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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lockyer, Sir Nicholas Colston (1855–1933)

by D. I. McDonald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Nicholas Colston Lockyer (1855-1933), by unknown photographer

Nicholas Colston Lockyer (1855-1933), by unknown photographer

National Archives of Australia, A5507:8/20

Sir Nicholas Colston Lockyer (1855-1933), public servant, was born on 6 October 1855 at Woolloomooloo, Sydney, son of Edmund Lockyer and his wife Eliza, née Colston. He was educated at Fort Street Model School and the Lyceum Academy, Sydney. When 13 he joined the civil service as a cadet and in 1870 was appointed clerk to the Treasury Department of New South Wales, where he came under the influence of (Sir) George Reid. In September-November 1883 he was an inspector of public revenue accounts, in December he was appointed receiver of revenue and in 1886 accountant to the Treasury. He was responsible for the reorganization of the taxation department under the Land and Income Tax Assessment Act of 1895. In 1896 he was appointed to the combined positions of collector of customs and first commissioner of taxation in New South Wales. On 22 January 1885 he had married Mary Juliet, daughter of Geoffrey Eagar; she died in 1898. On 30 October 1901 he married Winifred, daughter of (Sir) Harry Wollaston.

After Federation Lockyer transferred to the Commonwealth Public Service and in 1908 was appointed assistant comptroller-general of customs. He was by now an impressive, disciplined figure who, despite pince-nez and drawling accent, was credited with the 'penetrating power of a hundred-ton gun'. Together with C. C. Kingston and Wollaston he had been responsible for framing the first Federal customs tariff. When Wollaston retired, Lockyer became comptroller-general in 1911. In 1913-20 he was a member of the Inter-State Commission empowered to monitor the commerce provisions of the Constitution. He had previously prepared reports on the meat and butter and pearling industries.

During six months furlough in 1916 Lockyer, with the honorary rank of major, was honorary comptroller of the Australian Imperial Force's garrison institutes in Australia, troopship canteens and prisoner-of-war canteens. From 1917, as first controller of repatriation, he was largely responsible for the organization of the Repatriation Department. In 1920-33 he was chairman of the A.I.F. Canteens Funds Trust and of the Sir Samuel McCaughey Bequest for the education of soldiers' children.

In 1919 the Inter-State commissioners, whose powers had been invalidated by the High Court of Australia, were appointed members of a royal commission on the sugar industry. Lockyer retired from the public service in 1920. In 1926 he was appointed special representative of the Commonwealth government to inquire into the financial position of Tasmania. His candid report, described by the Launceston Examiner as 'packed with commonsense' and by the Hobart Mercury as 'hopelessly futile', revealed the serious condition of Tasmania's finances and the urgent need for assistance from the Commonwealth. In 1929-31 Lockyer was a Commonwealth representative on the board of Commonwealth Oil Refineries.

He was appointed I.S.O. (1906) and C.B.E. (1918) and was knighted in 1926. In his youth he had been a leading oarsman and shark-hunter. (Sir) Ernest Scott remembered 'a lithe, vigorous athletic man' who had spent one holiday cycling through the inhospitable Moreton Bay country explored by his father. Lockyer died after a long illness on 26 August 1933 at his home at Toorak, Melbourne, and was cremated. His wife, their son and two daughters of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1914-17, 2, p 7, 356, 1923-24, 4, p 4, 1932-34, 4, p 182
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Jan 1885, 28 Dec 1896, 21 Sept 1933
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 18 Jan, 2 Nov 1901
  • Argus (Melbourne), 13 Aug 1913, 8 Feb 1926, 28 Aug 1933
  • Brisbane Courier, 28 Feb 1919
  • Examiner (Launceston), 20, 21 Apr 1926
  • Mercury (Hobart), 20 Apr 1926.

Citation details

D. I. McDonald, 'Lockyer, Sir Nicholas Colston (1855–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 31 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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