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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nepean, Nicholas (1757–1823)

by Vivienne Parsons

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

This is a shared entry with Evan Nepean

Nicholas Nepean (1757-1823), by unknown artist

Nicholas Nepean (1757-1823), by unknown artist

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an10342898

Evan Nepean (1752-1822), civil servant, and Nicholas Nepean (1757-1823), marine and army officer, were the sons of Nicholas Nepean of Saltash, Cornwall, England. Evan entered the navy as a clerk and served as a purser in ships on the American coast during the rebellion of the American colonies. In 1782 he was appointed secretary to Lord Shuldham, port-admiral at Plymouth, and later that year became under-secretary of state in the Home Department. In this post he was concerned in the arrangements for the dispatch of the First Fleet and the administration of the newly established penal colony in New South Wales during its early years. In 1795 he was appointed secretary of the Admiralty, possibly through the influence of Admiral Sir John Jervis. He was created a baronet in 1804 and was a lord of the Admiralty in 1804-06. After six years out of office he was governor of Bombay in 1812-19 and died at Loders, Dorset, on 2 October 1822. He is remembered by Point Nepean, Victoria, the Nepean River, New South Wales, and Nepean Bay on Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

His brother Nicholas was baptized at Saltash on 9 November 1757 and joined the marines as a second lieutenant in December 1776. He saw action off Brest in July 1778 in the Ocean. He became a first lieutenant in December 1778, saw service in the Triton and Britannia, and was engaged in the recruiting service until February 1783. He remained in the marines until 1789, when he joined the New South Wales Corps as a captain on 5 June.

Nepean arrived in Sydney in June 1790 in the Neptune, in charge of the first detachment of the New South Wales Corps and, until the arrival of Major Francis Grose, he was the corps' commanding officer. During the voyage 'the fiery Nepean' had quarrelled with John Macarthur, as a result of which Macarthur applied for Nepean to be court-martialled, but Grose succeeded in arranging a settlement of their dispute. From May 1791 Nepean was stationed at Parramatta, where Surgeon John Harris criticized his administration, accusing him of using his men for his own profit, and commenting that Nepean was discontented at not receiving promotion. In September 1793 Grose sent Nepean home in the Britannia because of ill health. When the ship called at Norfolk Island in November Lieutenant-Governor Philip Gidley King directed Nepean to take charge of the island while he visited New Zealand. King asked Nepean to convey his impressions of Norfolk Island to the British government and gave him dispatches to take to England. Owing to the ship meeting pirates in the Malacca Straits he went to Batavia, where he stayed, very ill, until February 1794. Next year he was appointed major and in September joined the 93rd Regiment as lieutenant-colonel. Thereafter, interspersed with periods on half-pay, he served in Ireland 1795-96, Gibraltar 1802-03, and Canada 1807-10. He was not killed there, as has been stated, but was regularly promoted until he attained the rank of lieutenant-general in 1814. On 21 April 1784 he married Johanna Francina Carolina (1767?-1845), daughter of Major Wedikind of the 11th Hanoverian Regiment, at Stoke Damerel, Devon. They had four sons, all of whom followed naval and military careers. Nicholas finally retired on half-pay in June 1814, and died at Newton Abbot, Devon, on 18 December 1823. His wife died on 4 June 1845.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vol 2
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 1
  • manuscript catalogue under Nicholas Nepean (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Nepean, Nicholas (1757–1823)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Nicholas Nepean (1757-1823), by unknown artist

Nicholas Nepean (1757-1823), by unknown artist

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an10342898