Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Collins (1760–1819)

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William Collins (1760?-1819), naval officer, explorer and shipowner, the son of a seaman, was admitted to the Royal Hospital School, Greenwich, England, on 25 July 1768. In June 1771 he was bound for seven years to Thomas Hall, commander of the Diligent, a 70-ton coasting vessel from Dover. His apprenticeship completed, he entered the navy, served in the Monmouth and was made boatswain in the Arethusa on 4 April 1778. Later he was master of the Nereide, and served from December 1800 in the West Indies, but was paid off with other members of the crew in September 1802.

He was interested in whale-fishery prospects, and with a recommendation from Charles Dundas, he joined David Collins on the expedition to establish a settlement at Port Phillip. He sailed as a settler in the Ocean, which accompanied H.M.S. Calcutta. After arriving in October 1803, he helped Lieutenant Tuckey to survey Port Phillip Bay, and offered to take dispatches, including an adverse report on the locality, by an open six-oared cutter to Governor Philip Gidley King at Sydney. Nine days out and within sixty miles (97 km) of their destination they were overtaken by the Ocean and conveyed to Sydney. William Collins then returned to Port Phillip in the Lady Nelson, and went to survey Port Dalrymple. In January he reported that it was suitable for settlement, but by then Lieutenant-Governor Collins had decided to move to the Derwent.

The day after they arrived there William Collins with Deputy-Surveyor George Harris sought a site more suitable than that at Risdon for a township; they recommended the cove on which Hobart now stands, and the lieutenant-governor approved. He wanted to retain the energetic, efficient and highly appreciated services of William, so he appointed him harbour-master from 2 April 1804 at 15s. a day. William Collins then made a further examination of the River Derwent, reported on the Huon River, set up a look-out on Betsy Island, supervised the construction of a wharf on Hunter's Island and submitted a scheme for making Hobart Town the centre of a South Sea sperm whale fishery. In August he resigned as harbour-master, and with Edward Lord began to build the first water-mill on the Hobart rivulet and commenced commercial pursuits. By March 1806 he had set up at Ralph's Bay the first bay-whaling station on the Derwent. It was not the success expected and on 11 May 1807 he returned to official duties as Naval Officer and inspector of public works. In this capacity he was one of those to receive the deposed Governor William Bligh when he arrived in the Derwent in 1809, but joined the lieutenant-governor in opposing Bligh's attempt to rally the settlement against Colonel William Paterson's administration at Sydney. However, he apparently had no love for his official duties, and by the end of the year had been replaced.

On 8 October 1808 he had married Charity, sister of James Hobbs, R.N., and during the next ten years engaged in shipping, the seal fisheries, export of timber, import of spirits and other commercial affairs in conjunction with James Kelly and Palmer & Co. He was amongst those who thanked Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Davey for declaring martial law to suppress the bushrangers, and amongst those against whose evil ways Macquarie warned Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell. In 1817 he was a member of the Lieutenant-Governor's Court. His debts increased as time went on, and when he died of cholera in July 1819 while sailing the Duke of Wellington to Calcutta, he left his wife and three children destitute in Hobart.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 5, 7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 7, 8, series 3, vols 1-3
  • J. H. Tuckey, An Account of a Voyage to Establish a Colony at Port Phillip (Lond, 1805)
  • R. Knopwood journals, 1801-4 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under William Collins (State Library of New South Wales)
  • correspondence file under William Collins (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

'Collins, William (1760–1819)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




July, 1819 (aged ~ 59)
at sea

Cause of Death


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