Collins, David, 1756—1810
by Benjamin Colbert
David Collins was born in London, the son of Arthur Tooker Collins (1718-93), officer in the marines, and Henrietta Caroline Collins, née Fraser (c. 1732-1807). He attended Exeter grammar school from 1765 until 1770, when he followed his father into the marines as ensign, rising to second lieutenant in 1771. Aboard HMS Southampton the following year, he helped extricate the English-born Danish Queen Caroline Matilda after her detention at Kronborg castle.
During the American Revolution, he served the British at Bunker Hill (1775) and evacuated loyalists from Boston (1776) to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he married Maria Stuart Proctor (d. 1830) in 1777. After three years at Chatham as adjutant, Collins was promoted to captain (1780) and served in the channel squadron and at Gibraltar. When the American wars ended in 1783 he domiciled at Rochester, Kent, on half pay.
While his wife remained in England, Collins served from January 1788 to August 1795 in Sydney, New South Wales, as deputy judge-advocate and subsequently private secretary to Governor Arthur Phillip. He kept a mistress by whom he had a son and daughter, but does not appear to have been embroiled in the corruption that led to the Governor’s removal in 1792, instead doubling down on his own legal duties. After returning to England, again on half-pay, Collins published his Account of the English Colony in New South Wales in two volumes (1798-1802) which met with success, so much so that his wife was able to publish an abridged edition in 1804.
A second tour as lieutenant-governor from 1803 until his death was less successful. Collins founded the penal colony of Hobart at the mouth of the Derwent River, Van Diemen’s Land, but he failed to keep control of the rapidly growing outpost. He domesticated with a convict, Hannah Power, and subsequently with Margaret Eddington, with whom he had another son and daughter (his wife, long separated from him, remained childless after the death of a daughter in infancy early in their marriage). Collins died in office on 24 March 1810, probably of heart failure.
Currey, John. David Collins: A Colonial Life. Melbourne: Melbourne University Publishing, 2013. Print.
Fletcher, Brian H. ‘Collins, David (1756-1810), colonial official and army officer’. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sep. 2004. Web. 24 May 2022. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/5937
|Account of the English Colony in New South Wales||1804|