Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nickle, Sir Robert (1786–1855)

by Ronald McNicoll

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

Sir Robert Nickle (1786-1855), army officer, was born on 12 August 1786 at sea, son of Robert Nicholl of the 17th Dragoons, who changed the spelling of his name. Educated at Edinburgh, he joined the Durham Fencibles as an ensign and in 1798-99 served in the Irish rebellion. In 1804 he joined the 88th Regiment and in 1806 went to South America where he won distinction and was severely wounded. Captain on 1 June 1809, he served with his regiment in most of the Peninsular war, fighting in nine major actions, and at Toulouse was again wounded. He usually commanded the light company of the 88th. He was distinguished for generosity to a defeated opponent and was decorated for bravery. In 1814 he was wounded again in America. Promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1825, Nickle commanded the 30th Regiment in the West Indies in 1830 and was appointed K.H. In 1832-33 he administered the government of St Kitts. In 1838 he served in the Canadian rebellion and for his services was knighted in 1841. In 1848 he was promoted brevet colonel and in 1851 major-general.

In 1853 Nickle was appointed commander-in-chief of the military forces in the Australian colonies. After several false starts in the unlucky steamer Australian he travelled in the Argo and arrived at Sydney on 24 July. When gold was discovered in Victoria his headquarters were moved to Melbourne, where Nickle and his staff arrived on 6 August 1854.

After the disturbances at Ballarat in November Nickle sent reinforcements from Melbourne and accompanied by Colonel Edward Macarthur followed with a slower-moving force of infantry and artillery. He reached Ballarat on 6 December, three days after the storming of the Eureka stockade. Feelings were running high but Nickle moved amongst the diggers' tents without an escort. Though he deprecated the revolt he showed his disapproval of the actions which had caused it. Grievances were aired, tension subsided, arms were handed in, Nickle addressed a public meeting and martial law was repealed on 9 December. On the 19th he left Ballarat.

Early in 1855 Nickle's health deteriorated, perhaps because of his exertions in the heat of Ballarat. He applied for leave to return to England but died on 26 May at his residence, Upper Jolimont House. After a large service at St Peter's Church, Eastern Hill, he was buried in the Carlton cemetery. Predeceased by his first wife Elizabeth, daughter of William Dallas, whom he had married in 1818, he was survived by a son Robert and two daughters, and by his second wife, the widow of General Nesbit.

Nickle's courage, firmness and good judgment were combined with humanity, courtesy and a gentleness which earned him general liking and respect.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Serle, The Golden Age (Melb, 1963)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 28 May 1855
  • Herald (Melbourne), 28 May 1855
  • Age (Melbourne), 29 May 1855
  • Melbourne Monthly Magazine of Original Colonial Literature, June 1855.

Citation details

Ronald McNicoll, 'Nickle, Sir Robert (1786–1855)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/nickle-sir-robert-4301/text6967, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 21 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (MUP), 1974

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