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David Collins

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First Governor of Tasmania

Exeter has not been shy in producing people who have left the city to help found colonies, and eventually countries across the world. David Collins is one of these men.

Collins was born in Gandy Street, probably in 1756, to General Collins and his wife Harriet Fraser. His father sent him to the Exeter Grammar School, in the High Street. He naturally followed his father into the army and allegedly, was a lieutenant at the age of 14. He fought in the American War of Independence, and was promoted to captain in 1779.

In 1786 he was appointed as the judge-advocate in the new colony to be set up in New South Wales by Captain Phillips, despite having no legal training. The First Fleet arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788. Collins, was to all intents and purposes, chief justice to the colony until 1796 when he was posted back to England. He wrote An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, which is considered to be the best of the early histories of Sydney.

In 1803 he was commissioned as lieutenant-governor of a settlement in Bass's Streights. The settlement was not a success, due to poor soil and a lack of water, so in January 1804 he sailed for Tasmania, having heard good reports about Van Diemen's Land. He selected a spot, in the south, on the River Derwent, that would become Hobart. Times were difficult - the free settlers were largely composed of old convicts, with little strength. The seed that the settlers had brought failed to germinate, and within a short time the colony was facing starvation. Through all this, Collins extended his knowledge of the country by exploring, and he set up a form of currency, although bartering was preferred. The colony had to be supplied with cattle, horses and pigs from Sydney, which were difficult to feed, due to a lack of fodder - they were also stolen by starving settlers and convicts. Life was brutal, and Collins was forced to sentence three prisoners to 500 lashes for killing a goat. More settlers arrived, and gradually the colony started to function. However, the strain on Collins was enormous, and he died on 24 March 1810 at the age of 56. Some confusion exists about his family - however, he and his wife, an American, had two children, a boy and a girl.

Strangely, George P Harris, the first deputy Surveyor General of Tasmania was also brought up in Gandy Street. Collins and Harris discovered their common childhood home when chatting in a tent in South Australia. Included at the suggestion of Martin Coombs.

David Collins
David Collins.
Gandy Street
Gandy Street.

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