William Nicholls and the Early Family

At this point, according to his own testimony, we find that William Nichollias, Nicholas, Nichols etc., ...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. We can now examine each of these details for corresponding evidence in the historical record.

Without question we can agree that William was a convict. Unfortunately there was no William Nichollias, Nicholas, Nicholls, or Nichols, who was from Wales, so while William was prepared to acknowledge how he had arrived in the colony, he doesn't seem to have been entirely honest about his background. The association of William Nichollias with the William Nicholls who arrived aboard the Lady Ridley needs to be re-examined in the light of currently available records. There were in fact two William Nicholls aboard the Lady Ridley, one sentenced to Life, and the other sentenced to 7 years. The paper deposited with the Friends School Archive refers to the man who received a sentence for life, but the other convict who was sentenced for 7 years also appears in the Quaker records:

A List of Persons Transported to Van Diemen's Land and Reformed on Religious Principles

Name: William Nicoll (sic)
Ship: Lady Ridley
Where Tried: (No Entry)
When Tried: (No Entry)
Sentence: 7 Years
Free by Servitude or Otherwise: Free by Servitude
Present Situation: Clerk to T.(homas Wood) Rowlands, Attorney
Religious Denomination: Wesleyan
Term of Religious Profession: 3 Years1

Thankfully we can remove any association to William Nichollias in this case as this man is a clerk, not a Carpenter, and a later entry in the same register reveals that he is married to Sarah Powell, another convict under sentence of 14 years, which tallies with a convict by the same name who arrived aboard the Providence (2) in May 1826. They were married in 1828 and William Nicolls' (Nicholls etc) tenure with the well known lawyer Thomas Wood Rowlands lasted until at least 1834 which does not match up with the man who married Isabella Rayner. This man was also in trouble with the authorities up until 1834 and so wouldn't have had the confidence as William Nichollias did to suggest that his "conduct will bear strict scrutiny". So what of the behavior of William Nicholls the lifer? We can certainly observe that the man's convict record is relatively free of blemishes:

Nicholls, Wm.
Lady Ridley
20 July 1820 = Life

Transported for sheep stealing
Gaoler report "belonging to a bad gang"
Hulk report "orderly"
Conduct on board Lady Ridley "orderly"

Sep 2 1822. Absent from Muster & Church. Rep(remande)d. (G. L. R.) April 22 1824. Dean/Absent from his Master premises with(ou)t leave & insolence to his Master on Monday last (Rev. R(obert). K(nopwood). & J. B. & J(osiah). S(pode).) Apr. 19 1831. T. L./Overseer of Nailors. Being found out after hours last ??? the term he had to serve for his indulgence extended one month (P. L.) Cond(itional) Pardon No. 233 15th June 1831 Free Pardon No. 147 = 5th Dec 18422

This man was either the Overseer of Nailors or part of the Nailors gang, which fits with William's stated occupation as Carpenter, and his conduct record as noted is relatively without incident. But can we concur with the author of the research paper that this is the only known convict whose details match up with William Nichollias? Are there any other potential matches? There were 19 convicts transported to Van Diemen's Land with the name William Nichols (2), William Nicholls (16), or William Nicholas (1). Of those 19 we can discount 9 as arriving too late to be the same individual. We can discount a further two who are known to have married other convicts, one of whom is the other William Nicholls aboard the Lady Ridley who married Sarah Powell. Of the 8 remaining 3 had extensive conduct records inconsistent with the activities of William Nichollias, and 2 had Conditional Pardons issued after 1835, meaning they would have required permission to marry from the authorities. We are left with the following 3 individuals:

  • William Nicholls, arrived per Lady Ridley in 1821, our initial candidate;
  • William Nicholls, arrived per Phoenix in 1822, stated he had a wife and 2 children, Free Pardon issued 30 Aug 1834;
  • William Nicholls, arrived per Asia in 1824, stated he had a wife and 3 children. Conditional Pardon issued 10 Apr 1834.

With the later two both stating they were married and with children in England it seems unlikely they would have made the statements later deposed by William Nichollias. So yes we can validate the findings of the author of the research paper that William Nichollias is most probably the William Nicholls who arrived aboard the Lady Ridley under a sentence of life for sheep stealing. During the journey to Van Diemen's Land the ships surgeon made two references to William Nicholls (although which one of the two we cannot be certain):

10 May 1820 - took the irons off one leg of the following prisoners for their good conduct ... Wm NICHOLLS .. 24 Jun 1820 - some prisoners wrote a letter to the Surgeon. One of them was transcribed as "Wm Nictll"3

The William Nicholls sentenced to Transportation for Life was tried at Stafford and during an early stage in researching William's family it was thought that the christening of a William Massin Nicholls on 19 June 1807 in Saint Matthew, Walsall, Stafford, England to William and Elizabeth Nicholls might be a related event.4 A fellow Nicholls researcher, Peter Miller, pointed out that this William Nicholls was a solicitor, and still alive in 1861, and living in Birmingham.5 In 1834, in a further demonstration that William Nicholls and the Rayner family had an earlier association prior to the marriage, William Nicholls bought 2 lots bounded by Hill and Butterworth Streets in West Hobart with money partly lent to him by John Allen.6 John Allen had married Elizabeth Rayner, the sister of Isabella Rayner, on 5 September 1831 at St. David's Church of England, Hobart Town.7 By October in 1835, following their marriage in February, the contrived nature of their conversion to the principles of friends started to become apparent as the minutes of the meeting on 7 October 1835 demonstrate:

Concerning William Nichollias and his wife.

William Nichollias and Isabella his wife having for some time past absented themselves from meeting without any reasonable excuse for so doing; and having been visited by some of the members without the desired effect; this meeting hereby appoints W. Rayner, Abraham C. Flower and Robt. A. Mather to visit them and report.

The report was entered into the minute book of the meeting held in Great Swan Port on 5 November 1835:

Report concerning Wm. & Isabella Nichollias

The following report has been received from the Committee appointed to visit William Nichollias and Isabella his wife respecting their non-attendance at meetings, have to inform you that we fulfilled our appointment, and that they acknowledge themselves in fault for not attending, and promised to attend for the future as frequently as lay in their power. Wm. Rayner, Abraham C. Flower, Robert A. Mather Hobart Town 22nd of 10th mo. 1835 The report being satisfactory. this Meeting is of the judgment their case may be withdrawn.

The Hobart meeting upheld the judgment and formally withdrew the case on 2 December 1835. The desired behavior did not eventuate, until in frustration the Friends entered another note of concern in their minutes at the meeting on 7 April 1836:

Appointment to visit Wm. and Isabella Nichollias

The case of William and Isabella Nichollias has again come before this Meeting they not having fulfilled their promise in attending Meetings for Worship but have for some time entirely neglected them. Harry H. Ridler, Joseph B. Mather, and Abraham C. Flower to visit them and report.

On 5 May 1836 the report was placed before the society:

Report of visit to Wm. & Isabella Nichollias and recommendation that the Friends on the appointment investigate their case.

A report as under has been received from the Friends appointed to visit William and Isabella Nichollias. To Hobart Town Monthly Meeting of Friends. Dear Friends, according to our Appointment we visited William and Isabella Nichollias respecting their not attending our Meetings for Worship. They stated as a reason for their non attendance that some difference existed between them and Wm. Rayner, which they intended to lay before our next Monthly Meeting, but again promised to attend regularly on first days and when circumstances would admit on week days also. We found them evidently in a very weak state and on that account dealt with them as tenderly as possible, and advise that the Society extend much care and forbearance in their case. Abraham C. Flower Joseph Benson Mather Hy. Harford Ridler Hobart Town 17th of 4th Mo. 1836 In averting to the reports our minds have been much pained at the reason offered by the individuals in question for their non attendance of Religious Meetings, and recommend that the Friends on the Appointment impartially investigate into the cause of the breach of Love alluded to and report thereon in order that the Society may be enabled to come to a right judgement in the case and that the Rules of our discipline be properly executed.

Detail of Minutes of the Hobart Town Monthly Meeting of Friends
Detail of Minutes of the Hobart Town Monthly Meeting of Friends
Image Reproduced Courtesy of the University of Tasmania

A startling turn of events, but William and Isabella never attended the next meeting to lay the case against William Rayner. Perhaps they entered the Society as a sweetener for William Rayner to accept the marriage, but now the event was over there was no reason to persist in the farce. At the Monthly Meeting of 3 June 1836 the following minute was recorded:

Testimony of Disownment to be prepared against Wm. & Isabella Nichollias

It has been a source of much uneasiness to this meeting to be informed that Wm. & Isabella Nichollias have again not fulfilled their promise in attending our meetings for worship, much labour has been bestowed upon them by individuals as well as those on the Appointment, but their endeavors to reclaim them, and induce them to attend meetings have hitherto been unavailing: this meeting believes it right that the discipline of the Society be carried into effect in their case, and Francis Cotton is requested to prepare a testimony of disownment against them. In allusion to the recommendation made to the last monthly meeting to investigate the charge that Wm. and Isabella Nichollias said it was their intention to lay before this meeting, and no such charges having been made, it is considered unnecessary that any further enquiry be made upon the subject, as they refused when visited to enter into any explanation.

The testimony was presented at the next monthly meeting held at Kelvedon in Great Swan Port on 7 July 1836:

Testimony of Disownment against Wm. & Isabella Nichollias

4th. The following testimony of disownment has been brought in against William & Isabella Nichollias which this meeting approves, and leaves it with Friends at Hobart Town to issue. William & Isabella Nichollias, members of Hobart Town Monthly Meeting, having neglected the attendance of our meetings fo worship, were thereupon visited by appointment of this meeting, and much care & counsel having been extended to them without effect: this meeting therefore disowns the said Wm. & Isabella Nichollias as Members of the Society of Friends, but in meeting with them seriously recommends them to think of the awful situation of lukewarm professors of the Gospel, and desires that they may see the impropriety of their conduct, and seek Divine help to enable them to walk uprightly in the sight of God, and be blameless in respect to keeping all the ordinances of the Lord - that thus they may become fit to be reinstated into membership.

There is much more to add about the Society of Friends.

William Nicholls and Isabella Rayner had their first child when George Nichollias, later Nichols, was born on 1 December 1836. The event was recorded in the Register of the Minute Books of the Society of Friends.8 A daughter followed, Eliza Ann Nichollias was born in 1838, although this has not been verified in any primary source and is probably calculated from the age stated when she later married (20 in 1858).9 I have presumed Eliza and Elizabeth Jane on the Ancestral File Family Group Sheet, sharing a common birth year of 1838, to be one and the same person.10

Another daughter, Isabella, was born on 20 October 1841 in Hobart under the surname Nichollias.11 Isabella has not been traced in later life, although an examination of the census records may shed some light on the family at this time. In the 1842 census returns, William Nicholls is shown as owner of a stone house in Adelaide Street, West Hobart. He is listed in the Mechanic/Artificer class, has a wife and 3 children, one boy (2 and under 7 - George) and two girls (1 under 2 - Isabella, and one 2 and under 7 - Eliza Anne). William and Isabella are recorded as 21 and under 45. The family are all listed as Other Protestant dissenters; William is shown as an 'other free person' meaning an ex-convict, and his wife is shown as 'born in the colony'.12 In February 1842 Isabella charged Robert Wright with an assault of sorts when he set his dogs on her.

Robert Wright charged by Mrs. Isabella Nicholls with setting his dogs on her; bound over to keep the peace, and committed to gaol in default of sureties. Robert Wright, committed to gaol yesterday in default of bail, was now brought up. and entered into his own recognizances in the sum of £20, to keep the peace towards Isabella Nicholls.13

Anna Maria Nichollias was born in 1842 so should appear on the census the following year.14 In the 1843 census William Nickholes is living in Hill Street in a stone house, all the inhabitants were again Other Protestant Dissenters, although this time it was explicitly acknowledged they were Quakers. The number of children however didn't change so it would appear Isabella died before January 1843.15 William Davey was born on 28 February 1844 in Hobart under the surname of Nicholas, and with Isabella's surname spelt as Rainer.16 It is believed that this is actually the David William Nicholas that would later marry into the Geeves family. This birth date matches his age stated at marriage and at death.

In August 1845 William Nicholls executed a trust deed conveying land in Hill Street to his wife Isabella for life and then to their children, George, David, Eliza and Isabella.17 An Unknown Male was born to William and Isabella on 24 August 1846 in Hobart under the surname of Nicholias.18 This was initially thought to be David William Nicholas but that would have made David only 17 when he married (his stated age was 19). It is assumed therefore that this individual remains unknown, and nothing further is known of their fate.

The last of William and Isabella's children was John Henry Nichols, born on 18 February 1850 in Hobart, although the original source for that date is unknown.19 Perhaps there was a family bible with this date recorded that has been lost through the family. Perhaps, even at this time, the infant John's father was showing signs of the disease that would ultimately end his life? William Nichollias died 29 July 1851 of cancer, a carpenter, aged 48 years - notification of death was given by his wife Isabella Nichollias, Hill Street. The cause of death was recorded as Cancer.20 By late 1851 then the Nicholls family was comprised of Isabella (34), George (15), Eliza (13), Isabella (10), Anna Maria (9), William (7), David (5) and John (a toddler).

  • 1. AOT Backhouse, James and Walker, George Washington: A List of Persons Transported to Van Diemen's Land and Reformed on Religious Principles M697 Reel 5. p. 221-233
  • 2. Convict Conduct Record: Archives Office of Tasmania; Hobart, Tasmania [CON31-1-29_00288_L]
  • 3. Peter Thomas: Email correspondence with John Horton; Date Unknown
  • 4. IGI Baptism Registration Batch No. C010307
  • 5. Peter Miller: Email Correspondence with John Horton; 7 August 2007
  • 6. General Land Deeds: Department of Primary Industry and Water; Hobart, Tasmania [Reg. of Deeds 1/3968]
  • 7. AOT Marriage Registration RGD 1831/1608
  • 8. Minutes of the Hobart Town Monthly Meeting of Friends: University of Tasmania Special Collections [S1. A1.]
  • 9. Daniels, Lou: ibid, and also in Ancestral File and by Rayner, Daryl James: ibid.
  • 10. Ancestral File: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; http://www.familysearch.org
  • 11. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1841/511
  • 12. AOT Census Records CEN1/1/23-139 (Adelaide Street, now Hamilton Street, links Hill Street and Butterworth Street).
  • 13. "HOBART TOWN POLICE,." The Courier (Hobart, Tas. : 1840 - 1859) 11 Feb 1842: 3. Web. 25 Jun 2014; http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2954862.
  • 14. Daniels, Lou: The Rayner Family; Privately Published; 30 Dec 1999. Alternate dates are recorded in Ancestral File, and in Rayner, Daryl James: ibid
  • 15. AOT Census Records CEN1/1/61-109
  • 16. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1844/161
  • 17. General Land Deeds: Department of Primary Industry and Water; Hobart, Tasmania [Reg. of Deeds 3/1188]
  • 18. AOT Birth Registration RGD 1846/1933
  • 19. Ancestral File, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; http://www.familysearch.org and in Rayner, Daniels, Lou: The Rayner Family; Privately Published; 30 Dec 1999. Alternate birth date recorded by Daryl James: The Rayner Family History; Privately Published; 29 Sep 1999
  • 20. AOT Death Registration RGD 1851/831