William Nicholas

Edward James Howes Knapp, Plan of the Lindsay allotments at Lady Darlings Point ca. 1840. Lithographed by William Nicholas. © National Library of Australia.
Plan shewing the situation of the allotments for sale at Darlinghurst Elizabeth Bay : the property of Alexr. Mcleay Esqre. by Mr S. Lyons ca.1840. Lithographed by William Nicholas. © National Library of Australia.

NICHOLAS, William (1807-1854) — Sydney
Watercolourist, portraitist, etcher and lithographer. Produced R. W. Goodall, Plan of town allotments and farms adjoining the government township of Clarence on the Williams River ca. 1840; Edward James Howes Knapp, Plan shewing the situation of the allotments for sale at Darlinghurst Elizabeth Bay ca. 1840; E. J. H. Knapp, Plan of the Lindsay allotments at Lady Darlings Point ca. 1840; Plan of Duncan’s Terrace being part of the Camperdown Estate 1841; E. J. H. Knapp, Plan of Section No. 1 of “Redfern’s Grant” Sydney 1842; E. J. H. Knapp, Plan of Section No. 8 of “Redfern’s Grant” Sydney 1843, etc. Also produced views, etc., but principally known for his portraits, including one of William Kellett Baker, with whom he worked — “He is one of those quiet unobtrusive men of genius who work their way into notice and distinction without any assistance from the newspapers. His fame is now established in Sydney as the best portrait painter in water colours in the colony, and the consequence is that there are more heads offered to him for decapitation than he is able to take off” (Sydney Morning Herald, 27 Jul 1847).

Born in London 18 Sep 1807 and baptised 2 Aug 1808 at St. Leonard Shoreditch, the son of Albert William Nicholas, a coach and harness maker, and his wife Jane Maddison. He is thought to have trained alongside the engraver Alfred Meek Huffam (1804-1895). He married (1) Ann Kinsman, with whom he had at least two children, at St. Giles Camberwell 25 Dec 1826. He travelled to Sydney on the Roslyn Castle, owned by a brother-in-law, arriving 25 Feb 1836. By 1838 he was producing engravings, lithographs and zincographs for Edward David Barlow and temporarily took over the business in 1840 — “having undertaken the management of the above establishment, during the absence of Mr. Barlow in England, respectfully informs the public that he will continue to execute, in the same superior manner, all plans, drawings, maps, charts, &c. &c. in zincography — for which the establishment has the exclusive patent. Miniatures painted on ivory, and in water colours. Copperplate engraving, carving, gilding, and frame making” (Commercial Journal, 7 Nov 1840). By August 1841 Nicholas had sold the zinc patent, press and plates to William Kellett Baker and was concentrating on portraiture. In January 1842, he advertised himself as a “miniature painter on ivory and in watercolours, lithographer and draughtsman”. He married (2) Mary Ann Ervine (1823-1916), with whom he had five children, in the Scots Church at Sydney 28 Nov 1842. In August 1843 Nicholas was declared insolvent with debts of £1,422.8s.4d. and assets of under £20. Nicholas claimed that the bulk of the debt related to his having been “sold off by the Sheriff about six years ago, when most of the debts were accumulated. The debts incurred for the last two years do not amount to £50” (Sydney Morning Herald, 30 Aug 1843). Nicholas’s situation became worse in in 1844 when “a large ball of fire, about two feet in diameter, descending perpendicularly through the gable end of Mr. Nicholas’, the portrait painter’s, house, which, being principally composed of timber, scattered the splinters in all directions, throwing them a considerable distance into the air; swept through the interior of the building, dealing destruction and devastation as it passed from front to rear, where it escaped through the back of the roof, striking Miss Nicholas (being the only person in that part of the house at the time) down in a state of insensibility. A valuable collection of books and paintings were totally consumed, the furniture destroyed, and an eye-witness, who resides on the spot, informs us that the grate was forced from the fire-place, and the very fire-irons and fender melted down, besides the window frames and glass being broken to pieces” (Parramatta Chronicle, 14 Dec 1844). He was granted a certificate of discharge from his debts in November 1846 and subsequently took an active part in earliest art exhibitions held in the colony. He died 23 Jun 1854 at the age of forty-six and was buried in Sydney three days later. Collections of Nicholas’s work are held by the Mitchell Library, the National Library of Australia, the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, and the Historic Houses Trust of NSW.

29 Mary Street, St. Marylebone, London — 1832
15 Bridge Street, Sydney — 1836
3 Bridge Street, Sydney — 1840-1841
4 Hunter Street, Sydney — 1842-1843
At Baker’s, King Street East — 1842
6 Elizabeth Street South (home) — 1842
George Street, opposite the Royal Hotel, Sydney — 1843
197 Elizabeth Street, Sydney — 1849
93 King Street, Sydney ¬—1851
Jamison Street, Sydney — 1853

DAAO. NLA. Trove.