Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Collins, James Richard (1869–1934)

by K. R. Page

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

James Richard Collins (1869-1934), public servant, was born on 14 March 1869 at Sebastopol, Victoria, son of James Richard Collins, London-born miner, and his wife Catherine, née Drummond, of Scotland. He was educated at state schools in Ballarat, and joined the Victorian Public Service as a clerk in the Treasury on 16 June 1886. In 1893 he was selected by George Allen to assist in the preparation of the colonial budget and in 1900 he organized and ran the first Victorian Old Age Pensions Office.

From 1 January until mid-April 1901 Collins worked in the accountant's branch in the dual position of serving both the State and Federal treasurers. He transferred to the Commonwealth Treasury on 18 April as a clerk, at a salary of £250, deputy to Allen. He held a series of positions between 1901 and 1916, acting as secretary during Allen's absence for a total of two years eight months. During periods of furlough in 1908 and 1915 he studied financial and departmental matters in Ottawa and Washington. On 14 March 1916, he replaced Allen as secretary to the Treasury and commissioner of war, invalid and old age pensions and maternity allowances, at a salary of £1000. His signature appeared on paper money issued in Australia between 1910 and July 1926.

From July 1920 to January 1921, Collins acted as temporary commissioner for the negotiation of the Nauru Island agreement in London, and was delegate to the International Financial Conference in Brussels and to the first meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations at Geneva. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1920 and C.B.E. in 1923. In the reorganization of the Commonwealth Bank undertaken in 1923 he became a director of the Note Issue Board on 14 December and on 10 October 1924 was appointed a director of the bank itself. From 1923 he was national debt commissioner and a custodian of expropriated properties in what was formerly German New Guinea.

On 29 April 1926 Prime Minister Bruce announced Collins's appointment as financial adviser to the high commissioner in London and member of the London Board of Advice of the Commonwealth Bank, with a salary and allowances of £2750; he took up the post on 3 August. Collins was to advise the Commonwealth on economic and financial matters in London and arrange the raising of loans for the Loan Council and the bank, a task which became increasingly onerous as the Australian overseas debt increased.

Collins also represented Australia on the Pacific Cable Board (1926-30), as a member of the Reparations Conference at The Hague (1929-30) and Lausanne (1932) and as leader of the delegation to the Assembly of the League of Nations in 1931. In August 1930 his term on the London board of the bank expired but he retained his position as financial adviser until 1933. His health, however, was not good. After a visit to Australia in December 1933 he died in London on 18 June 1934, leaving an estate valued for probate at £16,430. He was survived by his wife Alice Ada, née Stephenson, whom he had married with Anglican rites at Warragul, Victoria, on 22 July 1891. They had no children.

Known as '“Wilkie” … when out of hearing', Collins was described in 1916 as 'ruddy, chubby faced, round of figure'. He was an active Freemason. In his leisure he read voluminously, always on subjects related to his work. His long-time colleague, Charles Cerutty, paid tribute in 1934 to his profound knowledge of public finance gained 'not only by experience, but by deep study'; he was 'indefatigable in his work and conscientious in his duty'. To Syd Butlin, Collins was 'very influential in early legislation on banking and note issue', had 'a better, more original brain' than G. T. Allen, and was 'a dominant force in … [Treasury] history for over a quarter of a century'.

Select Bibliography

  • Punch (Melbourne), 19 June 1916, 8 Oct 1925
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Apr 1926, 19 June 1934
  • Herald (Melbourne), 24 July 1926, 20 June 1934
  • Argus (Melbourne), 19 June 1934
  • correspondence with S. J. Butlin (in ADB file)
  • Treasury files (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

K. R. Page, 'Collins, James Richard (1869–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/collins-james-richard-5739/text9715, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 October 2018.

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

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018