Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nicholson, Edmund James Houghton (1870–1955)

by Chris Clark

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

Edmund James Houghton Nicholson (1870-1955), soldier, mineral buyer and horticulturist, was born on 17 April 1870 at Gravesend, Kent, England, son of Lieutenant James Stephen Nicholson of the 108th (Madras Infantry) Regiment, British Army, and his wife Emma Louisa, née Houghton. He attended Nelson College, New Zealand, in 1881 and later the Anglo-French College at Hampstead, London. On 22 April 1896, describing himself as a mineral broker, he married Anna Beatrice Taylor at St Augustine's Church, Unley, Adelaide.

On 1 March 1900 Nicholson gained a militia commission as lieutenant in the Australian Field Artillery and in January 1903 was promoted captain in No.1 Field Battery, Perth; he joined the Western Australian section of the Intelligence Corps as staff officer in January 1909 and was promoted major in March.

In September 1914 Nicholson was appointed staff captain on the headquarters of the divisional artillery for the first contingent of the Australian Imperial Force and embarked next month. He served on Gallipoli from the landing, was wounded, and mentioned in dispatches in September 1915. Made adjutant of the 2nd Artillery Brigade in June, he was confirmed in his majority in July and appointed staff officer, grade III, on Headquarters, 1st Australian Division. He was among those officers named in routine orders in February 1916 for their 'capable and satisfactory' performance of duties during the evacuation of Gallipoli.

Given command of the 1st Pioneer Battalion as lieutenant-colonel in March 1916, Nicholson arrived in France in April. His unit laid out the 'jumping-off' trench line for the Australian attack on Pozières in July and took part in the capture of the town. Nicholson received the Distinguished Service Order for his work there and was mentioned in dispatches in January 1917 when he was also appointed Commanding Royal Engineer for the 2nd Australian Division. During January-February 1917 his troops began building a tunnel to take a Decauville tramway and foot-passengers from Delville Wood to Flers; he was mentioned in dispatches again in June and awarded the Order of Karageorge (Serbia). In July he was appointed C.R.E. for 1st Anzac Corps Troops. He supervised the construction of roadworks at Polygon Wood in September and planned and built roads for the battles of Passchendaele in October-November; after the heavy rains the task of building roads capable of carrying all troops, supplies, ammunition and artillery was exceptionally demanding. He was mentioned in dispatches in November and in April 1918; he had been wounded again in France.

Appointed C.M.G. in June 1918, Nicholson then took command of the A.I.F. engineer training depot at Brightlingsea, Essex, England, and received his fifth mention in dispatches in August. Having returned to Western Australia, he was discharged from the A.I.F. in June 1919, was appointed to command the 10th Light Horse, Australian Military Forces, in November, and was seconded to the intelligence section on the general staff. He was placed on the unattached list in February 1921 and the reserve of officers five years later; in April 1930 he retired with the honorary rank of colonel.

Resuming his business as a mineral buyer, he lived at Claremont during the 1920s and later became a horticulturist and farmer. Nicholson died in the Repatriation Hospital, Hollywood, Perth, on 22 June 1955 and was cremated at Karrakatta with Anglican rites. Two daughters and a son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 1 (Syd, 1921)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937)
  • R. McNicoll, The Royal Australian Engineers, 1902 to 1919, vol 2, Making and Breaking (Canb, 1979)
  • London Gazette, 5 Nov 1915, 29 Dec 1916, 2 Jan, 13 Feb, 1 June, 25 Dec 1917, 28 May, 3 June 1918
  • West Australian, 23 June 1955
  • personal diary (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Nicholson, Edmund James Houghton (1870–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nicholson-edmund-james-houghton-7844/text13623, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 21 August 2014.

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

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