Nixon was a cartoonist, sketcher, etcher, journalist and surveyor, born in England. Appointed an assistant surveyor for South Australia in 1837, he arrived at Port Adelaide on 15th May 1838 and took up his duties in the Surveyor-General’s Office the following month. The appointment was brief. In a disagreement with Deputy-Surveyor George Kingston separate from that which saw most of the surveying staff resign, Nixon relinquished his post on 18 July 1838. Subsequently reinstated on 17 October 1838, he was appointed surveyor with the assurance of fieldwork, the issue over which he had resigned. On 16 March 1841 he became superintendent of emigrant working parties.
Nixon remained with the government for the rest of his time in Adelaide, applying to join the local police force in November 1845. He purchased land in 1841-45 on which in 1843 he constructed the second windmill in South Australia. Then, on 10 May 1846, Nixon and a ‘female friend’ slipped quietly out of Adelaide in the Roseanna, bound for Mauritius. He published Sketches in Mauritius in 1848 and for about ten years (1850-60) worked there as a surveyor. In March 1853, when was said to be aged thirty-six, he was appointed guardian of woods and forest. According to records in Mauritius, he died in 1860 while absent on leave.
While in South Australia he contributed articles to local newspapers and magazines and was a friend of the influential citizen and art patron Thomas Wilson. A staunch opponent of convictism. Nixon was known as a draughtsman in Adelaide, but he had had to teach himself etching techniques and skills. When the South Australian of 21 February 1845 noted the publication of his Views on Adelaide and its Vicinity (Adelaide 1845), it commented: ‘As Mr Nixon is self-taught in his art and had to manufacture all his machinery for preparing and pressing his etchings, he deserves the greatest credit for his industry, perseverance and skill’.
The twelve views, which cost one guinea and included plates such as The South Australia Company’s Mill on the Torrens and Port Adelaide in 1845, Mount Lofty in the Distance , were initially favourably received. The South Australian felt the etchings to be superior works of art which ‘accurately as well as pleasingly depict the scenes which they represent’. The South Australian Register of 28 January 1845 noted, however, that ‘although not equal to what might be brought out in London, they are very creditable colonial productions’. However, he was injudicious in his comments on George French Angas ‘ exhibition, held in Adelaide on 17 June 1845, writing that Angas’ watercolours were ‘essentially limited’. He thought it a pity that ‘another artist of less celebrity but real talent’, S.T. Gill , had not undertaken the landscapes for the publication South Australia Illustrated . The next day the South Australian Register strongly rebuked him: ‘Mr N.F.R. is known to be Mr F.R. Nixon who some time ago practised a gross imposition on the colonists by the publication of twelve views around Adelaide at a guinea, which were not intrinsically worth a farthing’.
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