Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 15, June 1971


Considerable research has confirmed that Albert John Nicholas who died at Hikutaia in 1888, was born in 1813 of a well-to-do English family of "Winterbourne Manor", Wiltshire. It is recorded that his parents and his sister Jane and others lived near Paramatta, N.S.W. after 1815 and that he went to New Zealand where he married twice and had a number of children most of whom were sent abroad to be educated. His daughter Lucy who subsequently lived in Australia was my Grandmother and the family story has proved extraordinarily interesting as well as historical.

Nicholas held the rank of Captain in the British Army and spent some time in N.S.W. prior to going to New Zealand and landing at Tauranga in 1838. He became a vague and shadowy figure - not much talked about in family circles, and he neither returned to England nor visited his relatives in N.S.W. though it is evident that he kept in touch, as he did with some of his Military Brother-Officers.

From the Reference Librarian, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, I received this information - "In 1839 Nicholas purchased a block of land on Uretara or Nicholas Island in Ohiwa Harbour, Bay of Plenty." I was also supplied with a list of vessels owned by him as published by the New Zealand Ship and Maritime Society:

Nimrod T 1842-5, Cutter of 19 tons register. Lost at Tolaga Bay, 1845.

Ngahuia T 1853 - Schooner, 17 tons.

William 1849 - Cutter, built at Mahurangi.Wrecked at Thames, 1865.

His chief occupation appeared to be trading, and he moved about considerably mostly conveying produce, such as flax, maize, potatoes and pigs. He is referred to in Elsdon Best's Tuhoe, Children of the Mist (1925 - P.520) and in James Cowan's "Captain Tapsell" (1935 — P.128).

Meanwhile he married a daughter of Te Waharoa, Chief of the settlement of Matamata where he lived for some years before moving to Waiharakeke. His first child "Lucy" (my grandmother) was born circa 1840, and that there were other children we know from the "Journal of an expedition from Auckland to Taranaki", (undertaken in the summer of 1849-50, by his Excellency the Governor-in-chief of New Zealand). Quote:- "Matamata 15/12/49. The first house we arrived at was that of a European a Mr. Nicholas,- who unfortunately was not at home.- His wife is a very good looking native and she has six beautiful half-caste children".

It appears that Nicholas was often involved in matters connected with the Native Land Court, and the Reference Library has supplied me with many details such as his evidence in 1871 as follows:- "My wife belonged to the Ngatihana [Ngatihaua – E], and I had a store at Matamata.

Then I moved to Waiharakeke and left there in 1857, the year my wife died".

? How many children had you? "Six".

? Are they with Ngatihana? "No with Pakehas".

? Were you the first to open the Waihou? "Yes, I was the first who brought produce down that river. The Ngatihana cautioned me not to let my men steal the pigs belonging to the Ngatimaru on the banks of the Waihou, running through the Aroha. I saw a cultivation on the south-west bank and often saw their pigs. Previous to my taking goods down the river the Ngatihana did not go that way lest they should be molested by the Ngatimaru. They were obliged to go overland or by the Piako".

There is evidence that Nicholas continued his nomadic life both in Auckland and trading round the coast after his wife died, but it is significant that he built his ship - the "Ngahuia" at the River Thames and that the "William" was wrecked there in 1865. In the early 60's he established a home at Hikutaia having married Ngahuia Ngakaho who was "given" to him by her tribe. (She had been married previously to A. McCaskill and had a son Tangi whose descendants are still in the district). Subsequently Nicholas and his wife had three daughters, two of whom returned to Hikutaia, after being sent away to be educated; Emily (Mrs. Charlie Alley) and Clara (Mrs. Alf Alley).

The third daughter Frances spent most of her life abroad, after she and her brothers were sent to Rarotonga to be educated by Rev. Chalmers. She undertook translations for the Seventh Day Adventists after which she was sent by the Movement to Kooranbong College near Newcastle N.S.W. and visited my grandmother who was her step-sister "Lucy". Later she married my Grandfather's brother Alexander Waugh who was subsequently associated with the founding of the Sanitarium Health Food Company. They had three children.

At this stage I must again refer to my Grandmother, "Lucy Symonds Nicholas". She had been sent to N.S.W. to the care of her brother's sister Jane, wife of Captain Wm. Richards, former Naval Officer and latterly master of "Winterbourne Station". There she was brought up and most likely educated at the Academy, Port Macquarie, during the 50's. Her middle name derived from her god-father Captain Symonds, an early New Zealand explorer, a friend of her father and after whom Symonds Street in Auckland is called. (His brother John Jermyn Symonds, was private Secretary to Governor Sir George Grey.) In 1859, when 19 years of age Lucy visited N.Z. for a brief period, and at that time her father had activities in the Napier area of Hawkes Bay but when she returned at a later date he had remarried and was living at Hikutaia with his wife and three daughters.

Lucy had many influential friends and it is known that she stayed at Government House in Auckland. At one time the family tried to suppress the fact that "dark" blood ran in her veins - quite foolishly, for in so doing they attempted to obliterate a story of adventure and romance which would rank well with any in the turbulent days of Australia and New Zealand. The year 1876 in New South Wales, she married W.A Harvey Waugh who during the 80's purchased Guy Fawkes Station comprising 42,000 acres which of course has since been subdivided.

My enquiries have taken me to the South Seas, for not only did my great grandfather leave his mark in New Zealand but his children rendered yeoman service to the people of Rarotonga. It has been said of Henry Nicholas (his half-caste son from Thames) that "he had but one single purpose - to place the interests of the people before his own". Henry organised the cotton industry and when that no longer became a paying proposition he became the driving force behind the fruit industry; he also installed the first printing press in Rarotonga. He died a poor man but rich in the memory of his people.

Nicholas remained a trader in New Zealand spending considerable time away from home but he resisted the efforts of his overseas family to visit them. Perhaps he had lived so long amongst the Maoris he was apprehensive about returning to his old way of life. A contemporary report from N.Z. describes him as a gentleman by birth who became a "Pakeha-Maori". He never failed to make provision for the education and well being of his children. He spent his last years at Hikutaia, his home being near the mouth of the creek, adjacent to the McCaskills.

The following notice appeared in the "Evening Star" (Thames) April 26th 1888 and in the New Zealand Herald (Auckland) on 21 st April, 1888.

DEATH - NICHOLAS. On April 20th at his residence Hikutaia, Albert John Nicholas aged 75 years. (N.S.W. papers please copy).

The "Evening Star" also carried the following: - The funeral of the late Albert John Nicholas will leave the bridge, Parawai, to-morrow 21st inst. at 3.30 p.m. William Twentyman, Undertaker.

And so we come to the close of the long and tempestuous life of one of New Zealand's early settlers and traders who turned aside from affluence in order to live the free and roving life he had chosen. I have corresponded with Mr. Donald Nicholas author of "Mr. Secretary Nicholas" — a biography of Sir Edward Nicholas (1593—1669) who was also born at Winterbourne Manor and later became Secretary of State to both Charles I and Charles II. It will be noted that the family property in N.S.W. was also called "Winterbourne".

I am indebted to the Reference Librarians and Historical Societies in New Zealand for assistance gratefully received.

NOTE: We have had some difficulty in establishing the site of the "Waiharakeke" referred to by Nicholas as there are several places so named. However our good friend Norton Watson sends us the following note - "The Waiharakeke on the Waihou near Gordon was a place of considerable importance to the Ngati-Haua for it was near enough to the Wairere track between Waharoa and Tauranga and also had access to the sea via the Waihou".

(This article has been abridged from the original one published by the Whakatane and District Historical Society in the Jubilee issue of their Journal, April 1967. We gratefully acknowledge permission to reprint it.)

Mr. London, who edits "Historical Review" (Whakatane) writes: - "the publication of Mr. Waugh's article in our Journal resulted in he and I finding that we were related. My mother was a "Waugh" but she and my grandmother left Scotland a generation after Dick Waugh's branch left for Australia He is very proud of "Lucy", whose photograph I enclose, and he will be most interested that you have traced some more of his relatives. Please send me an extra copy of your Journal so that I can pass one on to him". (We shall do so with pleasure and we have to thank the descendants of the pioneer Hikutaia families for their most helpful co-operation. Our earnest hope is that settlers who soon followed after these will also record their stories. Editor).