COLLINS FAMILY HISTORY
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Born in London in 1756, He joined the Marine Corps, at the age of 14. Five
years later he was fighting the Americans in the American War of Independence at
Bunker Hill. In 1787 he was appointed deputy judge-advocate of the up coming
expedition to Botany Bay.
Because of this appointment, David became one of the founders of Sydney in 1788, he began the first European settlement in Victoria in 1803 and one year later founded Hobart Town.
French expeditions were exploring the Australian coastline at the same time
as Matthew Flinders was making the voyage around Australia which established
that this was a continent, and not a group of large islands.
After the Governor of New South Wales reported the presence of French ships in Bass Strait, the British Admiralty proposed settlements at strategic locations to forestall any rival colonisation.
Lieutenant John Bowen had set up a settlement at Risdon in the Derwent in the first half of 1803, under a Commission issued by Phillip Gidley King, the Governor of New South Wales. In a Confidential Instruction dated 1 May 1803 King told Bowen that, should ships of France or any other nation form a settlement in the neighbourhood, Bowen should advise them 'of His Majesty's right to the whole of Van Diemen's Land'.
Under the authority of the Letters Patent, David Collins was to take charge of a settlement intended to prevent the French occupying 'either of the most important objects' in Bass Strait - King Island and Port Phillip Bay, according to a Colonial Office memorandum.
When Collins investigated Port Phillip he rejected it as not suitable for settlement and sought further instructions from King.
On 26 November Governor King sent him to investigate both Port Dalrymple and the Derwent River as locations for settlement, and instructed Collins to take command as Lieutenant-Governor at the preferred place.
Collins sent a party of men to Port Dalrymple at the Tamar River first. He
judged from their report that navigation on the river would be difficult and
that the Aboriginal inhabitants were hostile.
He then sailed south to the Derwent, arriving on 15 February 1804, and decided this was the most suitable location for settlement. In January 1804, King instructed Bowen to deliver his charge to 'the Lieut. Governor' if Collins chose the Derwent, but Bowen was not at first willing to do so.
His reasons are not on record, but the territory named in Collins' Commission does not include the Derwent.
Collins was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of settlements to be formed 'to the northward of Basses Streights and on King's Island, or any other Island within the said Streights'.
Governor King, annoyed at Bowen's delay, wrote to him in May 1804: 'I
cannot conceive that you had any authority for declining giving up the
settlement, etc, nor can I attribute Colonel Collins not claiming it as of right
to any other motive but delicacy in him.' Perhaps it was this delicacy which
lay behind the fact that Collins handed King's instruction to Bowen only on 8
In 1804, Governor King divided the Island into two dependencies, one initially centred on Port Dalrymple, under Lieutenant-Governor William Patterson, the other in the south under Collins.
The Secretary of State for War and Colonies, Lord Hobart, had directed in a
despatch of June 1803 (but only received in Sydney in May the next year) that a
settlement be created at Port Dalrymple. In 'a political [that is, strategic]
view', he continued, it was 'peculiarly necessary'. Hobart introduced
an element of confusion, and amusement in Sydney, by describing Port Dalrymple
as 'upon the southern coast', probably meaning the Derwent settlement,
where Collins already was.
King did the appropriate and convenient thing. Patterson's Commission, however, was issued not as Royal Letters Patent, but under the seal of the Governor of New South Wales. The boundary in the Island was at the 42nd parallel south. The northern dependency was named the County of Cornwall and the southern the County of Buckinghamshire. These halves of the Island were jurisdictionally separate until 1812 when they were united under the Lieutenant-Governor of the southern half, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Davey.
David's Journal which he began writing whilst on board the first fleet to
Botany Bay grew into the first substantial history of the new colony, and
combined with his private letters, they give a rare insight into early
Australian colonial life.
His letters also tell the story of a privileged life that some may say went wrong. He was born into a family that for years was closely connected to the military and the royal court. David was expected to have a long and brilliant career. But he wound up unemployed and in debt, this is when he was forced to accept the position of lieutenant governor in Van Dieman's Land.
It was here the he found himself neglected , under supplied and castigated by his political masters for waste and extravagance. A bitter confrontation with Governor William Bligh brought the new settlement to the edge of a civil war. David was accused of mutiny and neglect of duty by Governor Bligh, but elsewhere in the colony others held a contradictory opinion of him.He was a father figure to his admirers and a tyrant to his detractors. His interest in the aboriginal people was strongly humanitarian.
Now located on the other side of the world to his wife, he had a series of liasons with female convicts, which caused his enemies to brand him as 'a bigamist and debauchee', never the less, upon his death, the whole of Hobart Town turned out for his funeral.
Giblin, WR, The Early History of Tasmania, 1642-1804, vol. 1, Methuen, London, 1928.
Historical Records of Australia, Series III, vol. 1.
Kersher Bruce, An Unruly Child: A History of Law in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1995.
Robson Lloyd, A History of Tasmania, vol. 1, part 1, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1983.
Shaw, AGL (ed.) and John West, The History of Tasmania, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1971 (incorporates West's handwritten revision of the original 1852 edition).
The amended copy of the History of Tasmania is held by the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.
A Colonial Life by John Currey
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Page last updated : 05 March 2004
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