The Kuriheka Collection of British Medals

The Kuriheka Collection of British Medals

Colonel Joseph Cowie Nichols, C.B.E., V.D., J.P (1859 - 1954)

Colonel Joseph Cowie Nichols, known as 'Cowie Nichols' or to his family as 'the Colonel', was a gentleman farmer, community leader, public benefactor an a volunteer Army officer. In addition, he was one of the founding fathers, if not the father, of medal collecting in New Zealand.

He was born at Launceston, Tasmania, on 14 April 1859, the son of Charles Nichols and his wife, Mary, daughter of Robert Cowie. The family settled in New Zealand in 1869 and Cowie Nichols was educated at Otago Boys' High School, Dunedin (1872) and Christ's College, Christchurch (1877). Following the death of his father in 1578 the family moved to England where he was enrolled at Jesus College, Cambridge (1879-82) but he did not graduate. On returning to New Zealand he farmed at Riverton in Southland for two years (1882-4) before establishing, in 1885, the Kuriheka station, of some 23,700 acres, inland from Maheno, in North Otago. Stevan Eldred-Crigg in A Southern Gentry: New Zelanders who Inherited the Earth (1980) wrote 'Colonel Joseph Cowie Nichols during 1903 bought a 1,240 acre farm in Southland. In the next eighteen months he bought out four local farmers, acquired several thousand acres of grazing land and then, in 1905, rounded it off by buying out another cockatoo. The result by the end of 1905 was that he had established the Fairplace estate, of 18,700 acres.' He was active in farming and local organisations and was a Justice of the Peace.

Nichols developed an interest in military matters as a member of the Otago Boys' High Cadets and for his excellence between 1874 and 1876 was awarded the Sir John Richardson Medal. During 1878-9 he was a member of B Battery (Dunedin), New Zealand Field Artillery Volunteers. In 1886 Nichols was appointed a Lieutenant in the North Otago Hussars. He was promoted to Captain in 1897 and posted to the North Otago Mounted Rifles. In 1900 he was on the selection committee for the 4th New Zealand Contingent to be dispatched to the war in South Africa. During the 1901 visit to New Zealand of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary), Nichols commanded the Duke's Escort. In 1902 he was promoted Major, and shortly afterwards Lieutenant Colonel, with command of the 1st Regiment of the Otago Mounted Rifles. He was given command of the Otago Mounted Rifles Brigade and promoted Colonel in 1911, holding this appointment until 1919. In addition, from 1914 to 1919 he was Commanding Officer of the Otago Military District. From 1913 to 1920 Nichols was an Honorary Aide-de-Camp to the Governor, later Governor-General, of New Zealand, the Earl of Liverpool. In 1920 he was posted to the retired list with permission to retain his rank and wear a uniform.