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 Australia.
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 generally.
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.