According to early research, John Nichols was born in 1755, but more recent research strongly suggests he was born in 1760. Our record of the life of John Nichols begins on the 21 April 1784 when he was brought to trial at the Old Bailey, London.
John worked as a servant and porter's assistant with West and Thomas, Wholesale Perfumers of 46 Gracechurch St, London. On 21 April 1784 he was brought to trial for stealing a large quantity of goods, including 57 razors, 12 pairs of scissors, 22 boxes of soap and looking glass, together with ribbon, combs, human hair, powder and powder puffs to the value of fifteen pounds and sixpence. These were traced through Worcester Town Hall to his lodgings in Herefordshire. John was brought to trial at the Old Bailey. He claimed he had bought the goods at various places but was convicted and sentenced to seven years transportation to Africa. During his trial it was stated that it was believed he had a wife in Leominster, Herefordshire. His transportation destination was later changed to Botany Bay after an experimental transportation of convicts to Cape Coast Castle, West Africa failed.
After spending almost three years on the prison hulk Censor, John was transported to Portsmouth on 24th February 1787 to embark on the transport ship Scarborough with 207 other convicts. The Scarborough was the second largest of the first fleet ships, at 111 feet (35 metres) long and 30 feet (10 metres) wide. Because of delays the convicts spent three months below decks in irons. On Sunday 13 May 1787 the eleven ships of the first fleet departed on their historic voyage. Captain Phillip ordered that the convicts were to be freed of their chains and be allowed fresh air and exercise.
The Supply arrived at Botany Bay at 2.15 on the afternoon of Friday 18th January 1788 and the remainder of the fleet at anchor on the 20th. Phillip was disappointed with Botany Bay and after finding Port Jackson and decided on Sydney Cove as a landing site. The transfer to Sydney Cove was completed on 26 January 1788. On 24 March 1788 John married Mary Carroll a former mantua maker who had been convicted at the Old Bailey in 1786 for stealing goods to the value of fifteen shillings from Charles Dobson. Mary was 36 at the time and was married to James Carroll. Mary was separated from John when she was transported to Norfolk Island on the 2nd of October 1788 along with other convicts in an attempt to relieve the plight of the colony caused by food shortages.
By the end of April 1791 had John completed his sentence and was one of the few expiries who chose to take up the offer of a grant of land and become a settler. John received the twentieth land grant in the colony. On the 18th of July 1791 John and twelve others took possession of their allotments of land at Prospect Hill. Captain Tench visited on 5th December 1791, and described John as a former gardener who had two of his acres cultivated. Tench commented that "All the settlers complain sadly of being frequently robbed by the runaway convicts who plunder them incessantly." John was a victim of runaway soldiers in August 1793, who entered his house, holding him prisoner with a convict hedgehopper while they hid there overnight. The original grants were spaced apart, which gave the natives cover when carrying out their attacks. To counter this Phillip decided to settle the vacant land, which gave John an extra 30 acres.
On 26th July 1794 Mary Carol left Norfolk Island for Sydney. There is no evidence that John and Mary got back together, in fact Mary received a land grant at Mulgrave Hill, some distance from Prospect.
By 1798 John was one of only six original Prospect settlers remaining. At about this time he became a constable. The 1800 muster shows John as having 40 acres sown with wheat, 12 acres planted with maize, 110 sheep 28 pigs and 1 horse.
Two years later he had 44 acres of wheat and maize sown or ready for planting. He owned a horse and 34 hogs but no sheep were recorded. A successful farmer with 16 bushels of wheat and 50 of maize in hand he supported a woman, one child, six free men and two convicts.
Ann Pugh arrive on the Earl Cornwallis on 12th June 1801 along with 297 other convicts. Ann had been tried on 16th July 1799 at the Hereford Summer Assizes for stealing goods to the value of two pounds twelve shillings and two pence. She was sentenced to seven years transportation. (Read a transcript of Ann's trial) Ann was either assigned or chosen by John and by 1802 was living with him at Prospect. John and Ann's first child, John, was born about the middle of 1802. The 1802 muster shows John as supporting one woman and one child with no assistance from the government store. In March 1803 John was the Chief Constable of Prospect Hill.
Ann, the second child of John and Ann was born 22nd of May 1803 and was amongst the first to be baptised in the new St. Johns Church at Parramatta. With the death of Mary Carroll, and burial on 8th June 1803, John was free to marry Ann. On 25th August 1803 the Reverend Samuel Marsden married John and Ann Pugh at St. Johns Church. John and Ann's third child, Charles, was born on 22nd July 1804 and baptised at St. Johns Church on 12th August 1804.
On the 11th of August 1804 John Nichols, James Cleaver and William Kentwell were appointed the trustees of Prospect Common. The Common covered most of what is now Blacktown and was disposed in 1810 after the arrival of Governor Macquarie.
John and Ann's fourth child, Sophia was born on 10th March 1806 but was not baptised until 24th April 1808 at St Johns Church. In 1806 John held 59 acres by purchase, 53 fallow and 6 in grain, holding three bushels in hand. He was himself victualled from stores, but his wife and four children were not nor were the two convicts and one free man he employed. John and Ann's fifth child, Mary was born on the 2nd of April 1808 but died the next day and was buried at St Johns Church. Their sixth child Martha was born about 1809, but there is no record of her baptism. Amelia, their seventh child was born on 26th February 1811 and baptised at St. John's Church on the 17th of March. Susannah, the eighth child of John and Ann was born on the 18th of January 1814 and baptised on the 20th February at St. John's Church. The 1814 muster recorded that John was a landholder and his wife Ann and their seven children were recorded as being supported with no assistance from the government store.
John made a decision to leave the district and advertised his original grant for sale in the Sydney Gazette on the 24th of December 1814. To whom and when this land was sold is not known but on the 13th of March 1815 John sold a 60 acre property at Prospect to Patrick Downey.
A muster in 1819 lists John as a labourer. His fortunes appear to have changed dramatically since leaving Prospect. John and Ann's eleventh child, Eliza was born on the 8th of June 1819 and she was baptised on the 14th of September at St. Philips Sydney.
John applied for a grant of land in June 1820 and was granted land in the County of Cumberland, Parish of St. George. The 1822 muster shows John as holding 80 acres in the district of Sydney. Sarah, John and Ann's twelfth child was born about April 1822.
On 25th December 1822 John died and after a burial service at St. Philip's Sydney was buried at the Devonshire St Cemetery, the present site of the central railway station. His headstone read " Sacred to the memory of John Nicholds who departed this life 24th December 1822 aged 67 years."
Ann was left to care for her eleven children, six of whom were younger than twelve. Sophia was John and Ann's first child to marry, on 24th of February 1823. Her eldest daughter was born on the 14th of February 1824, the first of at least 66 grand children born in Ann's lifetime. Ann passed away on 10th July 1849 at Phillip St Sydney aged 75 years, having survived John by 27 years. She was buried at St. Stephen's churchyard, Camperdown.