Uncle Henry

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John Ireland’s Uncle Henry was Henry Alleyne Nicholson (1844–99), famous enough to warrant an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, and another family member with academic and literary credentials. Born in Penrith, he was Annie’s younger brother. Educated at Appleby Grammar School, he went on to become an important British scholar. He studied zoology at the University of Göttingen, followed by medicine and natural science at the University of Edinburgh. His doctoral thesis was on the subject of the geology of Cumberland, this interest in place maybe a family trait.

In 1869 he was appointed Lecturer in Natural Science at the University of Edinburgh, and had by this time married a Scottish girl, Isabella Hutchison. In 1871 they were living with his father-in-law in Braehead House in Fife, already having two children (Ireland’s cousins), Reynold Alleyne and Henry Oliphant. In that same year Uncle Henry was appointed Professor of Natural History at the University of Toronto, and it was in Canada that his third child Mary was born. This position was followed by others in Dublin and Durham, the fourth child Frank born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. From 1875 Henry was working as Professor of Natural History at the University of St Andrews, his fifth child Ida born there. Henry had been gradually moving further north, and his final position was at the University of Aberdeen, where he was appointed Regius Professor of Natural History in 1882.

Henry Nicholson was an eminent figure in his field, regularly travelling to London to give lectures, as well as acting as examiner in natural history for the University of New Zealand. His most important work focused on the geology of the Lake District, but he also published several textbooks as follows:

  • A Manual of Zoology for the use of Students (1870)
  • A Manual of Palaeontology for the use of Students (1872)
  • Introduction to the Study of Biology (1872)
  • The Ancient Life-History of the Earth (1877)
  • Synopsis of the Classification of the Animal Kingdom (1882)

His obituary in the British Medical Journal (28 January, 1899, p. 248) was fulsome in its praise:

Henry obituary

The chart below thus adds to our knowledge of John Ireland’s family, showing his Uncle Henry and the five Scottish-based cousins, four older than him, one younger.

Descendants of Henry Alleyne Nicholson (3)

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