Arbitration In Contempt
August 15, 1912
The Tasmanian Mail: Death of Mr Henry Richard
Nicholls, Editor of the Mercury
It is with deep regret that we announce the death of
Mr H R Nicholls, who for the last 20 years has been
editor of 'The Mercury'. Mr Nicholls, who has not for
some time been in robust health, had an attack of influenza
on Sunday, and early on Tuesday evening, August 13,
succumbed, at the age of 83.
Mr Nicholls was born in Regent Street, London, in 1830.
His father's house was close to Buckingham Palace,
and Mr Nicholls used often relate how, when a child,
he saw Queen Victoria on her way to the Coronation.
His father was an enthusiast for Democracy and Socialism,
and as a youth the future editor of 'The Mercury' listened
to such men as Louis Blanc, Kossuth, Fergus O'Connor,
Robert Owen, and others. The house, indeed, was an
ark of safety for political refugees of all countries,
most of whom, as Mr Nicholls used to relate, borrowed
money. It was, too, a special delight to him to recall
the fact that as a boy he used to take off his hat
to the Duke of Wellington, who always most punctiliously
acknowledged the salute. His early schooling was at
Binfield, in Berkshire, and he passed examinations
in Latin and French at the London Literary Institute.
For some time he lectured, and wrote for newspapers,
in particular for the 'Leader', the editor of which
was Thornton Hunt. At the age of 23 he decided to try
his fortunes in Australia, and in the year 1853 reached
Melbourne. He tried various things, but eventually
became editor of the 'Diggers' Advocate' a newspaper
printed in Melbourne and sent to the goldfields. He
was not able, however, long to resist the gold fever,
and went to Ballarat, in and about which city he remained
for nearly 30 years. While digging at Creswick he became
local correspondent of the 'Ballarat Times', and in
1858 was offered a position on the staff. His luck
at gold digging was out at that time, and he accepted
the offer of £5 a week and left for Ballarat. His mates
walked half way with him, then shook hands, and they
parted, never to meet again. After two years on the
'Times' he was offered the position of editor of the
'Ballarat Star', which he accepted, and retained till
1883. During this period he acquired an interest in
the paper. While in Ballarat he contributed many articles
to the Melbourne 'Argus' and 'Australasian', and was
a leading figure in connection with the great Victorian
constitutional crisis, his articles attracting wide
notice. He achieved a reputation as an authority on
constitutional questions, which had remained with him
ever since. His 'Bush Sermons' and 'N Papers', and
other articles over the nom de plume of 'Henricus',
were much commented upon. In 1867 he published 'Politics
in Verse', dealing with the political affairs of the
time. He stood for Parliament at the general election
which resulted from the 'crisis', but was defeated
by a narrow majority.
In Ballarat Mr Nicholls did a great deal of valuable
work in connection with the mining industry. He was
there at the time of the Eureka Stockade, but withdrew
before the attack took place, because he realised that
defence was hopeless, and did not approve of the methods
adopted for remedying what he recognised to be hardships
and injustice suffered by the miners When the Ballarat
Local Court was established afterwards to deal with
mining cases, Mr Nicholls was selected as one of the
first members. It was he who first advocated that mining
companies should be held responsible for accidents
occurring as a result of neglect of proper precautions.
He put forward his ideas in 1860, when he read a paper
at a meeting of the Ballarat Mining Institute. This
principle was adopted by the Victorian Parliament,
and later on in all the other States. It was he, too,
who suggested the 'no liability' system for mining
companies, and kept hammering away until his efforts
were crowned with success.
In 1883 Mr Nicholls was appointed editor of the Hobart
'Mercury', in succession to the late Mr James Simpson,
and remained in that position till his death, actually
writing his last leading article on Sunday. In that
29 years he did many notable things, and by his vigorous
writing helped to guide public opinion through the
clash of parties and the stress of political strife.
Last year he came into special prominence through being
summoned before the High Court of Australia to answer
a charge of contempt of the Arbitration Court. It will
be remembered that the case was dismissed, and the
High Court gave judgment defining contempt, and limiting
its application, which makes The King versus Nicholls
a leading case of extra ordinary importance to the
press of Australia. In June of last year a number of
leading citizens formed a committee to arrange for
a public reception to Mr Nicholls, and the presentation
of an address. The idea was taken up with the utmost
heartiness, and on June 27 the Town Hall was crowded
with people representative of every class in the community,
who thronged there to do him honour. At the gathering
letters and telegrams were read from the editors of
the leading newspapers of Australia, expressing their
admiration for Mr Nicholls, and their appreciation
of his work.
Mr Nicholls, whose wife died only a few years ago,
leaves a family of two daughters and six sons, of whom
Mr Justice Nicholls is one. Two of them are in South
Reference In The Supreme Court
Prior to the commencement of the business in the Supreme
Court on Wednesday morning, before his Honour Mr Justice
McIntyre mention was made of the death of the late
Mr H R Nicholls.
Mr Crosby Gilmore, addressing his Honour, said he had
been requested by the gentlemen of the bar to ask him
to convey his sincere sympathy to Mr Justice Nicholls
in the loss he had sustained in the death of his father.
Not only did the members of the bar sympathise with
his Honour in his loss, but they felt the public at
large had lost a faithful friend and servant, one who
had always done his duty in this life to the best of
his ability. Every section of the community had been
interested in the late gentleman, and especially was
it so with the mining community. If there were one
branch of industry which he had helped and assisted
it was the mining industry. The members of the bar
asked his Honour to express to Mr Justice Nicholls
their sincere sympathy and deep regret.
His Honour, speaking with feeling said he would convey
the expression of sympathy from the members of the
bar to his colleague. It had been a great shock to
him to hear that morning of the death of Mr Nicholls.
It was only a short time ago that a large gathering
had assembled in the Town Hall to do that gentleman
honour. It was evident at the function that his intellect
was in no way impaired by his advancing age. His death
would be a great loss to the community, and he was
sure the feeling of sympathy on the part of members
of the profession and himself would be shared by citizens
The great loss sustained by the sad death of our esteemed
editor, Mr H R Nicholls, prompts me to publicly express
the admiration, appreciation, and personal regard for
one with whom I have been so closely connected for
nearly thirty years in the conduct of 'The Mercury'.
During all this time our relationship has been of the
most confidential and cordial nature. By the death
of Mr Nicholls, I have lost a warm and zealous friend,
and the community a bold and fearless writer, and a
courteous and upright gentleman, whose name must ever
remain green in the memory of all who respect honour
and sterling worth and ability.
August 13, 1912.
How shall a man be judged if it is not by his works?
and, tried by this test, where are we to place the
man who on Sunday last laid down his pen for the last
time, and who on Tuesday evening passed quietly out
of existence? Mr Nicholls for some sixty years worked
as a journalist, of which nearly thirty were spent
as editor of 'The Mercury'. Before he came to Hobart
he had done much; during his sojourn here he did more.
His work is recorded in many of the Statutes of this
and other States, in the solid strength of some of
our most valuable institutions, and, we believe, to
a considerable degree in a certain sanity and reasoned
moderation in at least a section of the community.
Mr Nicholls was a sound and a brilliant writer, but
he was something much more. He had a remarkably orderly
and logical mind, shrewdness of judgment combined with
quickness of apprehension, a horror of sham and humbug,
and a fearlessness based on uprightness which forbade
him any slight divergence from the strict line of duty.
He had high ideals of public life and conduct, and
to the day of his death was always ready to combat
that cynicism and pessimism which are so much in evidence.
Mr Nicholls was a vigorous critic of measures which,
while supposed to help the people, were according to
his views and his experience, likely to result in mischief.
But no man more than he had the capacity
'hearing often times
The still, sad music of humanity'
It was this very capacity which made him so stern a
critic of men whose leadership and whose proposals
he thought were likely to cause evil rather than good.
How the people of Hobart, among whom he worked for
nearly thirty years, learned to appreciate him was
shown last year, when a notable gathering was held
in his honour. Those who have been associated with
Mr Nicholls in the work of his life gave him every
respect and reverence for his capacity, and affection
for his kindly qualities of manhood which only those
in close contact with him realised in their full. Mr
Nicholls died, as he would have wished, in harness.
He has left a newspaper on which the impress of his
great personality will remain for all time.
Why HR Nicholls?