Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nicholas, John Liddiard (1784–1868)

by John Barrett

This article was published:

John Liddiard Nicholas (1784-1868), author and traveller, applied for permission to settle in New South Wales in 1812. An iron founder, of the Cannon foundry, New Gravel Lane, Shadwell, London, he promised that he and two partners would bring with them £10,000 in capital and equipment, including a steam-engine which they would be willing to sell to the governor for use in sawmilling. He arrived at Sydney in the Earl Spencer in October 1813 with only one partner, John Dickson. The pair soon parted, Nicholas claiming to be disappointed with Dickson's character. But Nicholas must have been disappointing as a businessman. Showing no enterprise, he spent his time sociably with Samuel Marsden and the Bents, becoming involved in Jeffery Bent's violent toll-gate incidents, though without imitating Bent in forcing his way through without payment.

In 1814 he accompanied Marsden to New Zealand on his missionary visit and in two volumes published a Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand … (London, 1817). The book was well received and was translated into Dutch and German in 1819. Nicholas reported plainly and fairly on the voyage made in the brig Active between November and March, which resulted in the establishment of the first Christian mission to the Maoris and the first transfer of land to white men. On 24 February 1815, as one of two witnesses, Nicholas signed the deed of sale to the Church Missionary Society of 200 acres (81 ha) for twelve axes. He viewed the Maoris sympathetically and was pleased to meet two of them in England in 1818.

On his return from New Zealand Nicholas was granted 700 acres (283 ha) in the parish of Gidley, County of Cumberland, in October 1815 but he left the colony a month later in a ship bound for England by way of China, and in 1822 sold his land to Marsden for £300. Other glimpses of Nicholas, a report in 1820 that he was 'very comfortably off' and his own remark in 1838 that he was 'in no employment', confirm the picture of a man who preferred to live on his capital rather than venture it in commerce.

Nicholas supported Marsden in his disputes with the government and denied accusations by John Campbell that the chaplain was abusing his office. He delivered to William Wilberforce and Elizabeth Fry copies of a letter from Marsden on the Female Factory at Parramatta; afterwards he assisted Mrs Fry in her attempts to improve conditions on female convict ships, and asked Marsden to comment on any observable results.

Nicholas died from senile decay at Reading, Berkshire, on 22 July 1868 and in the only indication of any occupation after his return to England, he was described as having been a 'Clerk to Charity Commissioners'.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 7
  • Select Committee on the Present State of the Islands of New Zealand, Report, Parliamentary Papers (House of Lords, Great Britain), 1838 (680)
  • manuscript catalogue under J. L. Nicholas (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

John Barrett, 'Nicholas, John Liddiard (1784–1868)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 30 March 2023.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2023

Life Summary [details]




22 July, 1868 (aged ~ 84)
Reading, Berkshire, England

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