Sir Charles Nicholson
Sir Charles Nicholson as Chancellor of the University of Sydney, c. 1850.
Speaker of the New South Wales Legislative Council
In office
1 June 1843 – 20 June 1848
In office
15 May 1849 – 30 June 1851
In office
14 October 1851 – 29 February 1856
Preceded byNew title
Succeeded bySir Alfred Stephen
President of the Queensland Legislative Council
In office
22 May 1860 – 26 August 1860
Preceded byNew title
Succeeded bySir Maurice O'Connell
Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council
In office
1 June 1843 – 20 June 1848
In office
1 July 1848 – 30 June 1851
In office
1 September 1851 – 29 February 1856
Member of the Queensland Legislative Council
In office
1 May 1860 – 23 June 1863
Personal details
Isaac Ascough

(1808-11-23)23 November 1808
Cockermouth, Cumberland, England
Died8 November 1903(1903-11-08) (aged 94)
Totteridge Grange, Hertfordshire, England
NationalityEnglish Australian
Spouse(s)Sarah Elizabeth Keightley (m.1865)
RelationsSir Charles Archibald Nicholson, 2nd Baronet (son), Archibald Keightley Nicholson (son), Sir Sydney Hugo Nicholson (son)
Alma materEdinburgh University
OccupationGynaecologist, Obstetrician, University chancellor, Grazier

Sir Charles Nicholson, 1st Baronet (23 November 1808[1] – 8 November 1903)[2] was an English-Australian politician, university founder, explorer, pastoralist, antiquarian and philanthropist. The Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney is named after him.

Early life

Nicholson was born in England, the illegitimate son of Barbara Ascough of Iburndale near Whitby in Yorkshire and christened Isaac Ascough. His father is unknown.[1] His name was later changed. He was educated at Edinburgh University where he took the degree of MD in 1833 after submitting a thesis, written in Latin, on asphyxiation.[1]

Early career in Australia

On 9 October 1833, Nicholson sailed for Sydney as ship's surgeon on the James Harris at the behest of his uncle, William Ascough. Ascough had made a considerable fortune as a ship's captain and owner bringing convicts to the Colony, where he had also become an extensive landowner. Nicholson arrived on 1 May 1834 and set up as a doctor in Sydney on Jamieson Street, Wynyard close to The Rocks. In 1836, William Ascough drowned at sea while sailing from Sydney to his property on the Hawkesbury River. Nicholson was the main benefactor of his uncle's will and soon began acquiring extensive property in his own right throughout Australia. In 1843 he was one of the first elected members of the New South Wales Legislative Council as one of the representatives of Port Phillip District until 1848 and then as the representatives of the County of Argyle until 1856. He was elected speaker in 1846.[3]

Sydney University

Nicholson took much interest in the founding of the University of Sydney and on 24 December 1850 was appointed a member of the senate. On 3 March 1851 he was unanimously elected vice-provost. He was also elected a member of the library committee which laid the foundations of the present excellent library. At the inauguration ceremony held on 11 October 1852, eloquent addresses were given by Nicholson and the first principal, Dr John Woolley, which were printed as a pamphlet and may also be found in H. E. Barff's Short Historical Account of the University of Sydney. Nicholson became chancellor in 1854 and held the position until 1862. He was most active in forwarding the interests of the university and in 1860 presented a large and valuable collection of Egyptian, Roman and Etruscan antiquities to it, collected during a trip to Egypt and the Continent in 1856–1857.[4] Nicholson's donation of nearly 1000 artefacts was the genesis of what is today the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney. A catalogue of the collection was published in 1870 by the curator Edward Reeve.

An older Sir Charles Nicholson.
An older Sir Charles Nicholson.

Nicholson obtained donations to pay for the stained glass windows of the great hall between 1856 and 1859, himself subscribing £500.[2] Queensland became a separate colony in 1859 and Nicholson was nominated a member of the legislative council. At the special request of the governor, Sir George Bowen, Nicholson undertook the office of president of the council for the first session of parliament.[2]

Return to England

In 1862, Nicholson returned to England and in 1865 married Sarah Elizabeth Keightley. He never returned to Australia but kept his interest in it, and occasionally contributed papers relating to it to the journals of learned societies. In 1890, he was appointed to represent the interests of the Central Queensland separation league in London, and in connexion with this headed a deputation to Lord Knutsford.

Nicholson died in England on 8 November 1903 shortly before his ninety-fifth birthday.[2] He was given the honorary degrees of D.C.L. by Oxford, and LL.D. by Cambridge and Edinburgh universities. He was knighted in 1852, and created a baronet in 1859. His eldest son, Charles Archibald Nicholson, the second baronet, became well known as an ecclesiastical architect (his achievements include the west front of St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast[5]). His other sons were Archibald Keightley Nicholson, a stained-glass artist and Sir Sydney Hugo Nicholson, founder of the Royal School of Church Music.

In 1844 Ludwig Leichhardt named a mountain in Queensland after him.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Michael Turner (February 2010). "Mystery on the Yorkshire Moors: the humble origins of a great man" (PDF). Sydney University Museums NEWS, Issue 20. pp. 2–4. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Serle, Percival (1949). "Nicholson, Charles". Dictionary of Australian Biography. Sydney: Angus and Robertson.
  3. ^ "Sir Charles Nicholson (1808-1903)". Former Members of the Parliament of New South Wales. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  4. ^ K.N. Sowada, 'Sir Charles Nicholson: an Early Scholar-Traveller in Egypt', in K.N. Sowada and B.G. Ockinga (eds), Egyptian Art in the Nicholson Museum, Sydney (Mediterranean Archaeology, Sydney, 2006), pp. 1–13
  5. ^ Belfast Cathedral – Architects Archived 8 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine at
  6. ^ "Lost Leichhardt". Brisbane Courier. 18 June 1891. Retrieved 5 January 2013 – via Trove.



New South Wales Legislative Council First election Member for Port Phillip Jun 1843 – Jun 1848 With: T. Walker / M. O'ConnellLang / AireyC. Ebden / A. Young / T. Boyd / E. BrewsterA. Thomson / T. Mitchell / B. Boyd / E. Curr / J. Foster Succeeded byLauchlan MackinnonJames WilliamsonJohn DicksonEdward CurrJames PalmerFive vacancies filled in Sep 1848 Preceded byWilliam Faithfull Member for County of Argyle Jul 1848 – Feb 1856 Council replaced by new parliament Preceded byAlexander Macleay Speaker of the Legislative Council 1846–1856 Succeeded bySir Alfred Stephenas President of the Legislative Council Academic offices Preceded byEdward Hamilton Chancellor of the University of Sydney 1854–1862 Succeeded byFrancis Merewether Baronetage of the United Kingdom New title Baronet(of Luddenham) 1859–1903 Succeeded byCharles Archibald Nicholson Parliament of Queensland New council President of the Legislative Council 1860 Succeeded bySir Maurice O'Connell