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Story: Nicholson, William Brinsley

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Nicholson, William Brinsley


Clerk, local politician, builder, journalist, editor

This biography, written by Barbara Fill, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.

William Brinsley Nicholson was born at Opotiki, New Zealand, on 26 August 1877, the son of Molyneux Augustus Nicholson, a schoolmaster, and his wife, Mary Anne Welsh McGowan. Bill Nicholson was six when his father died in 1884. After attending school in Opotiki he went farming. In 1893 he joined the New Zealand Railways stores department, and over the following seven years worked as a cadet clerk at Petone and at Aramoho, Wanganui. He was elected to the Petone Borough Council in 1900 and subsequently resigned from the railways, partly in protest at the department's refusal to allow him to serve on the council. At 23 Nicholson was reputed to be the youngest local-body representative in the country.

After a year on the council Nicholson moved to Christchurch, where he worked as a real estate agent and was a home missionary with the Baptist church. On 20 July 1904, at Christchurch, Nicholson married Adelaide Machin. The couple soon shifted to Petone and by September Nicholson had been re-elected to the borough council. He remained a member until 1907. During this time he participated in the council's moves to establish a water-supply system and sewerage scheme, and to improve the roads and railways in the borough.

Between 1904 and 1907 Nicholson worked in the building trade in Petone and Wellington. In 1906, as a partner in the firm Johnson and Nicholson, he constructed some of New Zealand's first state-built suburban homes. The houses, in Patrick and Adelaide streets, Petone, were built under the Workers' Dwellings Act 1905: an act promoted by the premier, R. J. Seddon, in an attempt to provide attractive low-cost housing for New Zealand workers. Johnson and Nicholson were contracted to build 10 of the original 25 houses at Petone.

For several years from 1908 Nicholson ran a stationery business in Petone. He was also an agent for the Evening Post and later manager of the Petone branch. From 1915 he worked as a reporter covering the Hutt Valley. His experience on the borough council and his close association with many phases of the district's development gave him an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area. In 1940 Nicholson prepared and edited Petone's first hundred years, an indispensable source of basic facts about the region. He was employed by the Post until his retirement in 1952.

The Nicholson family moved from Petone to Lower Hutt in the mid 1920s. William was active in the community life of both towns when they were at the hub of industry in the Wellington region. He served on the board of the Petone Technical School (later the Hutt Valley Memorial Technical College) from 1905 to 1949, and was chairman from 1934. During the 1918 influenza epidemic Nicholson acted as a night nurse at the school, which had been converted into a hospital. Between 1943 and 1945 he was president of the Technical Education Association of New Zealand. He was district chairman of the co-operative society, Market Gardeners Limited, in 1923, and the first president of the Hutt Valley YMCA in 1935. An active member of the Baptist church, he was for many years the leader of its Young Men's Bible Class Union in Petone. From 1945 Nicholson served as a justice of the peace in the Hutt Valley and was a visiting justice to Wi Tako Prison. He was also a marriage conciliator for a time. He was made an MBE in 1949 for his services to the community.

William Nicholson died in Lower Hutt on 25 November 1957, survived by a son and a daughter. Adelaide Nicholson had died in 1950. Nicholson was a lively, energetic and determined man and one of the Hutt Valley's best-known citizens. He had a long and varied career but is possibly best remembered as the builder of the workers' cottages which now comprise a designated historic area in Petone.

How to cite this page:

Barbara Fill. 'Nicholson, William Brinsley', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3n10/nicholson-william-brinsley (accessed 1 June 2023)