Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

Collins, John William (1906–1941)

by Michael D. De B. Collins Persse

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

John William Fitzclarence Collins (1906-1941), pastoralist, skier, horseman and aviator, was born on 6 March 1906 in Brisbane, only son of William Collins (d.1909) and his wife Mary Adelaide Gwendoline (1870-1962), née Roberts. His birth occasioned his father's purchase of Nindooinbah, near Beaudesert, and the gift, in thank-offering, of the great rose window in St John's Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane.

On the death of his cousin Christopher in 1919 John was left the sole male Collins descendant of the Mundoolun pioneers. His mother, a true matriarch, of regal bearing and great charm and kindness, was the prime influence on him and his three sisters. Collins was educated in New South Wales at Tudor House, Moss Vale, and The King's School, Parramatta; and in England at Magdalen College, Oxford (B.A., 1928; M.A., 1932), where he read agriculture, and skied for the university, proving to be the second-fastest Briton of his generation. His style was unorthodox but effective. After returning to Australia in 1929 he became in 1930 the first Australian amateur ski champion.

Collins had gained pastoral experience at Westgrove on the Dawson River, after leaving school. On his return from Oxford he was manager as well as owner of Nindooinbah, starting five dairy farms, conducted on the share system, continuing to fatten cattle, and making it a thoroughly progressive property. He was increasingly a force in the Collins family interests, which included the North Australian Pastoral Co. Ltd, owner of Alexandria in the Northern Territory; John Collins & Sons, owners of Chatsworth and Coorabulka, in the Channel country; and Collins, White & Co., owners of Eulolo and Strathfield stations, near McKinlay, and of Glenormiston, near Boulia. Kind and considerate, he worked hard and demanded high standards of himself.

A keen horseman, he played polo for Sydney and won camp-drafts and other events with his stock-horses in Queensland and New South Wales. At Beaudesert, where a street was named after him, he was president and patron of the golf club. His other clubs included the Hurlingham and Marylebone Cricket in London, the Gridiron at Oxford, the Royal Sydney Golf, and the Queensland, and the Sydney Cricket Ground. He was an ardent motorist. Increasingly, however, aviation became the sphere in which his spirit sought fulfilment. He became a private owner in 1931, and by 1940 had achieved 1645 solo hours. He held an A licence; he completed courses in blind flying and aerobatics in England in 1933; was awarded the Qantas trophy in 1935 for the year's most consistent flying; and in his Vega Gull won the speed test in the Brisbane-Adelaide air-race in 1936. Collins used his aircraft extensively in supervising his various pastoral and other interests.

When war began in 1939, his attempts to join the Royal Australian Air Force were at first frustrated by deficiencies in his eye-sight, but he was eventually commissioned on 26 March 1940. Collins served as an instructor, with the rank of flight lieutenant, until 21 May 1941, when with Squadron Leader R. C. Phillips, he was killed instantly when the aircraft in which they were taking off struck a tree at Archerfield aerodrome in Brisbane.

Collins was survived by his wife Margaret Eleanor, née Hagon, whom he had married in Sydney on 12 September 1933. St John's Church at Mundoolun, All Saints Church at Tamrookum, and ten windows in St John's Cathedral, Brisbane, commemorate the contribution to Queensland of three generations of the Collins family. Female lines continue among the descendants of De Burgh Persse, Sir Simon Fraser, Sir Robert Philp and under other names.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Cox and W. Stacey, The Australian Homestead (Melb, 1972)
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 22 May 1941
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 22 May 1941
  • Beaudesert Times, 23 May 1941
  • J. W. F. Collins scrapbooks and family papers (privately held).

Citation details

Michael D. De B. Collins Persse, 'Collins, John William (1906–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/collins-john-william-5740/text9717, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 July 2017.

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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2017