NICHOLSON, William (1816-1865)


NICHOLSON, William (1816-1865)
"father of the ballot"
the son of a Cumberland farmer, was born on 27 February 1816 (Aust. Ency.). He arrived in Melbourne in 1842 and began business as a grocer. He improved his position and eventually became head of a well-known firm of merchants, W. Nicholson and Company. In 1848 Nicholson was elected to the city council and was mayor in 1850-1. In 1852 he was elected a member of the legislative council for North Bourke. During the 1853-4 session he was on the committee which drew up the constitution for Victoria, and on 18 December 1855 he moved and carried a motion that any new electoral act "should provide for electors recording their votes by secret ballot". This had been opposed by the government and Haines (q.v.) accordingly resigned. Nicholson was sent for by the governor but found himself unable to form a ministry and returned his commission. Haines became premier again but agreed to leave the ballot an open question for his supporters. Nicholson succeeded in carrying clauses which provided that each voter would be given a list of the candidates, and that he should strike out the names of those for whom he did not wish to vote. He visited England in 1856 and was banqueted and congratulated on his work in bringing in the ballot, a most valuable advance in democratic government. He returned to Melbourne in 1858, in 1859 re-entered the legislative assembly, and in the same year was elected chairman of the chamber of commerce. In October 1859 the O'Shanassy (q.v.) government was defeated and Nicholson became premier and chief secretary. His ministry lasted about 13 months, and much time was spent in a conflict with the legislative council over a land bill. The act was eventually passed, but it had been so amended as to become practically useless. Nicholson was never in office again. He had a severe illness in January 1864, and never fully recovering died on 10 March 1865. He was survived by his wife and several children.
Nicholson died before he was 50. He was a sound business man of unquestioned integrity who, if he had kept his health, would probably have had a long career of useful public service. His special claim to remembrance is his bringing in of the secret ballot in Victoria, an innovation which speedily spread to other colonies and countries. For a full discussion of the origin of the secret ballot and the help given by H. S. Chapman (q.v.) to Nicholson, see Sir Ernest Scott's papers on "The History of the Victorian Ballot" in the Victorian Historical Magazine, November 1920 and May 1921.
The Argus, Melbourne, 10 March 1865; The Age, Melbourne, 11 March 1865; H. G. Turner, A History of the Colony of Victoria.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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