Library of the Friend's School, references in the text have been retained:

"William Nichollias married Isabella Rayner at the Friend's Meeting House, Hobart Town...the first marriage to take place in Van Diemen's Land according to Quaker rites. As Isabella Rayner and her father William were both members of that religion, William Nichollias had applied and was admitted prior to his marriage; in his application he stated that he was a native of Swansea in Wales, he had been brought up in the Quaker faith, had left home after the death of his parents, had subsequently got into bad company and had been transported as a convict to Van Diemen's Land. (Minutes of Meetings, Society of Friends - University Archives). As there is no permission to marry recorded, William must have received a conditional pardon prior to February 1835. There are a no convicts named Nichollias in the index, but there are a number of persons named William Nicholls, although none who gave their native place as Swansea, Wales. One convict whose particular details tally with the known facts of William Nichollias' life is William Nicholls (No. 70) who arrived per 'Lady Ridley' in 1821. He had been tried at Stafford Assizes 20 July 1820 with two other men for stealing a sheep and sentenced to death, commuted to transportation for life. He was described as a nailer, aged 19, from Allchurch, Stafford, with dark brown eyes and hair, 5' 9" [in] height; he received a ticket of leave 23 April 1829, a conditional pardon 15 April 1833 and a free pardon 5 December 1842.5

  • 1. Minutes of the Hobart Town Monthly Meeting of Friends: University of Tasmania Special Collections [S1. A1.]
  • 2. Ancestral file, produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
  • 3. AOT A List of Males and Females having both parents living in the District of Hobart containing name, age & character as far as can be ascertained: Archives Office of Tasmania CSO 1/122a p. 92 & p. 96
  • 4. Archives Office of the University of Tasmania
  • 5. AOT Convict Records CON 31/29; AOT Colonial Secretary's Correspondence CSO 1/403/9108