Collins, Maria Stuart née Proctor, c.1763—c.1830
by Benjamin Colbert
Maria Collins was the daughter of Captain Charles Proctor (d. 1774), shipping merchant of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Margaret Proctor. She received a liberal education befitting the daughter of a well-to-do merchant and civic figure yet her family’s prosperity was relatively short lived, and did not survive the death of her father in 1774. Maria Collins thus brought few worldly possessions to her marriage on 13 June 1777 to first lieutenant David Collins, a British marine stationed at Halifax who had served at Bunker Hill.
By the time of the marriage, David Collins had become adjutant at Chatham, where they relocated, and where Maria Collins gave birth to a daughter who died barely two years later in 1780; she had no further children. Her husband, promoted to captain in 1780, was away much of the time, but after service in the channel squadron returned to Chatham in January 1783, reduced to half-pay by September. With a view to improve his prospects and the family income, David Collins joined the expedition to Botany Bay as deputy judge advocate earning a year’s pay in advance before his departure 1787. Maria Collins remained in England during a separation that stretched until June 1797. While her husband advanced his career (with mixed results) and solaced himself with a female convict by whom he bore two children, Maria Collins spent her time in straightened circumstances in a household that included her husband’s mother and father, who died in 1793. Long before then Maria Collins urged her husband’s return to no avail. Her own health suffered and was precarious by the time her husband did return.
David Collins’s time abroad did not materially improve his finances and he again found himself on half-pay at home. He turned his voyage to some benefit, however, by writing the successful An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (1798), adding a second volume in 1802. Maria Collins is reputed to have joined in this literary industry by publishing, anonymously, at least one novel and she abridged, rewrote, and improved the prose of her husband’s travel book in a readable second edition that appeared in 1804.
By that time, her husband had departed again for New South Wales as lieutenant governor, setting up the penal colony of Hobart in Van Diemen’s Land, where he remained until his death in 1810. While Maria Collins wrote of her will to join him around 1808, she was by then caring for her mother (and her husband occupied by his family abroad with two children born in 1808-09). At his death, Maria Collins was residing at Portland Place in London and sole beneficiary under her husband’s will. This did not amount to much. She was forced to repeatedly sue the Colonial Office for a widow’s pension, unsuccessfully until 1813 when she was granted an annuity of £120. She herself died at Plymouth on 13 April 1830.
Collins, Clarence Richard. Saga of Settlement: A Brief Account of the Life and Times of Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins, 1st Judge Advocate of the Colony of New South Wales and Lieutenant Governor of Southern Van Diemen’s Land. Perth: Imperial Printing Co., 1956.
‘Collins, David (1756-1810)’. Australian Dictionary of Biography. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Published first in hardcopy 1966. Web. 23 June 2022.
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||Editor|