Mr William Nicholson MLC

How £500 and one determined man changed Victoria’s agricultural path

The Port Phillip Farmers Society, the genesis of the Royal Agricultural Society of Victoria, has William Nicholson MLC to thank for its first recognition by the Australian Government. 

Nicholson (February 27, 1816 – March 10, 1865) was born in England and arrived in Melbourne in 1842, where he developed a passion for building agricultural societies from their inception and became an office bearer of many. 

The Port Phillip Farmers' Society was formed on 10 August 1848 with the aim to encourage a ‘spirit of emulation’ amongst agriculturalists and farm servants. Annual prizes for the growers of the best grain and agricultural stock were on offer. 

William Nicholson MLC was elected as vice-president of the Society, and in the Legislative Council on 9 March 1855, he moved pursuant to notice that £500 be placed on the estimates ‘to be given in aid of the funds of the Port Phillip Farmers’ Society'. Nicholson was successful. 

On March 23, His Excellency the Lieutenant-Governor approved the request, and the Legislative Council was advised. This was the first official recognition by the government of the Port Phillip Farmers’ Society as playing a leading role in developing agriculture in the colony. 

Sadly, Nicholson became severely ill in 1863 and died in January 1863, just two weeks after his 49th birthday. 

A well-respected man with an active political life, The Age newspaper described a procession that grew in size en route to the funeral. 

What started as a hearse drawn by four horses and five mourning coaches, turned into 70 carriages by Swanston Street. 

Parliament House was shut, the flag at the town hall was at half mast and almost every business in Swanston, Collins and Bourke Street closed to farewell the man who left an indelible mark on agriculture and politics in Victoria. 

Pictured: William Nicholson (circa 1865) was responsible for gaining the first official government recognition of the Port Phillip Farmers’ Society in 1855.  Credit: State Library of Victoria, H29555.