Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cuthbert Quinlan Dale Collins (1897–1956)

by Stuart Sayers

This article was published:

Cuthbert Quinlan Dale Collins (1897-1956), author, was born on 9 April 1897 at Balmain, Sydney, third son of Michael John Collins, an Irish doctor who had been a ship's surgeon in the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co., and his English wife Esther, née Copeland. Michael died of typhoid at Launceston, Tasmania, on 31 May 1898, before the birth of Dale's younger brother John, the future vice admiral and chief of the Australian Naval Staff. The family moved to Melbourne where, after minimal schooling much interrupted by illness, Collins became an office boy in a music warehouse. He was a voracious reader and incessantly wrote stories.

After moving to a suburban newspaper as a jack of all trades, Collins joined the Melbourne Herald as reporter. He wrote for Table Talk, contributed stories to the Bulletin and in 1922 wrote Stolen or Strayed, a melodramatic crime novel, which the N.S.W. Bookstall Co. bought for £25 and published. The same year, with the blessing of the Herald and on his own recommendation as a 'brilliant writer' and the 'only man in Australia ideal for the job', he was engaged by A. Y. Gowen, an American millionaire then visiting Brisbane, to accompany him on a world tour aboard his motor yacht the Speejacks. The voyage provided a store of material from which Collins would draw repeatedly, but chiefly for the books that established his name: Sea-Tracks of the Speejacks Round the World (London, 1923) and his second novel, Ordeal (1924), a best seller which was produced as a play in 1925 and later filmed as The Ship from Shanghai.

Collins made London his base in 1923 and travelled extensively until World War II. He wrote prolifically for British and American magazines, often completing a 6000-word story in a day. Between 1925 and 1936 he completed twelve novels, most of them sea romances pitched unashamedly at a popular readership. He is rightly criticized by Henry Mackenzie Green for wasting the promise of his talent in 'mere thrillerism', although his gift for description, especially of the sea in its different moods, is impressive. In all, he wrote thirty seven books, including the autobiographical Bright Vista (London, 1946) and Victoria's My Home Ground (Melbourne, 1951), and ten novels for children, most as Dale Collins, but some as 'Stephen Fennimore'. He also used the pen name 'Michael Copeland'.

In 1948 he returned to Melbourne to settle in Malvern. A 'pudgy, friendly little man', described as 'rather innocuous-looking and owlish behind horn-rimmed glasses', Collins claimed no hobbies and few active interests. His first wife, Melbourne-born divorcee, Aileen Mayal Davies, née Edmondstone, whom he had married in London on 30 June 1927, had died in Jersey in 1933. On 16 August 1939 in London he married Kathleen Pratt, by whom he had two daughters. Collins died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease in the Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, on 3 March 1956 and was buried with Catholic rites in Melbourne general cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £4886. An inscribed set of his books is held by the La Trobe Library, State Library of Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Roderick, 20 Australian Novelists (Syd, 1947)
  • M. Muir, A Bibliography of Australian Children's Books (Lond, 1970)
  • People (Sydney), 20 Dec 1950
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Mar 1956
  • Argus (Melbourne), 5 Mar 1956
  • private information.

Citation details

Stuart Sayers, 'Collins, Cuthbert Quinlan Dale (1897–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Fennimore, Stephen
  • Copeland, Michael

9 April, 1897
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


3 March, 1956 (aged 58)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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