Robert Nickle

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Robert Nickle was born at sea on 12 August 1786. He was the son of Robert Nicholl of the 17th Dragoons. Nickle was married twice, to Elizabeth daughter of William Dallas, and the widow of General Nesbit.[1]

He arrived in Melbourne in August 1854. Robert Nickle died on 26 May 1855.[2]

Nickle had served in the Irish Rebellion with the Durham Fencibles,[3] and upon his death had been in the army for around 45 years. He was appointed Commander in Chief of military forces in the Australian Colonies in 1853, and arrived in Australian in 1854. He moved his headquarters from Sydney to Melbourne in August 1854. [4]

Goldfields Involvement, 1854

At the time of the Eureka Stockade Nickle was 78 years of age.[5] After the Eureka Stockade battle Charles Hotham sent Nickle to Ballarat to restore law and order. He imposed Martial Law on 06 December 1854, one day after his arrival in Ballarat. Martial Law was repealed on 9 December, and Nickle left Ballarat on 19 December. He was perceived by most people in Ballarat as a sane and calming influence. [6]

Head Quarters, Ballarat
6th December 1854
Major General Sir Robert Nickle, K.H., Commanding the Forces in the Australian Colonies, announces to Her Majesty's subjects, Civil and Military, that, acting under the authority of His Excellency, the Lieutenant Governor of Victoria, He has assumed command of the force at Ballarat, to restore confidence and to preserve the lives and property of all peaceful persons.
The inhabitants are recommended to pursue their ordinary lawful avocations as heretofore.
Military Law having this day proclained, the Major General directs as follows:
1. Stores of every kind may be brought into the District, exept Arms and Ammunition; and any conveyance containing Arms and Military Stores will be confiscated, and the persons in charge will be tried by a general Court Martial.
2. All persons in whose possession or on whose premises Arms of Ammunition may be found after Twelve o'clock on the day of Saturday, the Ninth of December, will be tried by a general Court Martial.
3. All persons having Arms and Ammunition in their possession, are hereby required to deliver them, by that time, to a Storekeeper at the Camp, appointed to receive, and register, and to give a receipt for the same.
4. Should any insult or violence be offered to any Soldier, or Policeman, or any recognised authority, the offending persons will be tried by General Court Martial.
5. Should a shot be fired on the Camp, or on any of the above-named authorities, from teh neighbourhood of any Tent, it will be immediately burned down, unless the occupants give such information as shall lead to the conviction of the perpetrators of such outrage, who will, in every case, be tried by a general Court Martial.
6. Any persons found lighting a fire, having an appearance of a signal fire, will be tried by a general Court Martial.
7. Officers commanding the Force, whether Civil or Military, now serving withinf this District, will receive orders through the medium of the Deputy Adjutant General, and will in like manner make their reports for Sir Robert Nickle's consideration.
8. Public Meetings are prohibited, except with the premission of the Major General.
(By Command,)
Edward Macarthur,
Deputy Adjutant General
Printed at the "Times" Office, Bakery Hill

Robert Nickle returned to Melbourne on 12 December 1854, although a large part of the army remained for some time. His health deteriorated, possibly due to his exertions in the Ballarat heat.[7]

Post 1854 Experiences

Colonel Mundy wrote asking for a Distinction for Robert Nickel for quelling the forces at Eureka. The letter labelled 'Horse Guards 16 July 1855' states that Nickle 'entered the Army in 1798 at nearly 17 years of age. he served as a Regimental Officer At Beunas Ayres [sic] throughout nearly the whole of the war in the Peninsula, and subsequently after the conclusion of that war, in North America until the termination of hostilities with that country in the following year. He is in possession of a gold medal for having commanded the 88th Regiment at the battle of Nivelle, and the silver medal with seven clasps for other actions. These with his recent services on the occasion referred to fully entitle him in the opinion of the General Commanding in Chief to all the consideration that can now be shown him when in consequence of his failing health he will be forced to retire from all employment and Lord Harding will be glad to concur with Lord Panmure in marking his sense of them. I have the honour to be sire, Your most humble and obedient servant (signed) C. ??[8]


Robert Nickle was survived by a daughter and two sons.[9]


In August, 1854, Sir Robert Nickle arrived in Melbourne with his staff. He was then an old man, in the years of his seventies, and ill-fitted by reason of the weight of years to wrestle with the pioneer difficulties of a lusty young country. The wild days on the golafields, made wilder and more lawless by the swarms of adventurers of every clime, not only demanded military regulars to act as military police, but a leader of vigor and of action.
Sir Robert Nickle's name stands well in Victorian history through virtues not uncommon to aged men and to women—tact and forebearance. These virtues he displayed towards the diggers. He recognised the gold-seekers as men who had their rights, and he was opposed to treating them like hunted dogs over their licensee. It was due to his tact that after the Eureka Stockade rebellion—December 3, 1554—that there was no more blood spilt. The Ballarat diggers, filled with fight, were in a dangerous mood. One false step by tho authorities, and the diggings would have been tho scene of civil war. It was Nickle who induced the diggers to disperse, and who persuaded them to use constitutional weapons to attain their ends. He pointed out to them that slain men, diggers or soldiers, '"broken heads" on either side, the use of guns, piked, spades, and pickaxes, in a fratricidal civil war wu cot the way to obtain their rights under tho Union Jack. There were court of appeal beyond the local authorities, and anyway the "digger hunts" would cease. The diggers liked the old man. They felt that he waa a man whose words were not more lip service. In short, they trusted him.
The Major-General had seen service in various pans of the worid, as had also his father, who was an oflicer of the 17th Light Dragoons. Nickle did not live long after coming to Melbourne, for be died on May 26, 1855, and the command of the troops was taken over by the Deputy Adjutant General, Colonel E. Macarthur. On September of the same year Macarthur was appointed commander of the forces in the Australian colonies with the rank of Major General. His vacated position of Deputy Adjutant was filled by Lieutenant-Colonel J. M. B. Neill. Most of the military men in the early days of the colony bad seen active service, and Macarthur was not an exception. He was the eldest son of John Macarthur, of Camden Park, New South Wales, who was the founder of the merino wool industry in Australia. He married the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel William Smith Neill, sister of Brigadier-General Neill, who lost his life at the siege of Lucknow.[10]

See also

Further Reading

Corfield, J., Wickham, D., & Gervasoni, C. The Eureka Encyclopaedia, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.


  1. Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
  2. Melbourne Truth, 26 December 1914.
  3. Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
  4. Wickham, D., Gervasoni, C. & Phillipson, W., Eureka Research Directory, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999.
  5. Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
  6. Wickham, D., Gervasoni, C. & Phillipson, W., Eureka Research Directory, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999.
  7. Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
  8. PRO 416-6580, Records of the War Office WO 32/File 20; AJCP Reel 1075/Australia. ‘Eureka Stockade’ Disturbance.
  9. Gervasoni, Clare and Ford, Tina, Eureka Stockade centre Hall of Debate Kit, 1998.
  10. Melbourne Truth, 26 December 1914.

External links

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