Answers to Questions


NICHOLL, Watford, 1790-1851

July, 2009




Patrick Campbell (pacam @t writes: My brother, a historian living in Scotland, asked me to find a memorial to Capt. Thomas Nicholl who was killed in action in 1842, particularly with a view to finding more details of his family. Patrick has visited the church to see what memorials survive and wants to know how to find out more. Further Information provided:

Captain Thomas NICHOLL - 1st Troop, 1st Brigade, Bengal Horse Artillery - Aged 46. Son of Thomas and Harriot, of Watford. Killed in action in the Jagdalak Pass 12th January 1842. The picture below is in a private collection. On the reverse is written "Portrait of Lady Wade's father, Captain Thomas Nicholl of the I Troop 1st Bengal Horse Artillery who fell in the performance of his duty during the famous retreat from Cabul in 1842. He was last seen (by some native followers who escaped) defending the queens flag (the guns having been forced) was cut down with all the Troop to a man. One of the guns was discovered and brought back to England after the campaign in 1879 and is at Woolwich. A monument in the shape of a very tall column was erected at Dum Dum by the regiment."

Memorial at St. Marys Church, Watford, Herts. - "Sacred to the memory of Captain Thomas Nicholl Bengal Horse Artillery Killed in action at Jugdulluk Afghanistan January 13th 1842 aged 45 years. Most sincerely beloved and lamented by his numerous family and friends. This monument is erected by his afflicted widow."

I do not normally answer such open questions, but in view of the recent British casualties in Afghanistan, the answer to your question provides a good opportunity to demonstrate the range of sources available for such queries, both online and in Hertfordshire. Standard genealogy tools mentioned below, many of which are online, are described in the tutorial.

The memorial in the church is recorded by Cussans in his History of Hertfordshire, the Cashio volume of which was published in 1881. There is no indexed mention of the Watford family in the Victoria County History for Hertfordshire (available online) or in Nunn's The Book of Watford. Copies of these books, and many others relating to Watford and Hertfordshire, are available in the Watford Central Library and at HALS at Hertford.

I started by looking for the Nicholl family in Watford in the 1851 census using Ancestry (available free in any Hertfordshire Library). I found this family living in the  High Street, Watford:

Harriet Nicholl Head Widow 79 Independent [Means] London, Strand  
Susannah Nicholl Daughter Unmarried 57   Herts, Watford Blind
Anna Nicholl Daughter Unmarried 46   Herts, Watford  
Emily Shipton Nicholl Daughter Unmarried 44   Herts, Watford Blind
Eliza Evans Servant Unmarried 24 House Servant Middlesex, Pinner  
Susannah Lane Servant Unmarried 21 House Servant Herts, Watford  

It seems reasonable to assume that Harriet Nicholl is Captain Thomas Nicholl's mother, that Susannah, Anna, and Emily are his sisters, and he was almost certainly born in Watford, as were his sisters.

The online familysearch  facility quickly shows that Thomas Nicholl, son of Thomas and Harriot, was baptised at St Mary's, Watford, on 4th November 1796. and by using the given batch number (C07051) which refers to the St Mary's register between 1539 and 1809 I found the following siblings (to 1809):

Susannah   07 AUG 1793
Thomas   04 NOV 1796
Jane   26 JUN 1799
Elizabeth   23 SEP 1801
Anna   20 JUL 1804
Emily Shipton   16 SEP 1806
William   08 SEP 1808

Familysearch also shows that Thomas Nicholl married Harriot Blackwell at St Mary's Watford on 26th March 1791. Further information is available from the registers (baptisms, marriages and burials) available on microfilm at HALS, at Watford Central Library, and probably at the Society of Genealogists Library in London, and by request at your nearest LDS Family History Centre (address online at familysearch).

FreeBMD online records that a Thomas Nicholl's death was registered at Watford in the April to June quarter of 1847 (reference Watford 6 446) and purchase of the certificate should confirm if it is Harriot's husband and provide some further information. The burial register (available on microfilm as mentioned above) could record the burial if he was buried at St Mary's, and a digital index is available on CD from the Hertfordshire Family History Society. [Note that further research, below, confirms the death and burial.]

Someone of Thomas's status would undoubtedly have had a reasonably impressive memorial in the churchyard but it is clear from a visit to St Mary's that few such memorials remain. Fortunately Cussans in his History of Hertfordshire records the more significant graveyard memorials (for many churches he does not):

Thomas Nicholl, Gent., late of this parish, departed this life 19th May, 1780, aged 53. Joseph Axell Nicholl, youngest son of the above, Lieutenant of H.H. Ship Bellerophon, died 21st May, 1800, aged 21. Mary Axtell Nicholl, widow of the above Thomas Nicholl, died 10th October, 1814, in the 81st year of her age. Mrs. Mary Nicholl, daughter of the above, died 1st December, 1844, aged 81. Lieut-Col. William Nicholl, formerly of the H.E.I.C. [Honourable East India Company] Service, dies April 15th, 1846, aged 81.

Sarah, daughter of Mr. Thomas Nicholl and Susannah, his wife, died 9th September, 1777, aged 19. Ann Nicholl, their daughter, died 8th October, 1825, aged 54.

Thomas Nicholl, Esq., died 19th June, 1847, in the 86th year of his age.

Sarah, daughter of Thomas and Harriot Nichol, died 1st March, 1817, aged 2 years and 7 months, Elizabeth, died 25th August, 1830, aged 30.

In the early 20th century Gerrish recorded many memorials (name, date and age only in most cases) for many Hertfordshire parishes - but I doubt that this would give more than Cussans. HALS has the list and microfilms are available - including at the Society of Genealogists. In recent years the Hertfordshire Family History Society have produced excellent memorial indexes of legible surviving memorials in Hertfordshire churchyards. (For technical reasons I could not check their web site to see if they have indexed St Mary's. If they have the booklet may also included Gerrish's information where the stones are now missing.)

In fact the National Archives online search confirms that the 1847 death was almost certainly the right Thomas - as one of the documents you can purchase is the will of Thomas Nicholl, Gentleman of Watford, dated 1847. A will like this can be a very valuable source of information. (It is worth noting that a search for "Thomas Nicholl Watford" produced over 200 references, including three earlier Thomas Nicholl wills. I did not attempt to check the list but at a quick glance several of the references undoubtedly refer to Thomas, father of Captain Thomas Nicholl. )

A search of Trade Directories (only some available online - but Watford Central Library contains a good collection) showed Thomas Nicholl(s) as an Attorney in Watford in circa 1797, 1823, 1828/9 and 1839. Thomas Nicholl, Esq., of the High Street, Watford, is listed under "Gentry" in 1846 as is Mrs Nicholl, of the High Street, Watford, in 1851. In 1866 The Misses Nichol were living at 1 Martindale Terrace, St Albans Road, Watford - so you should be able to find them in the 1861 and possibly 1871 censuses.


The above represent the record of a two hour search (plus another two hours formatting the results and adding links, etc) and shows what can be achieved when researching a well-to-do family using online services and documents available on the open shelves of the local library.

One area I have not even started to research is Captain Thomas Nicholl's marriage, his wife and his children, of whom Lady Wade was one, as these are almost certainly outside Hertfordshire, including military records, which I do not cover.  Your best starting point for this would be to purchase Thomas Nicholl's will (1847). However there is a very valuable source if you are prepared to travel to the British Library in London. The top item in the National Archive search for "Captain Thomas Nicholl is an entry reading "Letters from Captain Thomas Nicholl (1796-1842), Bengal Artillery 1816-42, written mostly while in camp to his children, Thomas and Ellen, in Calcutta." Another entry revealed by the National Archive search reads "Papers of and relating to Capt Thomas Nicholl (1796-1842), Bengal Artillery 1816-42, and his son General Thomas Nicholl (1831-1903), Bengal (later Royal) Artillery 1849-97, including references to the British retreat from Kabul 1842, and the Indian Mutiny; Date range: 1840 - 1895." and there may be even more goodies. In addition you can expect General Thomas Nicholl to be listed in Who Was Who.

August 2009

In reply Patric added: The Afghanistan connection is certainly a grim reminder that, as Wellington said  "It is easy getting into Afghanistan: the problem is in getting out again". Thomas Nicholl's eldest daughter Jane Selina became the ward and later wife of the much older Sir Claude Wade, and their son was my Wade grandmother's father.

Page created July 2009, updated August 2009