Sir George Collier

1738-95. Of humble origins, he was born the son of George Collier in London on 11 May 1738, and was the father of Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Augustus Collier.

He entered the navy in 1751 undergoing his initial service in home waters and with Rear-Admiral Sir George Pocock in the East Indies prior to being commissioned lieutenant on 3 July 1754. On 6 August 1761 he was promoted commander, and on 12 July 1762 was posted to the newly commissioned captured French frigate Boulogne 32, commanding her until the peace of 1763 with the vessel being paid off in March.

In December 1763 he commissioned the Plymouth guard-ship Edgar 60, which Commodore Thomas Graves took out to Africa in January 1765, Collier replacing that officer for the greater part of the year aboard the guard-ship Téméraire 74 at Plymouth. He later commanded the frigate Tweed 28, in which he cruised in the Channel under the orders of the young Rear-Admiral the Duke of Cumberland in 1770 before going out to North America. After being paid off in 1771 he briefly had the Levant 28, and in 1772 joined the Flora 32, carrying the ambassador to Russia out to Kronstadt that summer and being paid off in the ensuing February. During 1773 he visited Paris and Brussels, and two years later was knighted after having undertaken a special, but obscure, mission to North America.

Admiral_Sir_George_Collier

Sir George Collier

In December 1775 he was appointed to the thirty-year-old Rainbow 44, and going out to North America with Commodore William Hotham’s squadron in May 1776 he served as senior officer for the next three years at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the instruction of Vice-Admiral Lord Howe at New York. Even so he joined the commander-in-chief during the New York campaign of July to October 1776 when conveying eight thousand Hessian troops there from Halifax. On 8 July 1777 he captured the newly built American frigate Hancock 34, commanded by Commander John Manley, which vessel became the British Iris. Shortly afterwards he learned of a planned invasion of Nova Scotia by American forces at Machias, whereupon he sailed there on 13 August with the Blonde 32, Captain John Milligan, Mermaid 28, Captain James Hawker, and sloop Hope 14, Commander George Dawson, and not only destroyed the accumulated colonial stores but also inflicted a great deal of damage on the local American shipping. In the same year he took the American privateers Hammond on 22 March and General Gates on 13 November. During a greater part of 1778 he was subordinate to Captain Charles Fielding of the Diamond, but he re-assumed command of the Halifax station when Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byron asked Fielding to join his fleet in late August, and in November Collier raised a broad pennant aboard the Camilla 20, Captain John Collins.

From February 1779 he briefly held the command of the North American station following the departures of Rear-Admiral James Gambier to England and Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byron with all the larger men of war to the West Indies. Hoisting his broad pennant aboard the Raisonnable 64, Captain Henry Francis Evans, at New York, Collier wasted little time in undertaking an attack on the Chesapeake with Brigadier Edward Mathew, and he enjoyed between May and August 1779 he destroyed a great deal of the American infrastructure and took or burnt one hundred and thirty-seven ships. After briefly returning to New York he set off to destroy a rebel flotilla in Castine, Maine, and suffering from a violent fever that necessitated his commanding the attack from a chair on the quarterdeck, he nevertheless led a similar operation against the Americans who were besieging the British in Penobscot. Despite receiving praise from the King for his zeal and activity in command of the North American station he was relieved on 25 August, much to his chagrin, by Vice-Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot, and returned to England aboard the frigate Daphne 20, Captain St. John Chinnery, arriving at Portsmouth on 27 November. Upon being presented to the King he wasted little time in vouching his opinion that the war could not be won, particularly with the policies being undertaken by the government.

Early in 1780, after a restrained and dignified appeal for employment, Collier was appointed to the Canada 74 in the Channel Fleet on the death of Captain Hugh Dalrymple, taking part in the campaign from June to December 1780, capturing the privateer Duc de Valois on 24 December, and serving in the relief of Gibraltar on 12 April 1781. On 2 May 1781, whilst cruising in the Atlantic, he captured the Spanish frigate Santa Leocadia 34, whose captain, Don Francisco Winthuysen, lost an arm in the engagement and was later to lose his life aboard the San Josef 112 at the Battle of St. Vincent.

The politically outspoken Collier resigned his command shortly afterwards, apparently due to a dispute with the first lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich. Having failed to win election at Shaftesbury in 1780 he was elected an MP for Honiton in 1784 in the Whig interest, a seat he would hold for six years. He spoke out against another first lord, Admiral Lord Howe, in the 1787 debate over the ‘yellowing’ of admirals, the dispute that led to Howe’s resignation on 16 July 1788, and perhaps unsurprisingly he was not re-employed until the Nookta Sound dispute of 1790, when he commissioned the St. George 98 in July before paying her off at the end of the year.

He became a rear-admiral on 1 February 1793 and a vice-admiral on 4 July the following year, yearning all the time for active employment. Instead, from January 1795, he briefly held the command at the Nore but resigned through ill health and died on 6 April 1795.

On 3 September 1763 he married Christiana Gwyn of Middleton Hall, Carmarthen, mother of his first son, but obtain a divorce from her through an act of parliament in 1772. He was married for a second time on 19 July 1781 to Elizabeth Fryer, the daughter of a wealthy Exeter merchant, by whom he had two daughters and a further four sons. In addition to Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Collier, his son Captain Henry Theodosius Collier entered the Navy in 1800, served for many of his early years under Hon. Sir Charles Paget, and was posted captain in 1822.

Collier was said to be of a pleasant disposition, was a sociable entertainer, and had a figure of a ‘middle stature’. His knowledge of his profession was excellent, he was pugnacious and energetic, and he kept a firm but friendly discipline. A man of many parts, he adapted ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for the stage as ‘Selina and Azor’, which was played in Drury Lane in 1776, He resented the lack of recognition of his exploits in North America, which omission was probably due to his political views, as he was a firm supporter of Charles James Fox and the Prince of Wales.