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Robert Martin Collins (1843–1913)

by Sally O'Neill

This article was published:

This is a shared entry with William Collins

Robert Martin Collins (1843-1913) and William Collins (1846-1909) were the first and second sons of the five children of John Collins, pastoralist of Mundoolun, Queensland, and his wife Anne, née Martin. Robert Martin was born on 17 December 1843 in Sydney, four years after his parents had arrived there from Queenstown, Ireland. In June 1844 they left Sydney to take shares in Mundoolun, a new run taken up by a friend in the Logan district south of Brisbane. William was born at Mundoolun on 26 April 1846.

Robert and William were educated at St John's School in Brisbane and later at Calder House School, Sydney, as boarders. In 1863 they joined their father, beginning the close working relationship that was later given legal form as John Collins & Sons. For the next ten years Robert and William divided their time between Mundoolun and Westgrove on the Dawson River, which John Collins had bought in 1863 to carry the sheep sickening in the wetter southern district. In 1873 Robert decided that the sheep should be taken still further west; fascinated by accounts of the country west of Cooper's Creek pioneered by John Costello and Patrick Durack during drought seasons, he rode out to inspect it for himself. His explorations took him three months and as far west as the Diamantina. This was the first of many expeditions which won him repute in pastoral circles as an authority on Western Queensland. In January 1874 John Collins & Sons bought Whitula on Cooper's Creek from Costello and also blocks on the Morney Plains. By 1878 these and additional blocks had been stocked and sold. Robert and his brothers made several westward trips to examine the country, to accompany the movement of stock and to supervise the siting or sale of the stations. In 1877 they were among the organizers of the North Australian Pastoral Co., of which (Sir) Thomas McIlwraith, William Forrest and Sir William Ingram, proprietor of the Illustrated London News, were also members. The company's land included nine thousand sq. miles (23,309 km²) in South Australia, properties in the North Gregory district of Queensland, Alexandria station in the Northern Territory and land west of Bowen. The Collins brothers played a major part in the company's transactions, one or the other travelling out to inspect or take possession of land.

By 1878 Robert told his family that these expeditions were hindering 'more rational, if not more profitable' employment, and in May 1878 he and William left on a long-postponed tour which took them across North America to Europe. While in Britain they watched experiments with the Bell-Coleman system of refrigeration; later they took part in the purchase of a machine and in the successful shipment of frozen meat from Australia to England. In Ireland Robert met Arabella Clotilda, daughter of Christopher Smyth of Ballyroe near Cloyne, County Cork. They were married in Cork on 13 February 1879, left Ireland in March and arrived at Brisbane in May, at the same time as William who had travelled separately.

Both brothers were members of the Queensland branch of the Royal Geographical Society, Robert being its president in 1896. He represented Albert in the Legislative Assembly in 1896-98. In June 1913 he was nominated to the Legislative Council, but he died on 18 August at Tamrookum, near Beaudesert. He was survived by his wife, six daughters and a son. Six hundred people attended the funeral, many coming from Brisbane in a special train. An Anglican church was erected to his memory at Tamrookum. William died in Brisbane after a heart attack on 22 January 1909. He was survived by his wife, Mary Adelaide Gwendoline, daughter of Fitzclarence Roberts of Dunedin, New Zealand, whom he had married about 1900, and by three daughters and a son.

As experts in stock and land both brothers were active in efforts to improve conditions in the Queensland pastoral industry. Robert's suggestion in May 1893 that meatworks would help the export trade led to the passing of the Meat and Dairy Encouragement Act in September. He was active in forming the Queensland Meat Export Co. and became a director. As chairman of the select committee in 1897 on the branding of cattle he devised a new method of earmarking and branding which was incorporated into the Brands Act of 1898. William was a member of the board responsible for handling the funds established under the Meat and Dairy Encouragement Act, one of the commissioners who visited the United States in 1896 to inquire into Texas fever, and a director of the Bank of North Queensland.

Robert Collins was one of the founders of the National Park system in Queensland. Impressed by accounts of the Yellowstone National Park on his visit to America, he had kept closely in touch with the developments there. From the 1880s he campaigned for the reservation of the wild and beautiful McPherson Range south of his home and although only partly successful he had awakened public interest in the concept of national parks and had persuaded the government to legislate for such reservations. The Act was passed in 1906 but the Lamington National Park was not proclaimed until 1915.

Robert and William were modest, thoughtful and inclined to be shy, but always generous. They were well read; Carlyle was a favourite author and Charles Kingsley a childhood hero. They were very fond of home life and always maintained close ties with the family.

Select Bibliography

  • H. C. Perry, Pioneering: The Life of the Hon. R. M. Collins, M.L.C. (Brisb, 1923)
  • A. Groom, One Mountain after Another (Syd, 1949)
  • Brisbane Courier, 23 Jan 1909, 19 Aug 1913.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Sally O'Neill, 'Collins, Robert Martin (1843–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Robert Collins, n.d.

Robert Collins, n.d.

State Library of Queensland, 68167

Life Summary [details]


17 December, 1843
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


18 August, 1913 (aged 69)
Beaudesert, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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