John Nicol was born in Scotland in 1755, and first went to sea in 1776. He served in the American War of Independence, and later sailed to Greenland, the West Indies, the South Pacific, China and the colony of New South Wales.
He lived with the convict Sarah Whitlam in Port Jackson in 1790 after their son was born on the voyage to Australia. Later he served in the French Revolutionary Wars in Egypt and the Mediterranean, until he settled in Scotland in 1801.
He died in 1825.