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 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.







Great Uncle Mark

Ireland’s great-uncle Mark was the youngest brother of his grandfather John Nicholson. Mark Nicholson (1818–89) was born at Clifton, near Bristol. His older brothers were John and William Alleyne, the latter of Nicholson River fame. Mark Nicholson is another member of the family to emigrate to Australia, sailing for Melbourne on the Duchess of Kent. He landed at Port Phillip in June 1840. According to the entry by R.M. Jukes in the Australian Dictionary of Biography:

he took up a cattle run near Mount Macedon with a relation, Dr Edmund Higgins, as partner. In 1845 Nicholson left it and took up Lake Wangoom as well as Cudgee and Mount Warrnambool with Craigieburn as an out-station. In that year he married his cousin Elizabeth Cobham…becoming connected with other prominent people in the formative years of the Port Phillip District. In 1848 Superintendent La Trobe  asked Nicholson, Thomas Manifold and Henry Foster to become justices of the peace so that the new town of Warrnambool might have more influence in the Magistrates’ Court at Belfast (Port Fairy). As prominent churchmen, Nicholson and Foster were requested by Bishop Perry  to conduct services in the township until Dr Beamish became the incumbent in 1850. In 1853 Nicholson was elected, unknown to himself, to represent Belfast and Warrnambool in the Victorian Legislative Council… He successfully moved for a survey of the ports of Belfast and Warrnambool. He was also responsible for the motion to provide funds in 1854 for a museum of natural history, now the National Museum of Victoria. He resigned in 1854 in order to return to England to educate his children.

Nicholson visited Victoria on business in 1859 and 1868, and in 1873 returned with his family to settle. In his 72nd year he died at his home, Waveney, near Warrnambool, on 27 October 1889. His generosity, charm and talent for friendship had won him a wide circle of friends.

Mark Nicholson had five sons and two daughters.






The Nicholson River


As is already apparent from research into Ireland’s family background, his middle name, ‘Nicholson’, has all sorts of resonances. Among these is a river in Australia. The Nicholson River in north-west Queensland was named after the composer’s Great Uncle William Alleyne Nicholson (1816–53), the brother of Ireland’s grandfather John. Traditionally owned by aboriginal peoples including the GanggalidaWanyi, Maga-Kutana, Wakabunga, Nguburinji and Mingin, this important river was named  by the well-known explorer Ludwig Leichhardt (1813–c.1848) during an expedition in 1845. He had met William Nicholson as a student at the University of Göttingen. In his journal Leichhardt wrote that Nicholson’s generous friendship had not only enabled me to devote my time to the study of the natural sciences, but to come out to Australia…. The complete journal can be read HERE.

The state government wants to improve school attendance rates in Doomadgee in far north Queensland.

Nowadays indigenous communities live in the vicinity. For example, the town of Doomadgee west of Burketown (seen right) is positioned alongside the Nicholson River. Once a mission site whose inhabitants were part of the notorious ‘Stolen Generation’, Doomadgee is now an aboriginal reserve.


Leichhardt, Ludwig (1847). Journal of an overland expedition in Australia, from Moreton Bay to Port Essington, a distance of upwards of 3000 miles, during the years 1844–1845, London, T. & W. Boone.