Frank Villeneuve Nicholson
- 41Wallaby Number
Frank Nicholson had a relatively short career, though he played 13 games for Queensland from 1900 to 1904. All but two of these were against NSW. His career was interrupted by his enlistment in the Boer War, as happened with other rugby-playing Queenslanders like Sine Boland, Arthur Corfe, Bill Galloway and Bill Hodgkinson. Queensland rugby was very strong prior to and during Nicholson’s hey-day, much of this due to the influence of intentional Harry Speakman, who migrated to Australia after playing on the 1888 British tour, and the Maori brothers Billy and Fred Warbrick, who excelled on the field and in the coaching ranks in Queensland.
Then there was also the footballing legacy of such as Bob McCowan, ‘Poley’ Evans, ‘Doey’ Tanner, ‘Paddy’ Carew, Sine Boland, and ‘Ginger’ and ‘Puddin’ Colton. Nicholson’s major break-through at the top level came in 1903 with the visit of the New Zealand team, which many claim as the finest team ever to leave its shores. Led by veteran Jimmy Duncan, there were outstanding players like Billy Wallace, Opai Asher, Dick McGregor, Dave Gallagher, Billy Stead and George Nicholson. They played 10 matches and won all of them. Frank Nicholson’s first jaunt into the big-time was at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground for Queensland on 1 August 1903 against this super-charged New Zealand team. He was not the captain, Lew Dixon was, but there were fine players on his side like ex-New Zealander Charlie Redwood, Doug McLean, Mick Dore, Austin Gralton, Charters Towers’ Billy Richards and Allan (‘Butcher’) Oxlade. Oxlade’s nickname came about as his fans thought he cut up his opponents. Queensland was over-run by New Zealand to the tune of 17-0.
Nicholson played in the second Queensland game as well, the locals going down by an even greater score, 28-0. Queensland did not manage a single point against the rampaging tourists. Nicholson’s efforts were rewarded, however, as he and four other Queenslanders – Charlie Redwood, Lew Evans, Austin Gralton and Sine Boland – were selected to play in the first Test in Sydney. Australia was trounced by 22 to 3. In 1904 Frank Nicholson became the second captain of Australia to come from Brisbane Grammar School, and the first Queenslander to captain his country in a Sydney Test. He had captained Queensland in the inter-State series, Queensland winning the second encounter by 11 to 7.
His brother Fred scored a try in that game, and three weeks after his brother Frank captained Australia, Fred made the Test team for his sole Test. Queensland had seven Test spots in the first Test against ‘Darkie’ Bedell-Sivright’s British Lions: Charlie Redwood, Jack Hindmarsh, Lew Evans, Edgie Dore, Frank Nicholson, Billy Richards and Tom Colton. Frank was elected captain ahead of Stan Wickham. Australia was downed by 17-0. Frank Nicholson went to New Zealand with Australia’s 1905 team, but he did not play a single game, presumably suffering an injury. So his Test captaincy in 1904 was his last big-time match. He then departed Australian shores, going to Philadelphia to study dentistry. On his return, in 1911 he became both a Queensland selector and its coach.
Frank Villeneuve Nicholson was born on 15 October 1878 at Villeneuve, on the Stanley River near Kilcoy, north of Brisbane. He was the fifth child of Frank Villeneuve (1843-1898) and Saranna (née North) (1852-1933) Nicholson. Frank Snr. established the settlement of Villeneuve from about 1877, erecting a sawmill, post office, school, store and houses for his workers. He also operated a timber depot in Countess Street, Brisbane, from 1888 to 1895, and served as a councillor on the Caboolture Divisional Board from 1888 to 1890. Frank Snr. and Saranna had 10 children, including Frank and his younger brother Fred Nicholson.
Young Frank attended Brisbane Grammar School from 1891 to 1893 after a stint at Mr Marks’ School in Brisbane. When his father died in 1898, Frank and his two brothers ran a dairy on paddocks adjacent to their mother’s house at Herston in Brisbane to supplement family income. A “tough, determined forward”, Frank played rugby for the Toombul-Nundah and the Valley Electorate clubs. He represented Queensland from 1900 to 1905, and was named to the “Gallery of Great Players” on the occasion of Queensland Rugby Union’s jubilee in 1932 for representing the State on more than 10 occasions. Frank’s total was 13 matches: 11 against NSW and two against New Zealand. He was the captain in two of those 13 games. Internationally, Frank played in two Tests: in 1903 against New Zealand in Sydney and in 1904 as captain, again in Sydney, in the first of two Tests against Great Britain.
He was only the second Queensland player to captain Australia in a Test match, after Bob McCowan in 1899, and was one of several boys from Brisbane Grammar School to have captained Australia: others included Tommy Lawton, Bob McCowan, ‘Chilla’ Wilson and Keith Winning. Frank also toured New Zealand in 1905 with the Australian team, but in fact did not play a game. Frank’s rugby career was interrupted from May to August 1902 when he served in the Boer War as Captain in the 7th Battalion Australian Commonwealth Horse (Queensland) and as the paymaster for the 5th and 7th Battalions. He trained as a dentist in North America, supported financially by his mother from meagre family savings, and practiced initially from a surgery in Edward Street, Brisbane, and later in Sydney. He married Beatrice (Beryl) Black in Sydney on 11 January 1911, with whom he had two sons, Frank (Bill) Villeneuve (b. 1911) and John Villeneuve (b. 1914). Frank died in Sydney in 1972, aged 94, one of Australia’s longest-lived players.