Art & Design


Who Was Collins?

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Collins Street in Melbourne is synonymous with names such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and ‘the Paris End’. But what does Collins really stand for? Like many other streets and suburbs about town, it is named after a key historical figure — a certain Lieutenant-Governor David Collins, or ‘The Big C’ if you like. So grab a seat for a quick history revision and let’s see where Collins fits into the grand scheme of all things Melbourne, shall we?

As you may recall from Primary School days the First Fleet arrived in 1788, which famously dumped all of the filthy criminals and European rejects on this land girt by sea. Also on board with the riffraff, undoubtedly cowering in a corner sucking on the last lemon wedge to stay alive was dear old David Collins. Following in his father’s footsteps, C-dog joined the Royal Marines at age 14 and despite his dislike for sailing, rapidly climbed the ranks.

So when an older and wiser Collins swaggered onto the Land of Oz at age 34 as the sole law man, he inevitably became one of the founders of the Penal Colony and our original JAG (Judge Advocate). As such, he was in charge of the entire legal system of the colony and worked closely with Governor Philip to keep things on track. Some may say they worked a little too closely as he was soon named ‘Secretary to the Governor’ — a title which could hold a very different meaning in those lonesome times when Collins’s wife remained in England… no doubt it drew a few raised eyebrows and knowing smiles throughout the colony.

For years Collins lived in New South Wales as an active member of Government, quite literally screwing the common people and fathering two children. Meanwhile, roving explorers were deployed to name coastlines, find habitable areas to expand and ultimately to keep those pesky French from settling. A habitable area was located down south and named Port Phillip and in late 1803, in response to the threat of a perceived French Invasion, Collins was sent to establish a settlement there. Along with some sailors, settlers and a few hundred convicts, he slightly overshot his mark and ended up near Sorrento, but set up anyway. The poorly located settlement only lasted five months before Collins was given permission to take them all to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) instead. That settlement would be the last attempt to populate Victoria for 30 years until Batman came along in 1835.

Poor old Collins was getting on in years. Once he hit remote Tasmania and started setting up Hobart Town, things did not drastically improve. Insubordination, lack of respect and lack of help from Sydney and England all paid their toll on The Big C. In 1810 he died suddenly leaving behind his four illegitimate children and a childless wife.

So you see, his legacy is now a namesake street which to me will now stand for all the things he believed in — the prosperity of a new settlement, second chances, tawdry love affairs behind closed doors and designer sunglasses.


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