12 Park Place

In 1831 Ireland’s great grandfather, the Reverend Mark Nicholson, purchased a new home in Clifton, Bristol. Here he lived along with two of his sons – William and Mark – and his three daughters, Elizabeth (Iddy), Ann and Lucy. The house was one of a fine row of Georgian houses, with a small park immediately opposite. The terrace survives largely intact, with fine trees in the green space in front as seen below. When the Reverend died in 1838, the children chose not to remain in what was never a particularly happy family home. The house was sold in 1839. William and Iddy eventually emigrated to Ohio, Mark to Melbourne, while Ann and Lucy married and relocated to Liverpool and Monmouth respectively.



Great Aunt Ann

Ireland’s great aunt, sister of his grandfather John, was Ann Nicholson (1814-92), like many of his family born in Barbados. She married Dr Charles Hayes Higgins (1811-98), who was the son of Colonel Charles Thomas Higgins and Emma Maria Higgins. Born on a ship
off the coast of Java, Dr Higgins was an eminent surgeon and physician whose obituary below gives a sense of the depth and breadth of his life and career.

Charles Higgins obit

Ann and Charles had seven children:

  • Charles Thomas Higgins
  • James Simpson Higgins
  • Anne Emma Higgins
  • Edmund Ironside Higgins
  • Robert Bruce Higgins
  • William Henry Higgins
  • Henry Alleyne Higgins, sub-lieutenant in the Cheshire Engineer Volunteer Corps.

Charles Hayes Higgins’s brother Edmund emigrated to Australia (temporarily), where he set up in business with family member Mark Nicholson (Ireland’s great uncle).

Charles is buried in Flaybrick Hill cemetery in Birkenhead.



Naval and Military Medical Services, 29 January 1898, p.346.



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.







Maternal grandfather John

Ireland’s grandfather on his mother’s side was his namesake, John Nicholson, another of the family’s many scholars and orientalists. He was born c. 1809 in Barbados, son of the Reverend Mark Nicholson, who featured in an earlier blog on this site.


Like his father, John Nicholson studied at Queen’s College, Oxford. Following medical studies and some time living in Göttingen, he became known as a Biblical scholar, a speaker of Arabic and a follower of Swedenborg. He had two younger brothers, William (1816-63), who studied medicine in Berlin, and Mark (1818-89). In 1840 he published An Account of the Establishment of the Faternite Dynasty in Africa. He settled in Penrith, but it is quite difficult pinning down exactly where he lived.

The first house on record for John Nicholson dates from 1841, when he was 30, and living in Townhead, the northern area of Penrith. His house at this point was Inglewood House, perhaps hence the transference of this name to Bowdon by Ireland’s mother. The road then called Town Head is now the main A6 through the town, and very different in every sense, yet retaining some of the houses close to Inglewood in the census, such as Lark Hall and Thackagate. In 1851 the picture becomes unclear. The census lists his address as 19 The Fell, yet Annie Elizabeth records their home as Fellside, Nicholson Avenue, the house seen below. Twenty years later they are in Prospect House, Fell Lane. What is certain is that these Nicholsons remained in a small area of Penrith for many years.

John Nicholson and his wife Annie had eight children, in order:


Sources: census 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871

Alleyne of Barbados

In a post of 5 October I mentioned the connections between the Ireland family and the Alleynes of Barbados, hence the fact that the composer’s brother was named Alleyne. Ireland’s great-grandfather on his mother’s side, the Reverend Mark Nicholson (1770–1838), was for much of his working life president of Codrington College, the Theological College of the Church of the Province of the West Indies in Barbados. While living here, in 1807 he married Lucy Reynold Elcock. She was a descendant of the wealthy Alleyne family, most notable among them Sir John Gay Alleyne.Amazing Ocean Views From This LotJohn Gay Alleyne was born on 28 April 1724, at St James, Barbados, dying there in 1801. In 1746 he married Christian Dottin of the Black Rock and St Nicholas sugar plantations. They had one son, Gay Alleyne, in 1747. In 1757 he owned two sugar plantations, Bawdens and the River. He was created a Baronet by George III on 8 April 1769. Sir John’s second wife in 1786 was his cousin Jane Abel (1765–1800), daughter of Abel Alleyne  of the Mount Standfast plantation. They had seven children as follows:

  • John Gay Newton Alleyne (1787–1800), died as a pupil at Eton
  • Mary Spires Alleyne (1788–1862)
  • Sir Reynold Abel Alleyne (1789–1870)
  • Jane Gay Alleyne (1790–1836), died in Clevedon, Somerset
  • Rebecca Braithwaite Alleyne (1792–1846)
  • Christian Dottin Alleyne (1795–1873), moved to Huddersfield, Yorkshire
  • Abel Alleyne (1796–1812)

Sir John Gay Alleyne had other strings to his bow. He was Speaker of the House of Assembly of Barbados (and a member of parliament for over forty years). The oldest surviving brand of rum in the world, ‘Mount Gay’, is named after him in honour of his time as an exceptional manager of the company. He was a popular leader and a great philanthropist on the island, speaking out against slavery and going on to found the pioneering Alleyne School in 1785. More to follow.