Isabella Rayner, William Nichollias and Joseph Knight

John Horton
John Horton's picture
Early Nichols-Nicholls-Nicholas Researcher

There is an interesting aside to the Nicholls family history. One of my earliest road trips in relation to the family was to the Friend's School Archive where I had heard there was a copy of the original wedding certificate for William Nichollias and Isabella Rayner. Ultimately I was told that the item I was after was actually in the Society of Friends Archive at the University of Tasmania, but the staff kindly provided me with a one page typed paper they had on the Nicholls family named Nicholls-Nicholas-Nichols. I reviewed the original certificate at the University, and they also had the early minutes of the Society of Friends. After a long process of transcription some of this material, and the earlier information from the school, was included in the story of Isabella Rayner and William Nichollias. After I published the page on a website I was contacted by a fellow Nicholls researcher Marian McColl who related that:

...your article is based on a 3 1/2 paged typed research article headed Nicholls-Nicholas-Nichols prepared for Norm by a Mrs Nicholls who worked at the State Archives in the 1980's... The Friends School welcomed us with open arms on a visit in 1999. I think I gave them a copy of the above research to add to their folder as at that time they had very little on our family. Now back to Mrs Nicholls, some years ago now another cousin Gwen Crick nee Nicholas was directed to her because of her research on the family. Mrs Nicholls loaned her copies of research to Gwen and her first cousins to browse over a weekend. There were 120 record cards, birth certificates and 2 taped reports of meetings held by the Quaker Chapel regarding William Nichollias. There were also typed letters to various solicitors and registrars and it appears he was employed, maybe by the Rayners. The tapes covered permission for William to marry Isabella, with promises he would attend meetings. The second tape covered his lack of interest and absence. Mrs Mary Nicholls had tried to find William at Swansea in Wales as he states his birth place is on his marriage to Isabella on the certificate. Back in 1972 this was to no avail. Norm did send me an Appendix 1 Uni Tasmania Thesis PHd 1985 he thought also came from Mrs Nicholls and were from Quaker Records Nicholas or Nichollias William (c.1801-1851) Transported to V.D.L. on the "Lady Ridley", arriving 1821.

We can only wonder where this goldmine of Nicholls information is sitting now, or if it still exists. I trawled the University Thesis Index and there were no matches for a thesis by Mary Nicholls. Some of the staff at the Archives Office remembered Mary but she had retired 10 years earlier. Unfortunately Mary passed away ca. 2008-2009. This comment was initiated when the other day I saw a copy of a transcription of Knopwood's Diary and it was by Mary Nicholls. The AOT staff confirmed that the same Mary Nicholls who worked there was the author of that book, and they also confirmed the same person was researching the Nicholls and Rayner families. Given her background it seems odd that Mary didn't deposit her research with the AOT, it probably remained in her family as Mary had four or five children. Either way Mary will be remembered for making a significant contribution to researching the Nicholls and Rayner families, as well as to Tasmanian history generally.

John Horton
John Horton's picture
Identity of Mary Nicholls

Mary Nicholls was probably the Mary Agnes Bottriel who was married to Peter Leslie Nicholls, a descendant of William Nichollias and Isabella Rayner. In addition to the works mentioned previously that were authored by Mary, Michael Roe mentions a Mary Nicholls in relation to his research into The Tichborne Claimant, noting that Mary had added significantly to the story.1 Mary's life was succinctly reported in the Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association of which she was a long term member. The article confirmed that Mary worked at both the University of Tasmania and the Archives Office of Tasmania, before retiring in 1988. Mary Nicholls died in 2009 in Hobart, Tasmania.2

  • 1. Roe, Michael: Arthur Orton, The Tichborne Case and Tasmania; Tasmanian Historical Research Association, October 1971, p. 117
  • 2. Papers and Proceedings of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association Vol. 56, no. 3