Great Uncle William

William Alleyne Nicholson (1816–53) was Ireland’s great uncle, brother to Mark and John (Ireland’s grandfather). William was yet another scholar in the family, and the third of the trio of Nicholson brothers to travel to Germany, in his case going to Berlin to study medicine. While inLeichhardt letter Berlin William met Ludwig Leichhardt, soon to become an explorer of wilderness Australia, and who named the Nicholson River in northern Queensland after his new friend. Leichhardt already knew William’s brother John, writing to him in Tübingen in 1839 in a letter seen right and only discovered in 2013.

Leichhardt (1813–48) is a fascinating family connection. One of Australia’s most famous figures, his mysterious disappearance remains compelling to this day. In 1834 the Nicholson family funded Leichhardt’s education, then in 1837 he travelled to England to meet up once more with William in Bristol before undertaking research into marine life on the south west coast (Transnational Networks: German Migrants in the British Empire, 1670–1914, p. 147). Later that year the pair travelled to Paris to continue their scientific studies at the Jardin des Plantes, then on to Italy and Switzerland.

In 1841 Leichhardt set off for Australia, his first expedition funded by William Nicholson. From 1842 he pursued fieldwork in the Hunter River Valley, then in 1944 sailed for the remote settlement of Port Essington. Meanwhile, William was back in Avon, where, in 1945, he was appointed as physician to Bristol General Hospital (Bristol Mercury, 11 October 1845).

In 1846 Leichhardt mentioned William in a letter sent from Port Essington to his brother-in-law , saying that he was hoping to repay his debts to the Nicholson family. His journal of this expedition was published in 1847. Leichardt’s second expedition started in 1846, but after March 1948 he and his party were missing, never found or heard of again, despite searches lasting into the 1930s. William Nicholson remains equally elusive, dying young.



Beerbühl, Margrit Schulte, Davis, John R. and  Manz, Stefan (2012) Transnational Networks: German Migrants in the British Empire, 1670–1914. Leiden, Boston and Tokyo, Brill Publishers.

Leichhardt, L., & In Aurousseau, M. (1968). The letters of F.W. Ludwig Leichhardt. London, published for the Hakluyt Society by CUP.





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