BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
King's servant: 'David Collins: A Colonial Life', by John Currey
, April 7, 2001
DAVID COLLINS: A Colonial Life
by John Currey
Melbourne University Press
Available from News Weekly Books.David Collins examines the life and career of one of Australia's significant but often overlooked founding fathers, a marine officer who participated in the First Fleet, was Judge-Advocate of NSW and later the first Lieutenant-Governor of Tasmania.
Collins was born in 1756 in London, the son of (Arthur) Tooker Collins, a Marine officer and later a Major-General. Like his brother George, David joined the Marines. Having served at the Battle of Bunker Hill (June 1775) in the American War of Independence, he was later stationed in Nova Scotia, where he met and married Maria Proctor.
With the resumption of peace, Collins found himself struggling to support his family on half-pay. In the belief that there would be a long peace, and with the difficulty of finding an active service position, Collins accepted the position of Judge-Advocate of NSW and the Marine detachment of the Botany Bay expedition. In this capacity, Collins himself read the relevant Acts, commissions and letters patent proclaiming the inauguration of the colony on February 7, 1788.
Governor Arthur Phillip placed increasing trust in Collins's judgement. In June 1788, Phillip appointed him his secretary; and in 1789, Collins turned down an offer to command a Marine company so as to concentrate on his new role, although acceptance of the company would have bettered his position in the Marines.
With the withdrawal of the Marines, Collins lost a considerable portion of his income, as he was no longer their Judge-Advocate; yet he twice declined Phillip's offer of a company in the New South Wales Corps.
After frequent urgings by his family to return, and hoping to secure a more favourable appointment and salary, Collins arrived back in England, only to be on half-pay. He set himself the task of publishing his journal An Account of the Colony in New South Wales, which sold well.
Given his knowledge of NSW, Collins was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the proposed Bass Strait Settlement. This was shifted from Risdon Cove to Sullivan Cove and named Hobart Town. As with the early years of NSW, Collins endured hardship, deprivation and the prospect of starvation.
Collins also had to contend with unskilled convicts and free settlers, many of whom were likewise unco-operative. However, much of his anguish was due to the presence of William Bligh in 1809, after he had been deposed in the Rum Rebellion.
Collins, a man who strongly valued loyalty to superiors, faced a dilemma. He soon decided that the correct course of action was to obey his immediate superior, Paterson in NSW, the man who had ousted Bligh. Not only was Bligh to criticise Collins's conduct upon his return, but his superiors in NSW were also critical, as was Macquarie. Collins died suddenly on 24 March 1810 and was buried in Hobart.David Collins
is a highly informative and readable portrait of a man who placed service to king and country above personal gain, and suffered for his loyalty.