professional photographer, was born in Guernsey (UK) on 28 February 1837, one of the seven children of Nicholas John Caire, an agricultural labourer, and Hannah, née Cochrane. The rest of the family arrived at Adelaide in the Bee on 10 October 1858 and Nicholas John junior is presumed to have accompanied them despite not being listed on the shipping register, perhaps because of confusion resulting from having the same name as his father. After a short period as a hairdresser, the younger Nicholas began working in the studio of Townsend Duryea , the flamboyant North American photographer of 55 King William Street.
Travelling in Gippsland, Victoria, in 1865 Caire took many portraits of Aboriginal people and landscape photographs. By December 1866 he had his own studio at 97 Hindley Street, Adelaide (in premises formerly occupied by George Freeman ), where he concentrated on the professional photographer’s stock-in-trade, carte-de-visite and cabinet portrait work, although advertising 'all descriptions of photographic work … at English prices’. He moved to the more lucrative Victorian gold-mining towns of Bendigo and Talbot in about 1869, where he specialised in wet-plate scenic views. In 1876 he purchased Thomas Chuck 's business in the Royal Arcade, Bourke Street, Melbourne, and his view trade flourished. He became manager of the (Anglo) Australasian Photo Company about 1878, specialising in mounted and bound albums of Victorian views. For a short time (c.1879-80) he occupied A.J. Davis 's former studio, the British Portrait Rooms at 139 Bourke Street East, then returned to the Royal Arcade.
Caire exhibited at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition, the 1880-81 Melbourne International and the 1883-84 Calcutta International (where he was awarded a silver medal for his photographs of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens). In 1884, with the advent of the dry plate, he relinquished his studio in the Royal Arcade and began working from his home, still taking landscape photographs. From 135 Toorak Road, South Yarra, he exhibited at the Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition of 1888-89 and won a Jury prize, 1st order of merit (Photographic proofs and apparatus) for his photographs. He frequently worked alongside his great friend and colleague, J.W. Lindt . From 1899 he was listed as a professional photographer at Pakenham, Victoria.
After a recurrent stomach illness was cured by a program of diet and exercise prescribed by a new health movement whose teachings were publicised in a regular journal, Life & Health , Caire became a convert. In particular, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the movement’s crusade for fresh air, physical exercise and unadulterated foods (as opposed to the Victorian love of patent medicines, restrictive clothing and over-eating). Turning his photography into an ideological weapon in which he trumpeted the health-giving properties of life in the open air away from the smoggy confines of the industrialised cities, he published regularly in Life & Health . His photographs were often captioned with moral exhortations: an illustration of men and boys gathering wattle (1911) is captioned 'Wattle-gathering is a good stimulant to appetite’, while a 1913 view of the Avon River, Christchurch (NZ), notes 'Fresh air is one of Nature’s Remedies’. Caire’s belief in the medicinal as well as aesthetic values of life in the bush came at a time when the Victorian countryside was being opened up for the weekend tripper by an increasing network of railways. As well as eulogising the beauties of Healesville and Black Spur, he lamented the passing of the great forests of Gippsland, popularised the mountain resorts around Mount Buffalo, and opened up the remote beauties of Cape Otway to the bushwalker. He was one of the first photographers to create literary and narrative photographs about the lives of pioneers, giving them titles such as The Sick Stockrider and Sunday at the Splitter’s Hut . His best-known works include: Fairy Scene at the Landslip, Black’s Spur, Victoria (1878), a fern scene included in the album Colonies assembled in the 1890s; A Fallen Monarch (axemen sitting on a giant felled tree in Gippsland); Mrs Kirkwood’s Gully , with a visitor reading among the Dandenong ferns; and Down on His Luck (c. 1883, La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Vic) – a photograph that may well have influenced Frederick McCubbin’s 1889 painting of the same title and subject (a swagman in the bush).
Caire married Louisa Masters in 1870; they had five children. A lively, likeable man, he was fluent in French, widely read and took a great interest in music and astronomy. More interested in indulging his enthusiasm for photography than in making money, he had little business sense and did not enjoy the income that was then the lot of many successful dry-plate photographers. He died in March 1918, leaving his two cameras to his daughter, Edith Florence Caire. Few of his negatives survive, many having been destroyed by Caire himself during the First World War when a shortage of imported supplies forced him to clean the emulsion off his old glass plates.