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Germain Nicholson (1814–1888)

by Suzanne G. Mellor

This article was published:

Germain Nicholson (1814-1888), grocer, was born on 18 October 1814 in Lamplugh, Cumberland, England, son of William Nicholson, factory owner, and his wife Elinor, née Germain. Educated at a private school, he was apprenticed to a grocer and from 1835 was employed as house manager of Cornthwaite & Co., merchants of Liverpool. On 26 September 1841 at Liverpool he married Eleanor Joplin, and in October they sailed for Port Phillip in the Arkwright, arriving at Hobson's Bay on 7 January 1842. He had sold much merchandise on the voyage and, with the proceeds and other goods he had already sent out, he immediately established himself as an importing grocer and provision merchant in Melbourne. His brother Thomas arrived in the colony in 1843 and managed some of the business until he died on 16 December 1853.

In 1844 Nicholson bought the business and premises of Parker & Beadle in Elizabeth Street and by December had three business houses in full operation. He had problems of overstocking during the 1845 recession but when it ended he expanded rapidly, with branches in Melbourne and throughout Victoria by the time of the gold rushes. In the early 1850s he imported goods in huge quantities, anticipating the continued influx of population and later began exporting gold on a large scale. His trade dealings with England and the East were very successful and his best-known import was the first cargo of tea from Hankow to Australia.

Nicholson's speculation in land was also profitable. In 1843 he bought and sold a King Street property, the first of many town sites to bring him good returns. In 1850 he bought land at East St Kilda, where he built his family home, a pre-fabricated, two-storied house imported from California. He was a director of the Victorian Life and General Insurance Co. and in 1853 a founder of the Bank of Victoria, serving as a director until 1888. He was also a founder and director of the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Co.

A philanthropist, Nicholson contributed to the Ragged Schools and the Melbourne Protestant Orphan Asylum. He was a founder of the Church of England Grammar School in St Kilda Road and the first to donate £100 to the appeal for building (old) St Paul's Church. He declined several times to enter politics, but was a magistrate for Melbourne and St Kilda from 1857. He had taken a leading role in the anti-transportation movement and in 1851 was one of the 'Thirty Patriots of Melbourne' who each subscribed 100 guineas for a deputation to plead their cause in England.

Nicholson was well known and admired for his commercial acumen and success as well as his generosity. He offered shelter in his warehouses to the hordes of immigrants arriving in Melbourne before they set off for the goldfields. His reputation as 'the poor man's friend' was said to have protected his goods from being stolen and allowed him to ride in the forest around Albert Park unmolested by bushrangers. He died on 22 November 1888 in the Salazie bound for England and was buried at sea. He was survived by his wife and their only child, a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 3 Dec 1888
  • Town and Country Journal, 8 Dec 1888.

Citation details

Suzanne G. Mellor, 'Nicholson, Germain (1814–1888)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 October, 1814
Lamplugh, Cumberland, England


22 November, 1888 (aged 74)
at sea

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