NICHOLL, Sir John (1759-1838), of Merthyr Mawr, Glam. and 26 Bruton Street, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1802 - 1806
1806 - 1807
1807 - 18 Aug. 1821
11 Feb. 1822 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 16 Mar. 1759, 2nd s. of John Nicholl (d. 1773) of Llanmaes, Glam. and Elizabeth née Havard. educ. Cowbridge sch. 1766; Bristol 1773; St. John’s, Oxf. 1775, BCL 1780, DCL 1785; L. Inn 1775. m. 8 Sept. 1787, Judy, da. of Peter Birt of Wenvoe Castle, Glam., 1s. surv. 3 da. (1 d.v.p.). kntd. 31 Oct. 1798; suc. Edward Powell to Tondu, Glam. 1771. d. 26 Aug. 1838.

Offices Held

Adv. doctors’ commons Nov. 1785; king’s adv. Oct. 1798-Jan. 1809; dean of ct. of arches and PCC judge 1809-34; PC 6 Feb. 1809; admiralty ct. judge 1833-d., holding his other offices in commendam; vicar-gen. to abp. of Canterbury 1834-d.

Lt.-col. commdt. St. Giles and St. George’s, Bloomsbury vol. inf. 1803.


An expert on admiralty, ecclesiastical and international law, Nicholl had been brought into Parliament as a government supporter in 1802, and had been returned for Great Bedwyn since 1807 on the interest of the Bruce family, Barons Ailesbury. Nothing had come of his aspirations to represent his native Glamorgan, where he had purchased and improved the Merthyr Mawr estate and was a generous benefactor to the new county town of Bridgend, but he exerted considerable influence in the county and Cardiff Boroughs. Like his friend and mentor, the admiralty judge Sir William Scott*, Nicholl’s high church principles and reputation as an astute parliamentarian and effective speaker carried weight beyond his college of St. John’s, and he was considered a likely candidate for one of the Oxford University seats. His speech on proposing Charles Abbot for the Speakership in 1812 was considered a masterpiece, and he had been the leader of the Commons Lord Castlereagh’s choice to nominate the government candidate Charles Manners Sutton as Abbot’s successor in 1817. An erstwhile Pittite, he tended to combine his ministerialist sympathies and scholarly expositions of orders in council with vociferous opposition to parliamentary reform and Catholic relief and promoting legislation against clandestine marriages.1 He habitually devoted time to ‘regular study and fireside reading’, preferring to ‘leave the management of domestic concerns and family accounts’ to his wife.2

Nicholl was at the privy council meeting, 30 Jan. 1820, which issued the proclamation of George IV, and he attended George III’s funeral and interment.3 At the ensuing general election he was returned without incident for Great Bewdyn; and in Glamorgan he backed the victorious Margam candidate, Sir Christopher Cole, on whose behalf he had negotiated with the 6th duke of Beaufort’s son, Lord Granville Somerset*, and the 2nd marquess of Bute’s brother, Lord James Crichton Stuart*.4 After returning to London on 14 Apr. Nicholl, who according to the 1820 Black Book received £5,000 a year from his offices, had meetings with his patron the 2nd Baron Ailesbury, Lord Harrowby, the duke of Montrose, his nephew John Dyneley, Sir Thomas Neave, and the new Member for Cardiff Boroughs, Wyndham Lewis; and he attended Castlereagh’s eve of session briefing on the 26th.5 Diary entries indicate that he was now regular in his attendance and support for Lord Liverpool’s administration. According to a radical publication of 1825, he ‘attended occasionally and voted with ministers’. He frequented the Welsh Club, and was named to the select committee on the administration of justice in the Principality, 1 June. He spoke briefly and without his customary clarity on Phillimore’s Marriage Act amendment bill, 2 June, and, having supported a similar measure in 1819, he was sorry to see it defeated in the Lords for want of government support.6 The Welsh judge Robert Casberd† and Cole and his family were among the guests at Merthyr Mawr during the recess, which Nicholl as usual devoted to private study and his Glamorgan interests.7 The earl of Westmorland and John Luxmore, bishop of St. Asaph, had kept him informed of developments in the Queen Caroline case; and after returning to London, 1 Nov. 1820, he attended the Lords proceedings, and conferred with Ailesbury, Sir Henry Halford, Montrose and the chancellor of the exchequer Vansittart.8 He was at Castlereagh’s pre-session meeting, 22 Jan. 1821, and attended those held by the Speaker, 27 Jan., Liverpool, 29 Jan., and Westmorland, 16 Feb. He voted against censuring government’s handling of the queen’s case, 6 Feb., and it may be inferred from his diary that he was in the majorities against the restoration of Caroline’s name to the liturgy, 26 Jan., 13 Feb.9 He paired against Catholic relief, 28 Feb., sought in vain with Scott to have the bill reprinted and deferred until after the Easter recess, 16, 19 Mar., and took pleasure in its Lords’ defeat, 17 Apr.10 He was not in the government majority against the malt duty repeal bill, 3 Apr., although the treasury secretary Arbuthnot had requested his attendance and vote.11 He went to Cowbridge for the Glamorgan quarter sessions, 1 May, and returned to London for the debate on Irish tithes on the 10th only to find it postponed.12 He divided with his fellow placemen for the Clarence annuity bill, 8, 25 June, and probably (as Sir G. Nicholl) on economy and retrenchment, 27 June 1821.

Nicholl’s attention now focused on the forthcoming by-election for Oxford University, where Scott’s elevation to the peerage as Baron Stowell had produced a vacancy. It soon emerged that should he stand and fail, Ailesbury, who refused to return his only son John Nicholl† in his place, might not bring him back in for Bedwyn.13 Furthermore, his rival Richard Heber*, who had declared tactically against Catholic relief, was the chancellor of the University Lord Grenville’s candidate and had the premier and the home secretary Lord Sidmouth’s support.14 On 16 July John Whishaw informed Lady Holland that Nicholl, to whom ‘nothing can be objected but his temporary connection with the Whigs in 1806, which he has redeemed by an undeviating opposition to them when out of office’, had

the chancellor and Sir William Scott, doctors’ commons, his own college of St. John’s, All Souls College, Corpus, all the leading people connected with Christ Church, such as Lloyd, Goodenough, and Bull, etc. (the dean excepted, who belongs to Heber), Queen’s and Magdalen Colleges and the greater part of the residents.15

His committee, chaired by the bursar designate of St. John’s, Thomas Wintle, was soon active and secured promises of some 740 votes, but Nicholl delayed applying for the Chiltern Hundreds until 18 Aug. He vacated at Great Bedwyn, 20 Aug., only two days before the Oxford poll. He predicted that it would end on the 23rd, when, if unsuccessful, he proposed canvassing Bedwyn to deter any rivals.16 He was 208-205 ahead on the first day, but was overtaken on the second and retired, trailing by 519-612, 23 Aug. Informing Ailesbury of the outcome, he estimated that 100 of his supporters had paired and a further 120 were unaccounted for.17 As Ailesbury turned down his request to canvass Bedwyn, he returned via Abingdon to Merthyr Mawr, where letters of congratulation and pledges of future support awaited him.18 Ailesbury’s letter of 29 Aug. left Nicholl in no doubt that if re-elected he would not again be free to vacate Bedwyn to stand for Oxford. He was not formally offered Bedwyn until he had been to Oxford for discussions, 31 Oct.-2 Nov., and assured Ailesbury and Lord Jersey in writing, 3, 4 Nov., that the master of St. John’s ‘understands that upon no future occasion could I become a candidate’.19 His time that autumn was largely taken up with plans for his son’s marriage to Cole’s stepdaughter Jane Harriet Talbot, which took place at Penrice, 14 Dec. 1821.20

Nicholl attended Lord Londonderry’s eve of session briefing, 4 Feb. 1822. The Bedwyn writ was moved on the 5th, and, after a busy social round, which included engagements at the Travellers’ Club, and the Bedwyn by-election, he resumed his seat, 15 Feb.21 He divided with government against more extensive tax cuts, 21 Feb., but not against the proposed abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. On the 23rd he met Vansittart and attended the Speaker’s levee. He was in the minority against Canning’s bill to relieve Catholic peers, 30 Apr., and probably voted against its committal, 10 May. Later that day he turned down a request from Vansittart asking him to take a leading part in the Commons campaign against it, as he had done in 1817, because

my time (like yours) has been lately so much occupied by official business as not to have left me leisure to look into the matter with the care necessary to render any useful assistance. I must also frankly add, that a certain part of the House is so little disposed even to allow, much less to listen to ‘impartial discussion’ upon the subject, that I really have not nerves sufficient to encounter such an audience.22

Nicholl, who had also ceased to contribute to debates on parliamentary reform, delivered his judgment in the Sapha v. Atkinson case, 5 June, and sat through the debate on Irish tithes on the 13th, but was not listed in the majority against inquiry, 19 June 1822.23 Towards the end of the session he was particularly busy in doctors’ commons, and he also had separate meetings with Bute and Crichton Stuart, whom Bute proposed bringing in for Cardiff Boroughs at the next election in place of Wyndham Lewis. During the recess, part of which he spent on the continent, Lewis solicited his support on the same matter.24

Nicholl was at the Speaker’s reception, 8 Feb., attended the debates on ordnance reductions, 19, 20 Feb., Lord John Russell’s parliamentary reform resolutions, 20 Feb., and the revenue, 21 Feb., and moved the third reading of the Marriage Act amendment bill, 4 Mar. 1823. Writing on the 11th to his son in Rome, he noted that he had

attended rather regularly since the term was over. We have had some interesting debates, which ended very triumphantly on the part of ministers ... Canning has hitherto been very prudent, judicious, and conciliatory in leading, and if he proceeds on the same course and is not hurried off his guard by temper, matters will go on well, and he will gain in the confidence of the House. He has an excellent second in Peel, and some circumstances which came out in the discussion on Wednesday on the subject of Orange lodges in Ireland strongly impressed the House with an opinion of Peel’s judgement and caution, whilst secretary in Ireland. The attack upon the Orange lodges was evidently intended to throw down the apple of discord among the administration on account of their differing opinions on the Catholic question, but it went off without producing of the expected embarrassment. It fully appeared that the object of the whole government here is to promote conciliation. I still doubt however whether some of the late measures of the Irish government have been calculated to produce that effect. They have tended to gratify the Catholics but to irritate the Protestants, and irritation in either party must lead to anything but conciliation ... The Protestant party in Ireland is too strong to be put down by the government.25

He was in the government’s minority against inquiry into the prosecution of the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr., and was included on the select committee on trade legislation on account of his expertise. Speaking on the Irish tithes composition bill, 30 May, he said that he was not against its committal, but did object to the inference in the preamble ‘that a similar measure would be expedient for England’, and it was accordingly amended. So powerful was his defence of the rights of property and his criticism of those who assumed that the church’s holdings were public assets at the disposal of the state, that the chancellor of the exchequer Robinson had to intervene to try to allay his doubts over the bill, which received royal assent, 19 July.26 He voted against inquiry into chancery delays, 5 June 1823. He had recently undertaken additional work on behalf of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels and the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, and during the recess he waited on Bute at Cardiff Castle, and attended county functions.27 Feeling that the return of his son and daughter-in-law from their European tour marked the start of a new and possibly final stage in his own life, he reminded them of the importance he attached to professional advancement, connections, and domestic happiness, for which he recommended ‘unreserve’ as the ‘surest basis’.28 Proffering ‘advice’ to Cole’s stepson Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot* when congratulating him on gaining a first at Oxford, 24 Dec. 1823, he digressed into politics and observed:

The old distinctions of Whig and Tory so far as principles are concerned no longer exist. Divine right, passive obedience and non-resistance are doctrines quite extinct. We are all old Whigs. Political parties are now divided rather into men and measures than any great differences by principles, except perhaps a few ultras and radicals, and you may recollect my stating to you an opinion that you would do wisely to abstain very cautiously from committing yourself to any party or set of men, until you had a full opportunity by considerable experience of forming a deliberate judgement which set of measures generally pursued or recommended by contending parties were upon the whole most conducive to the real interests of the country. For if once you became a party man, you were no longer quite as independent, and perfect independence should in no degree be sacrificed but on most mature consideration guiding the judgement.29

Nicholl was on the steering committee prior to the founding of King’s College, London early in 1824, and the master of the rolls Sir Thomas Plumer requested his opinion on the cases of Reynolds v. Richards, Alexander v. Allen and White v. Lequense, the last requiring expertise in Channel Island law which only he and Stowell could provide.30 The Catholic question was not considered that session, and Commons proceedings now occupied little space in Nicholl’s diary, which contains brief reports of the debate on Wrottesley’s abortive proposal for a decimal currency, 25 Feb., and the home secretary Peel’s speech on the introduction of treadmills in prisons, 26 Feb., a matter of local concern in Glamorgan. He voted that day against bringing in a bill to reform the representation of Edinburgh. He entertained the bishop of Llandaff, William van Mildert, and Crichton Stuart, who was canvassing Cardiff Boroughs, at Merthyr Mawr during the recess, and, fearing the likely impact of the struggle for the ‘towns’ on county politics, he cautioned Cole and Talbot accordingly.31 Nicholl attended Canning’s dinner and speech, 2 Feb., and recorded details in his diary of the debates and proceedings on San Domingo, 3 Feb.; the Irish unlawful societies bill, 10, 11, 14, 15, 18, 21 Feb.; the budget, 28 Feb.; Catholic relief, 3 Feb., 1 Mar., 21, 27 Apr., 2, 6 May; the attendant Irish franchise bill, 26, 27, 29 Apr.; the game laws, 10 Mar.; the corn laws, 28 Apr.; chancery delays, 31 May, 7 June, and the St. Olave tithe bill, 6, 13 June 1825. He considered Seymour Conway’s justification of the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15 Feb., ‘admirable’ and ‘conclusive’, and kept notes of the speeches made on its second and third readings, 21, 25 Feb., when he apparently left without voting. He paired with Canning against the Catholic relief bill after hearing much of the debate, 1 Mar., and with Sir Thomas Mostyn, when out of town ‘on visitation’, 10 May. He thought Canning’s speech at its second reading, 21 Apr., ‘very brilliant’, and Peel’s reply ‘very able ... but in parts not so successful and free from heaviness as some of his former speeches’. He chose not to divide on the Durham railway bill, 4 Mar., and discouraged raising opposition in the Commons to the Irish church rates bill. He was at the privy council meetings that considered East India Company appeals, William Rough’s prosecution of the printer John Murray, the Jersey case, Guernsey regulations, and the duke of Buckingham’s application to become governor-general of India, but had to be excused attendance on 4 June because of illness.32 Opposing the St. Olave tithe bill, 6 June, he reminded the House that although the parish had offered to pay the present owner £1,800 a year, a successor would receive only £1,200. He thought privately that the measure was only carried that day by the accident of many opposition Members being present on account of the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill.33 He divided for the latter, 6, 10 June, having paired, 9 June, before going to the Mansion House dinner. He considered Dr. Lushington’s speech against inquiry into chancery delays, 7 June

mainly candid ... doing justice to the course the lord chancellor [Eldon] had pursued, yet ... engaging not to stretch for full investigation in order to remedy the evil by ascertaining what the cause of it was on the constitution or the administration of the court ... Brougham violent in his attack against persons giving the chancellor credit for suavity of manners in order to abuse him in every other respect.34

Before leaving on 7 July 1825 for Glamorgan, where his advice had been sought on the dispute generated by the appointment of a non-lawyer, William Bruce Knight, as chancellor of Llandaff, he excused himself from that day’s privy council meeting on the Douai College case, having submitted his ‘opinion that no compensation was necessary for British subjects’.35 He signed the petition for the Dyffryn Llynfi railway bill, which he later opposed

only upon the statement that on account of error in the former petition the time for presenting the petition would be lost and that it was neither to preclude me from opposing parts of the bill, nor make me responsible in any degree for the costs of soliciting the bill.36

Nicholl had retained a high profile at St. John’s College meetings;37 and on 24 Jan. 1826, when he was busy electioneering in Glamorgan, he received a letter from the dean Michael Marlow informing him of Heber’s intended resignation and urging him to declare his candidature immediately to ‘pacify or prevent opposition’.38 Being tempted to do so he consulted his son, Ailesbury, Casberd and Wintle, 25 Jan. He decided against offering when he realized that it was Heber’s intention to retire immediately without waiting for a dissolution; but he delayed until the evening of the 27th, when it was widely reported that he would be opposed by the solicitor-general Wetherell because Oxford would not take another Christ Church man, before informing Marlow of his decision.39 Writing on 28 Jan. to the dean of Christ Church, Peel observed, ‘Nicholl’s difficulty I apprehend arises from the certainty that if he vacated, he would never be returned again’ for Great Bedwyn.40 His decision, though widely accepted, posed a dilemma for the University, and he received further offers of support. His son and their friends joined Thomas Grimston Bucknall Estcourt’s* committee, 3 Feb.41 At the Speaker’s dinner on the 4th Nicholl sat next to Sir George Warrender* and Peel.42 His court was then considering the case of Dew v. Clarke and Clarke, on which his judgment on the will of the alleged lunatic Ely Stott established a precedent in case law.43 Country banks and their notes were a major issue in Glamorgan following the collapse of the Neath and Swansea banks, and Nicholl attended the Commons debates on small notes, 18, 25 Feb.44 Votes to receive the report on the president of the board of trade’s salary, 10 Apr., and against reforming the Edinburgh representation, 13 Apr., were the only ones reported for him that session, when the protracted Brinco and Westmeath divorce cases again took up his time.45 He retained his Bedwyn seat at the general election in June 1826, and was now asked to establish diocesan committees for the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, and drawn into the controversy surrounding the proposed Glamorgan turnpike.46

Nicholl heard Canning’s speech at the pre-session dinner, 20 Nov. 1826.47 When Goulburn sought his opinion on the movement to debar Irish prerogative court judges from private practice, 13 Jan. 1827, he drew parallels between their work and his own and stressed that he was only able to perform his duties as dean of the arches and of the peculiars, for which he received £50 a year, because he earned between £2,000 and £3,500 as a judge.48 He attended a private meeting, 19 Jan., and the debates on Catholic relief, 5, 6 Mar., when he divided against it. As an ‘immense majority against Mr. Whitmore’s motion’ to lower the pivot price of corn to 50s. was ‘not in doubt’, he came away before the division, 9 Mar.49 He spent much of the period of political uncertainty following Liverpool’s stroke on leave on urgent business. During Canning’s short-lived ministry, he saw the 1827 benefices registration bill, which had originated in the Lords, through the Commons at the archbishop of Canterbury’s request, and announced plans for more extensive legislation, 1 June.50 He wrote to Harrowby on the 19th complaining of slowness, ‘fatigue’ and ‘great labour’, and asked to be relieved ‘from the normal business of the privy council’, attending only when admiralty and ecclesiastical court cases were considered. Acquiescing, Harrowby added cases ‘from our Norman Isles’ to the list, ‘as you are now the only person who is at all conversant with their peculiar systems, and we shall be quite at sea without you’.51 Finding government ‘in nearly as great a state of embarrassment as when Mr. Canning was forming his administration’, Nicholl was keen to ‘discuss politics’ with Ailesbury in August 1827, following Canning’s death, and apparently concurred in his patron’s belief that the Whigs would resign and their ‘old friends’ be brought back in.52 Joseph Phillimore* subsequently blamed Nicholl for barring him from serving as king’s advocate in the Goderich ministry.53

A draft application among his papers indicates that Nicholl himself sought the post when the duke of Wellington, as the new premier, appointed his nephew Herbert Jenner at the duke of Clarence’s request in January 1828.54 He was listed in the government minority against repealing the Test Acts, 26 Feb., but wrote in his diary: ‘Came away before [the] division - motion carried by a majority of 44’. He paired against Catholic claims, 12 May. The 1828 benefices registration bill was placed ‘under his protection’, 24 June, but he failed to prevent its deferral.55 Hume was expected to present a petition of complaint on 15 July against the prerogative court of Canterbury and its judge Nicholl, who ‘came specially for the occasion’ and expressed annoyance at its deferral until the 17th, after his intended departure from London for the summer.56 The petition, with its list of vituperative charges of wrongdoing, nepotism and overcharging, was ostensibly from a disappointed suitor, the exciseman William Peddle, and dealt with the several judgements and costs awarded against him since 1821 in a case he had pursued in the interest of his wife, a beneficiary by one of two wills left by her godfather Evan Evans. Nicholl’s judgements of 13 Dec. 1821 and 1 July 1824 had favoured the rival claimant, and he had refused to hear Peddle’s recent complaints. In Nicholl’s absence, lawyers on both sides of the House spoke in his defence, among them Lushington, who bore ‘testimony to the unspotted purity of his judicial conduct’, Daniel Whittle Harvey, who stressed that his decisions had been confirmed on appeal by three common law judges, and the attorney-general Wetherell, who compared Nicholl ‘leaving his character behind him’ to Sir Peter Teazle in Sheridan’s comedy The School for Scandal.57 Congratulating Nicholl afterwards, one of his staunchest defenders, Richard Hart Davis, observed:

Nothing could have gone better than the debate of last night. The justification was so complete that even Harvey ... was bound to allow that there was not the slightest ground for imputing blame to you. In fine, the petition was not allowed to lie upon the table, and Hume was obliged to eat his words. If he had divided the House, he would not have had more than one, or at the most two, to support him. You did perfectly right to go into the country, first as showing no courtesy to ... [Hume], and lastly as giving your friends more liberty of speech than if you had been present.58

Lord Colchester and the new archbishop of Canterbury William Howley made similar remarks.59

Van Mildert, now bishop of Durham, was among the churchmen who looked to Nicholl to oppose Catholic relief when it was conceded by Wellington in 1829.60 Presenting the archdeacon and clergy of county Durham’s unfavourable petition, 12 Feb., he announced that his own views were unchanged, ‘but he could not join with some of those who had held the same sentiments in imparting blame and in charging a sort of apostasy’ to Peel. He added:

If he [Peel] could justify the change of course and produce such a measure as the gracious speech from the throne recommended, ‘a measure consistent with the full and permanent security of our establishment in church and state’, the present petitioners asked no more. He despaired of seeing such a measure; but he trusted that those who entertained the same opinions would calmly, but firmly watch the progress of the measures, and endeavour, as far as lay in their power, to preserve (as the petition prayed) the Protestant constitution inviolate.

He was ‘by no means convinced of the propriety of removing Mr. Peel from the representation of the University’, and reluctant to declare for his opponent Sir Robert Inglis* at the ensuing by-election.61 He presented and endorsed, at Ailesbury’s request, the mayor and corporation of Marlborough’s petitions against concessions, 27 Feb.62 and others from the archdeacons and clergy of London and Middlesex and the deaneries of Braughing, Dunmow, Harlow and Hedingham, 3 Mar. He divided against emancipation, 6, 18, 23, 30 Mar., as the patronage secretary Planta had predicted. Nicholl was included on the select committee that investigated the affairs of the Irish admiralty court and its absentee judge Sir Jonah Barrington, 7 Apr., and was summoned by lord chancellor Lyndhurst to a meeting of the privy council on the jurisdiction of the court at Bombay, 14 May.63 At the request of Peel and the church commissioners, he drafted and introduced a bill ‘to regulate the duties, salaries and emoluments of the officers, clerks and ministers of certain ecclesiastical courts in England’, which, after some delay, caused largely by poor attendance, received royal assent, 19 June.64 It had been approved by Lyndhurst and doctors’ commons and attracted support from both sides of the House; but Hume used it to launch a personal attack on Nicholl and the fee structure of his court, and Nicholl required assistance from Peel and Phillimore to fend off the challenge, 11, 12 May, 3 June.65 Dissatisfied with Nicholl’s assertions that fees had to be regulated by the archbishop of Canterbury and bishop of London, approved by the privy council, and printed in the London Gazette, Hume ordered further returns of emoluments, 5 June, including those in the Brinco case. Planta offered Nicholl ‘a vote out’, but it proved unnecessary.66 During the recess his daughter Katherine married Luxmore’s son Charles, the dean of St. Asaph, whom Nicholl had appointed to the living of Bridgend.67 The family’s joy was checked by Lady Nicholl’s death, 1 Dec. 1829.68

Nicholl did not vote on Lord Blandford’s reform schemes, 2 June 1829, 18 Feb. 1830, and apparently stayed away when the East Retford disfranchisement bill was considered, 11 Feb., 5, 15 Mar.; but he paired against the proposed enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. Consulted on 8 Apr. by Peel, prior to the concerted opposition attack over the Terceira ‘blunder’, he ruled that in law

the duty of a neutral government to prevent ‘fitting and equipping’ in a neutral port, by either belligerent, is strongly insisted upon, together with the right of stopping vessels so fitted and equipped from sailing; and if, I recollect, it is maintained that if such a vessel should get to sea, make a capture and bring it back into the neutral state, it would be the duty of the neutral to seize the captured vessel, and restore it to the owner. The fallacy of the argument in the Lords seemed to be the attempt to consider the turning away the vessel from Terceira as a separate transaction instead of keeping it connected with, and as a continuation of, the circumstances that had previously taken place in this country. For perhaps it must be admitted that out of those previous circumstances alone arose the right of preventing the vessels proceeding to that island.69

Nicholl did not speak, nor did he divide with opposition when their resolutions were defeated by 191-78, 28 Apr. He voted against introducing a two-year mandatory probation period before permitting licensing for on-consumption under the sale of beer bill, 1 July, and against a proposed reduction in judges’ salaries, 7 July 1830. Before the dissolution precipitated by the death of George IV, he was called on to discuss his political views afresh with Ailesbury, who had found it difficult to adjust to post-emancipation Toryism and anticipated opposition at Marlborough. He recalled that when first recommended to Bedwyn

the only stipulation required of me was that I should not go into a systematic opposition to the king’s government. This accorded with my own feelings and loyalty to the crown, founded on a strong conviction. In the times we were living our admirable constitution was exposed to more risk of being overbalanced by the increased weight of the democratic branch of it than by the influence of the crown. In this opinion I still remain and I believe your lordship does not differ. As a firm friend to the constitution both in church and state, I have always been decidedly opposed to Catholic emancipation and to parliamentary reform, but now Roman Catholic emancipation is carried it seems to me prudent to submit to the experiment with a good grace, and to make the best of things as they are, at least for the present.70

Following separate discussions with Ailesbury and Sir Henry Halford, Nicholl waited ‘unofficially’ on Wellington at Apsley House, 15 July, when it was understood that ‘the treasury neither excited nor approved the interference in the Marlborough election’. Nicholl had let it be known that he, and by implication Ailesbury, hoped ‘that by conciliatory steps, the Tories who had opposed the bill might be brought back to the support of the government’.71 He was not in the House when Estcourt defended him and the church commissioners from further criticism by Hume, 17 July 1830.

Returned again for Bedwyn, Nicholl apparently declined to propose Manners Sutton as Speaker in the new Parliament.72 He was naturally included among the Wellington ministry’s ‘friends’, and he divided with them when they were brought down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He kept his place under Lord Grey’s administration and was granted a fortnight’s leave, 23 Nov., following Katherine’s death in childbirth.73 The sentence of separation he passed in the Mytton case, 27 Nov., set a precedent by recognizing a wife’s right to divorce her husband for cruelty and adultery;74 and on 23 Dec. 1830 he delivered a further judgment in the Grindall case, in which he distinguished between the effects of temporary lunacy and the infirmities of old age in a testator.75 Fearing that reform ‘must be granted’, Ailesbury sought Nicholl’s ‘opinion as to the course most prudent for us to pursue on this occasion’ and asked him to take his second son to the debate on the ministerial measure, 1 Mar.76 It proposed taking a Member from Bedwyn, and Nicholl voted against it at its second reading, 22 Mar., and paired for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He was returned for Bedwyn at a cost of £300 at the ensuing general election and sought support for his son John in Glamorgan, where, backed by the ‘great absentee and Tory interests’, he had declared his candidature for the county’s proposed second seat.77 Nicholl voted against the reintroduced reform bill at its second reading, 6 July 1831. Though granted a month’s leave on urgent business, 16 Sept., he found time to vote against its passage, 21 Sept., and to congratulate Ailesbury on his vote and the bill’s rejection by the Lords.78 He divided against the revised bill at its second and third readings, 17 Dec. 1831, 22 Mar. 1832, and with opposition on the Russian-Dutch loan, 12 July. His son had withdrawn his candidature for Glamorgan, and instead was put forward by Bute and the Conservatives for the reformed Cardiff Boroughs constituency, which he represented, 1832-52.79 Having retired from the Commons at the 1832 dissolution, Nicholl was, as Dyneley predicted, ‘gratified’ to see John elected despite the high cost (over £2,000).80

Nicholl’s connections, experience and outstanding legal skills served him well. Despite his advancing years and increasing deafness, accusations of nepotism and the aspirations of younger men, he was made a judge of the admiralty court in 1833 and retained his influence in the church courts while the Liberals were in office.81 Where his judgments were later qualified, as in the Westmeath divorce case or Swift v. Kelly, they were invariably praised for showing ‘an intimate knowledge of the authorities, a capacity to state clearly the facts of a case, and an equal capacity to deduce from the authorities and to apply to the facts the relevant principles and rules of law’.82 He died in August 1838 at Merthyr Mawr and was buried in the parish church. The bishop of London, Charles Blomfield, one of many eminent churchmen and politicians to offer their condolences wrote:

He was the friend of nearly all the good and great; and I never heard of his having an enemy. If, as is probable, he was aware, even for a short time, of his approaching end, it must have been a consolation to him to reflect that the energies of his mind were employed in the service of his country and of the church up to the last.83

His will, dated 13 Sept. 1830, was proved under £140,000 and executed by his son, who inherited the estate in fee simple, with all household effects and portraits. He made bequests to his daughters and 15 grandchildren, and a trust fund administered by the judge William Adam† and the king’s proctor Iltyd Nicholl provided for his unmarried daughter Mary Anne (d. 1844).84

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


Draws on Nicholl’s papers among the privately held Merthyr Mawr mss, seen with the owner’s consent at Glam. RO. Nicholl’s diaries for 1816-28 and 1830-38 [F/2/1-21] are fullest for 1824-6. For his legal career see Sir W. Holdsworth, Hist. English Law, xiii. 691-6 and B. Hutton, ‘Sir John Nicholl’, Legal Wales: its past and its future ed. T.G. Watkin, 89-100.

  • 1. Gent. Mag. (1838), ii. 546-7; Cambrian, 1 Sept.; Glam. Mon. and Brecon Gazette and Merthyr Guardian, 1 Sept. 1838; HP Commons,1790-1820, ii. 500; iv. 667-9.
  • 2. Merthyr Mawr mss L/205/7.
  • 3. Nicholl diary, 30 Jan., 16 Feb. 1820.
  • 4. Merthyr Mawr mss CO/153/1-20; Nicholl diary, 5 Mar.-12 Apr.; NLW, Vivian mss A124; H.M. Williams, ‘Geographic Distribution of Pol. Opinion in Glam. Parl. Elections, 1820-1950’ (Univ. of Wales M.A. thesis, 1951), 21; Cambrian, 4, 11, 25 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Nicholl diary, 12-28 Apr. 1820.
  • 6. Ibid. 28 Apr.-9 June 1820; Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/7; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 477.
  • 7. Nicholl diary, 18 July-30 Oct. 1820.
  • 8. Ibid. 1 Nov.-14 Dec.; Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/7; L/209, Luxmore to Nicholl, 14 Oct. 1820.
  • 9. Nicholl diary, 20 Jan.-16 Feb. 1821.
  • 10. Merthyr Mawr mss L/209, Redesdale to Nicholl, 18 Apr. 1821.
  • 11. Ibid. L/204/5.
  • 12. Nicholl diary, 17 Apr.-10 May 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 329.
  • 13. Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/43, 44, 47; Wilts. RO, Ailesbury mss 9/35/109, Nicholl to Ailesbury, 14, 15, 20 Aug. 1821.
  • 14. Merthyr Mawr mss L/179, Marlow to Nicholl, 5 July; Althorp Letters, i. 115; Ailesbury mss 1300/5753; Add. 52011, Stuart Wortley to H.E. Fox, 25 July 1821.
  • 15. Add. 51659.
  • 16. Nicholl diary, 19 July-20 Aug.; Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/33, 45, 46; Ailesbury mss 9/35/109, Nicholl to Ailesbury, 14, 15, 20 Aug. 1821; TNA E197/1, p. 288.
  • 17. The Times, 27 Aug.; Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/45; Ailesbury mss 9/35/109, Nicholl to Ailesbury, 24, 25 Aug., Pleydell Bouverie to same, 24 Aug. 1821.
  • 18. Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/27, 26-33, 37, 38, 42; Nicholl diary, 25-27 Aug. 1821.
  • 19. Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/34-36, 40, 41; Ailesbury mss 9/35/109, Nicholl to Ailesbury, 1 Sept., 3 Nov.; Nicholl diary, 31 Oct.-4 Nov. 1821.
  • 20. Nicholl diary, 25 Sept.-11 Oct., 14-17 Dec.; Ailesbury mss 9/35/109, Nicholl to Ailesbury, 3 Nov. 1821.
  • 21. Nicholl diary, 4-16 Feb. 1822.
  • 22. Ibid. 30 Apr., 10 May 1822; Merthyr Mawr mss L/205/36, 37.
  • 23. The Times, 17 May, 6 June; Nicholl diary, 13 June 1822.
  • 24. Nicholl diary, 6 Apr.-31 Oct. 1822; Merthyr Mawr mss L/205/5.
  • 25. Nicholl diary, 8 Feb.-11 Mar. 1823; Merthyr Mawr mss F/51/4.
  • 26. CJ, lxxviii. 485.
  • 27. Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/15, 16; L/209, Van Mildert to Nicholl, 20 Sept. 1822; Nicholl diary, 11 July-31 Oct. 1823.
  • 28. Merthyr Mawr mss F/51/1, 5, 6.
  • 29. Ibid. L/205/7.
  • 30. Gent. Mag. (1824), i. 544; Merthyr Mawr mss L/205/17-20.
  • 31. Merthyr Mawr mss F/51/7; Nicholl diary, 18 Aug.-30 Sept. 1824.
  • 32. Nicholl diary, 2 Feb.-4 June; The Times, 21 Feb., 1 Mar.; TCD, Jebb mss 6396/226, Inglis to Jebb 15 June 1825.
  • 33. Nicholl diary, 6 June 1825.
  • 34. Ibid. 6-14 June 1825.
  • 35. Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/15-20; L/209, Nicholl to Harrowby, 6 July 1825.
  • 36. Cambrian, 29 Jan.; Nicholl diary, 16 Feb. 1825; E. Ball, ‘Glamorgan: A Study of the Co. and the Work of its Members, 1825-1835’ (Univ. of London Ph.D. thesis, 1965), 101.
  • 37. Nicholl diary, 18, 25 Apr. 1825.
  • 38. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 194, T. to J. Gladstone [Jan.]; Bodl. Hughenden Dep. D/I/D/171; Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/35, 37; Nicholl diary, 21-24 Jan. 1826.
  • 39. Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/21, 24-25; Nicholl diary, 24-27 Jan. 1826; Add. 40342, f. 297; 40385, ff. 109, 114; Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/138/12/3B.
  • 40. Add. 403432, f. 303.
  • 41. Ibid. f. 305; Add. 40385, ff. 132, 173; Nicholl diary, 29 Jan.-2 Feb. 1826; Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/22, 23, 26, 28, 30, 32, 36, 37.
  • 42. Nicholl diary, 4 Feb. 1826.
  • 43. The Times, 24 Jan., 3, 10 Feb. 1826; Report of Judgement Dew v. Clark and Clark ed. J. Haggard, passim.; Holdsworth, xiii. 692.
  • 44. Nicholl diary, 18, 25 Feb. 1826.
  • 45. The Times, 22 Apr. 16 June 1826.
  • 46. Merthyr Mawr mss F/52/3; L/205/9-12.; Nicholl diary, 2-10 Oct. 1826.
  • 47. Nicholl diary, 20 Nov. 1826.
  • 48. Merthyr Mawr mss L/209, Goulburn-Nicholl corresp. 13, 16 Jan. 1827.
  • 49. Nicholl diary, 19 Jan.-9 Mar. 1827.
  • 50. Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/22; CJ, lxxxii. 468, 473-4, 517, 558.
  • 51. Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/10-11.
  • 52. Ailesbury mss 9/35/109, Nicholl to Ailesbury, 31 Aug.; Merthyr Mawr mss L/209, Ailesbury to Nicholl, 4 Sept. 1827.
  • 53. Add. 51813, Phillimore to Holland, 18 Nov. 1830.
  • 54. Merthyr Mawr mss L/209, Nicholl to Peel, 25 Jan. 1828; Wellington mss WP1/915/62, 67.
  • 55. Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/23; CJ, lxxxiii. 537.
  • 56. CJ, lxxxiii. 541.
  • 57. The Times, 3 July 1824, 16-18 July 1828.
  • 58. Merthyr Mawr mss L/209, Hart Davis to Nicholl, 18 July 1828.
  • 59. Ibid. L/209, Colchester to Nicholl, 21 July 1828; L/205/29.
  • 60. Ibid. L/205/15; L/209, Luxmore to Nicholl, 8 Jan. 1829.
  • 61. Ibid. L/205/2.
  • 62. Ibid. L/205/40, 41; Bath Chron. 19 Mar. 1829.
  • 63. Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/8.
  • 64. CJ, lxxxiv. 291, 307, 311, 319, 326-7, 340, 344, 348, 372, 379-80, 389, 399.
  • 65. Wellington mss WP1/1034/1; Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/9.
  • 66. Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/9.
  • 67. Ibid. L/205/32, 42; L/206/2-5; Gent. Mag. (1829), ii. 270.
  • 68. Merthyr Mawr mss F/157; L/205/16, 33; Gent. Mag. (1829), ii. 648.
  • 69. Merthyr Mawr mss L/205/24.
  • 70. Ibid. L/184/2.
  • 71. Ibid. L/209, secret memo. 1830.
  • 72. Ibid. L/206/12.
  • 73. Gent Mag. (1830), ii. 571; Merthyr Mawr mss L/209, Manners Sutton to Nicholl, 6 Dec. 1830.
  • 74. The Times, 29 Nov. 1830.
  • 75. Report of Judgement in Case Grindall v. Grindall (1831), passim.
  • 76. Merthyr Mawr mss L/209, Ailesbury to Nicholl, 25 Feb. 1831.
  • 77. Vivian mss A344; The Times, 25 Apr.; Cambrian, 30 Apr.; Mon. Merlin, 14 May; Merthyr Mawr mss L/209, Ailesbury to Nicholl, 3 June 1831.
  • 78. Merthyr Mawr mss L/209, Ailesbury to Nicholl, 12 Oct. 1831.
  • 79. NLW, Bute mss L75/83; NLW, Penrice and Margam mss 9239, Talbot to Llewellyn, 26 June 1832; Merthyr Mawr mss F/52/21-27; F/55/15-18; Cardiff Pub. Lib. Bute estate letterbks. iii. 20-25, 43-48; The Times, 11, 22 Oct. 1832.
  • 80. Merthyr Mawr mss F/55/2; L/209, Dyneley to Nicholl, 10 Oct. 1832.
  • 81. Merthyr Mawr mss L/206/13; Add. 51813, Phillimore to Holland, 23 May 1833, 28, 30 Sept., 1 Oct. 1834, 11 Oct. 1837; Brougham mss, same to Brougham, 27 May 1833.
  • 82. Greville Mems. iii. 91, 209, 217, 376, 484; Holdsworth, xiii. 691.
  • 83. Merthyr Mawr mss F/58/1-17.
  • 84. PROB 11/1902/658; IR26/1495/721; Merthyr Mawr mss F/152, 155, 158/3; The Times, 19 Oct. 1838.