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Collins, Henry Michael (1844–1928)

by Ann M. Mitchell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Henry Michael Collins (1844-1928), Reuter's agent, was born on 22 January 1844 at North Savernake, Wiltshire, England, fourth of the twelve children of Francis Michael Collins, agent to the second Marquis of Ailesbury, and his wife Mary Ann, née Woods. Collins was well educated but had to leave school before he was 16; his first work was as a private tutor. In 1861 he was assistant schoolmaster at a preparatory school at Streatham, where one of his pupils was Herbert, son of (Baron) Julius Reuter, founder of Reuter's Telegram Co. Ltd. Next year he joined the company.

In February 1866 Collins left London for Bombay to set up and maintain Reuter's Indian and Far East agencies. He returned to England on leave in July 1872, detouring via Alexandria to reorganize the mismanaged agency there. Impressed by Collins's talent, Julius Reuter seconded him to act as his special representative for a private speculation in Persia known as the Reuter Concession. From about March 1873 he was based in Teheran; at near-by Gulahek on 2 October 1875 he married Isabella Maria Baker. Collins was recalled to London in 1878. In July he accepted the new agency post of general manager for Australasia, with Melbourne as his base.

An agreement to supply news to major Australian dailies had taken effect from 21 October 1872, and Reuters had first used the existing telegraphic services of E. Greville of Sydney, but in June 1874 he was replaced by Reuters own men: Ferdinand Linden in Melbourne and Collins's younger brother Ernest Edward in Sydney. Henry's appointment coincided with one of the recurrent periods of tension between Reuter's and the Australian press barons, which Reuter's accepted because profitability in Australia depended not so much on the news services but on commercial activities, especially private telegrams and, from 1891, cash remittances cabled at cheaper than bank rates.

Collins's reputation within Reuter's was always high. The flair and energy of his early years may have been lost, but his skill and tact as a special investigator was employed again during a crisis in the South African office just before and during the war of 1899-1902, when Reuter's reputation for impartiality came under scrutiny. On his retirement in December 1909, Collins regarded the tribute paid to him by his Australian staff (which had grown from three to over ninety) as the highest possible praise: 'you have made the name of “Reuter” a synonym for efficiency and honourable dealing'. Henry was succeeded by Ernest, who had to retire for health reasons on 30 June 1913.

Henry Collins had joined the Board of the Alfred Hospital in 1895 and his involvement in its affairs increased after his retirement; he was vice-president in 1911-24 and president in 1924-27. In 1925 he published his reminiscences, From Pigeon Post to Wireless. He had lost money in the banking crisis of the 1890s but the set-back was temporary and his home, Gracehill, Frankston, was built for him about 1910. Collins also had a small farm in the district. He maintained his business contacts as the Victorian agent for W. & A. Gilbey Ltd, liquor distributors. This interest was taken over by his eldest son Henry Edmund Julius. Mrs Collins died in England in 1917 while on a visit. Henry Collins, the last of Reuter's pioneer generation, collapsed and died in Swanston Street, Melbourne, on 11 June 1928, and was privately cremated. He was survived by three sons and four daughters; one son had been killed at Ypres in 1917.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • G. Storey, Reuters' Century, 1851-1951 (Lond, 1951)
  • F. Clune, Overland Telegraph (Syd, 1955)
  • A. M. Mitchell, The Hospital South of the Yarra (Melb, 1977)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Ann M. Mitchell, 'Collins, Henry Michael (1844–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/collins-henry-michael-5737/text9711, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 25 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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