Scottish born John Nicholson was a prominent shipbuilder in the Manning.1 His shipbuilding yards were at the end of Pulteney Street, Taree where he was renowned for taking advantage of the Australian hardwoods to construct his ships.2 During his short time in Australia he built three ships: ‘Fanny Fisher’, ‘Squatter’ and ‘Triton’ (later renamed ‘Benjamin Boyd’) between 1844 and 1847.3 The ‘Fanny Fisher’ was made famous through a great race to Sydney Harbour with another ship ‘Rosetta Joseph’ built in the nearby Alexander Newton shipyards.4
The day Nicholson died he was travelling from Raymond Terrace to Port Stephens in a horse and cart (having moved to Karuah). The morning was wet as much rain had fallen the previous day. H S Smith was also travelling that day and had crossed many swollen creeks without incident until he reached Nine Mile Creek. The creek had broken its banks and had become a torrent. As it was too dangerous to cross Smith was about to turn around when he saw Nicholson clinging to a tree begging for help. Despite Smith’s grave misgivings he rode into the torrent but was immediately swept off his horse passing within metres of Nicholson. Smith discarded clothing and managed to swim to shore. He immediately returned to the spot opposite where he had seen Nicholson but he was gone. Smith travelled for many hours to get help crossing rivers and again being swept away in torrents. He eventually reached Dungog exhausted but Nicholson’s body had since been found.5 An inquest was held with the cause of death deemed ‘accidentally drowned’.6 Nicholson was 49 years old.7
Authors: Robyn Witt and Janine Roberts
1 Wingham Chronicle and Manning River Observer, 25 March 1924, 2.
2 Northern Champion, 5 March 1949, 5.
3 List of NSW shipbuilders from the register of Australian and NZ vessels, http://www.boatregister.net/NSW_Builders.htm
4 The Great Race, https://midcoaststories.com/2018/08/the-great-race/
5 Maitland Mercury, 15 July 1848.
6 Ancestry.com, State Archives NSW; Series: 2921; Item: 4/6613; Roll: 343.
7 NSW BDM, Death Certificate for John Nicholson, No. 1017/1848V1848101733B.