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Nicolson, Charles Hope (1829–1898)

from Argus (Melbourne)

It is with extreme regret that we have to announce the death of Mr Charles Hope Nicolson, P.M., who expired at 3 o'clock on Saturday morning, at his residence, Anderson-street, South Yarra, at the age of 69 years. Mr. Nicolson, who had been ailing for only a short while, was attacked by rheumatism of the heart. His medical advisers, Dr J. Dunbar Hooper and Dr E. Alan Mackay, were able to hold out no hope of his recovery on Friday evening, and he died, as stated, at 3 a.m. The late Mr. Nicolson played a stirring part in past years in connection with active police work in Victoria. He was born in Scotland, and joined the Victorian police as a cadet officer in 1852 with several others who afterwards attained high rank in the force. Amongst them were the chief commissioner, Mr. Chomley, Mr. J. Lyddiard, Mr. Sadleir, and Mr. Reginald Greene, who are still living, and Mr. Winch, Mr. William Templeton, Mr. Leopold Kabat, and others, who have passed away. From the first he showed great zeal and enthusiasm for duty, and one of his earliest exploits was in an encounter with bushrangers when stationed at Kilmore. A gang of Tasmanian escapees had crossed the Straits, and taken to the roads in Victoria, their favourite haunts being the old Sydney-road and the track between Kilmore and McIvor. In company with Mr. H. Thompson, another cadet, and a couple of troopers, Mr. Nicolson went in pursuit, and halted one day for lunch at a roadside hotel. They left Mr. Thompson in charge of the horses at the stable, and while they were at lunch the bushrangers, not suspecting the presence of the police, rode up. Seeing Mr. Thompson in uniform, they at once fired, shooting him through the chest and lungs, and galloped off. The others rushed to their horses, started in pursuit, and, coming up with the outlaws, exchanged shots, Mr. Nicolson and Sergeant-Major Nolan, who is still living, being the first to get to close quarters. They each picked their man, and, being armed only with the old type of horse-pistol, there was not much shooting. Mr. Nicolson, without firing at all, rushed his man, and, being then a fine, stalwart young fellow, seized him by the back of the neck, dragged him from the saddle, and so captured him.

Another of his achievements was the capture of Power, the bushranger, effected in company with the late Mr. Hare and Mr. Montford, a retired officer of police, now living in Malvern-road. Having traced Power to a hut in the ranges, Mr. Nicolson, with characteristic daring, rushed in, and threw himself on the bushranger, who was lying on his bunk with a loaded gun beside him.

When on the 27th October, 1878, the Kellys committed their first murder on the King River, Mr. Nicolson and Mr. Sadleir – now living in retirement at Kooyong-road, Caulfield – went to Benalla in charge of the police pursuit, Mr. Nicolson being the senior officer. He conducted operations against the gang until the Euroa bank robbery on the 12th of September of the same year, at which time his health broke down, and he returned to Melbourne, the late Mr. Hare taking his place until June of the following year. The want of success which at first attended the chase for the bushrangers is an old story. False trails were laid for the police by sympathisers, who lived on the Kellys as long as the spoil from their bank robberies lasted. A year was spent in rather wild and unsuccessful methods, and in June, 1879, Mr. Nicolson went up to the Kelly country determined this time to bring into force some of the methods of his detective days, and fight the Kellys with their own weapons – the payment of scouts and men thoroughly familiar with that dense and difficult country. So successful was his plan that positive information as to the straits to which the gang were reduced was constantly received.

Nothing in connection with the pursuit of the Kellys has led to more controversy than in the action of the Government of the day in depriving Mr. Nicolson of the command of the operations just as they were ripening to assured success. So complete was the espionage he had established that the gang had become desperate, and, harassed by the importunities of their friends, who wanted more stolen gold, had no other resource than to make a break somewhere in the hope of sticking up another bank. Mr. Nicolson protested against what he and his friends naturally considered a great wrong, and begged for another month in which he assured the authorities he must come to quarters with the Kellys. It was useless; he was brought away from Benalla, and, as showing the soundness of his forecasts, he had only been two days out of the district when one of his scouts brought word that the Kellys, having been completely cornered, were about to break for the open, and had made themselves bullet-proof armour of stolen ploughshares. This occurred on Friday. On the following Sunday night Aaron Sherritt, one of the police spies, was shot dead by the Kellys, and their destruction at Glenrowan a few days later was the end of the story – an end brought about absolutely by the methods followed by Mr. Nicolson, and in which he had, to his chagrin, no share.

Another injustice which he and his friends felt sorely was done him when the Police Commission, in its subsequent inquiries, determined that both he and Mr. Hare should be transferred to other branches of the service, and, as a consequence he was appointed a police magistrate, a duty which he discharged with credit and honour up to within a few days of his last illness. In all controversy as to the incidents of the Kelly epoch – and even when unfairly attacked – he maintained always a manly and dignified silence. Mr. Nicolson married a daughter of the late John Thomas Smith, well-known amongst the earlier Mayors of Melbourne. He leaves behind him a grown family, several of his sons being as dashing and athletic as their father in his cadet days.

[The above appeared in portion of Saturday's paper.]

The remains of the late Mr. C. H. Nicolson were interred yesterday afternoon in the St Kilda Cemetery. Notwithstanding that it had been impossible to give adequate notice of the funeral, a very large number of the friends of the deceased were present at his residence, Anderson-street, South Yarra. His Excellency the Administrator of the Government sent his carriage. A mass of beautiful wreaths and other forms of flower emblems were received. The Rev. Canon Tucker officiated at the grave, in the midst of a gathering of representative men, including Mr. Panton, P.M., and other stipendiary magistrates; Mr. Chomley, Chief Commissioner of Police; the Mayor of Melbourne, Mr. E. G. Fitzgibbon, chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works, ex-Inspecting Superintendent Sadleir, and many old colleagues of the deceased, besides a group of other private friends. By the desire of the family, carrying out Mr. Nicolson's own views, there were no pall-bearers, and two of his sons were the chief mourners. Sub-Inspector Sharp and Sergeant Keane, court orderly, who were in close official association with the deceased, were invited to occupy the mourning coach following the carriage of the Administrator of the Government. The funeral arrangements were in the hands of Mr. R. Matthews, of Toorak-road, South Yarra.

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'Nicolson, Charles Hope (1829–1898)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/nicolson-charles-hope-13569/text24293, accessed 22 November 2017.

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