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Nichols, Reginald Gordon Clement (1888–1960)

by David Pear

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Reginald Gordon Clement Nichols (1888-1960), Anglican clergyman, was born on 11 February 1888 at Woodlands, New South Wales, son of Australian-born parents Alfred Harvey Nichols, schoolmaster, and his wife Maria, née Clements. Nichols attended Fort Street Model School, Sydney, where he came first in the junior public examination of 1904. At 17 he entered the employ of Burns, Philp & Co. Ltd in Sydney, later transferring to its Townsville branch. After five successful years with this company he unexpectedly decided to enter the Anglican ministry.

In 1910 Nichols moved to Victoria and spent two years gaining pastoral experience as reader-in-charge in country parishes before entering Ridley College, Melbourne, in 1912. There he trained for the ministry and studied for an arts degree at the University of Melbourne. In 1913 he was ordained deacon and went to Grenfell, New South Wales, as a curate. He combined his ministerial work with study, graduating next year from Melbourne with first-class honours and the Laurie prize in logic and philosophy. In 1915 he gained the licentiate of theology of the Australian College of Theology with first-class honours and was ordained to the priesthood. He was awarded a diploma of education in 1916 and an M.A. in 1917.

On 12 July 1916 at St Michael's, North Carlton, Melbourne, Nichols married Alice Emily Wilson; they had three children. For the next three years Nichols was warden of Gippsland Diocesan Hostel at Sale and minister of Longford and Kilmany. From 1918 he was also acting canon of St Paul's Cathedral, Sale.

In 1919-22 Nichols returned to Ridley College, where he worked as bursar, tutor and organizing secretary of a special endowment fund. He also studied as an external student of the University of London (B.D., 1920). After a request to Archbishop Lees for the most difficult parish in the city, he was appointed to St Mark's, Fitzroy.

Within weeks of his induction Nichols had scandalized local clergy by placing advertisements in the press claiming that the church was 'under new management'. He then attracted large congregations by giving moving picture shows as part of his Christmas services, a practice which he maintained for many years, using both the 'silent screen' and the 'talkie'. By 1924 Nichols had established a working men's club at the church, and next year opened one of the first cafeterias in Melbourne. By 1927 he had established a full social settlement at the church.

Throughout the Depression Nichols helped many destitute families, particularly through his 'penny dinners' for undernourished schoolchildren. From 1933 he further broadened his pastoral work to include broadcasting, working as 'Brother Bill' initially with the Australian Broadcasting Commission and later with commercial stations. He published a magazine, Brother Bill's Monthly, and two volumes of his radio talks: Follow the Gleam (1930) and In Love with Life (1931). His oratorical skills won him renown, and attracted hundreds of followers who supported his pastoral ventures, such as his farm for unemployed boys at Lysterfield. He was appointed M.B.E. in 1941.

In February 1942 Nichols began a series of weekly rallies in the Melbourne Town Hall, in an attempt to boost public morale. Those who attended, often numbering thousands, called themselves the 'United Church Front', and under Nichols's leadership, attacked the abuses of the local liquor trade. In November Nichols resigned his position at St Mark's and went to Townsville, Queensland, to open a centre for soldiers. Two months later he was arrested for 'having sent obscene words by post' and was subsequently convicted. The result of nervous exhaustion after twenty years of untiring work in his Fitzroy parish, Nichols's aberration brought his clerical career to an abrupt end.

He spent his remaining years growing flowers on a small commercial scale in Sydney. He died of arteriosclerotic heart disease at Castlemaine, Victoria, on 18 July 1960 and was cremated. His wife, daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 27 June 1929
  • Townsville Daily Bulletin, 20 Mar 1943
  • D. A. Pear, Two Responses to the Depression and Second World War in Melbourne (Th.M. thesis, Melbourne College of Divinity, 1985)
  • University of Melbourne Archives
  • St Mark's Church of England, Fitzroy, archives
  • Bench records, Magistrates' Court, Townsville (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

David Pear, 'Nichols, Reginald Gordon Clement (1888–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nichols-reginald-gordon-clement-7843/text13621, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 23 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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