Collier, George (DNB00)

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COLLIER, Sir GEORGE (1738–1795), vice-admiral, was born in London in 1738, and entered the navy in 1751. After serving on the home station, and under Sir George Pocock in the East Indies, he was made commander on 6 Aug. 1761, and on 12 July 1762 was posted to the Boulogne frigate, which he commanded till the peace. He was then appointed to the Edgar, guardship at Plymouth, which he commanded for three years; and afterwards, in succession, to the Tweed, Levant, and Flora frigates. In 1775 he seems to have been sent to North America on some special service, the circumstances of which have not been chronicled, but which obtained for him the honour of knighthood. He was then appointed to the Rainbow of 44 guns, in which he sailed for America on 20 May 1776. Shortly after his arrival on the station he was charged by Lord Howe with the duties of senior officer at Halifax, and on 17 June 1777 received the thanks of the House of Assembly of Nova Scotia 'for his constant and generous attention to the safety and protection of the province.' On 8 July 1777, after a long chase, he captured the Hancock, a large frigate which the colonists had newly built and commissioned, and which was added to the English navy as the Iris. In the following month, on intelligence that an expedition was preparing at Machias to invade Nova Scotia, Collier went thither with what force he could collect ; burnt the magazines and stores at that place, and, proceeding along the coast, destroyed some thirty vessels got together for the intended invasion, which was thus completely prevented. For this well-timed service he was again officially thanked by the governor and council of the colony, 24 Aug. 1777. He continued in this command till February 1779, when, by the recall of Rear-admiral Gambler, the command of the station temporarily devolved on him, and summoned him to New York, where he hoisted his broad pennant in the Raisonnable of 64 guns.

The strength of the squadron had been reduced to the lowest ebb, all the ships of force having been taken by Hotham and Byron to the West Indies ; but he nevertheless immediately proposed to Sir Henry Clinton the elder, the military commander-in-chief, a joint expedition to the Chesapeake, which was accordingly set on foot, Clinton supplying two thousand men, under the command of General Matthews. On 9 May the squadron anchored in Hampton roads, and for the next fortnight was busily engaged in the work of destruction. There was no serious opposition, but 137 vessels ships of war built or building, privateers and merchant ships were captured or burnt. Stores of all kinds for the colonial army were likewise burnt, much to the regret of Collier, in consequence of Matthews refusing to extend his stay in the Chesapeake. Within twenty-four days the squadron was back at New York, having destroyed stores the mere money value of which was estimated at more than a million sterling. After this Collier co-operated with Clinton in expeditions up North River and along the coast of Connecticut, and burnt a great number of boats and small vessels ' in which the rebels had used to make frequent depredations in Long Island on the king's faithful subjects.' In the beginning of July he received news that a settlement lately established in the bay of Penobscot was attacked both by sea and land. He immediately proceeded thither, with a force of four frigates and the 64-gun ship, but being obliged to anchor for the night at the mouth of the bay, the enemy took advantage of the delay to re-embark their troops and the greater part of their stores. The next day, as the English squadron advanced, they fled up the river, and, being closely pursued, set fire to their ships and took to the woods. Four armed vessels fell into Collier's hands, but the rest, with all their stores, were completely destroyed. On his return to New York, Collier found that Vice-admiral Marriot Arbuthnot [q. v.] had come-out to assume the command. He could not have expected to retain it, but he seems, by his correspondence at this time, to have felt aggrieved at being superseded just after his brilliant service at Penobscot, and by such a man as Arbuthnot, of whose capacity he had formed a very low estimate (Naval Chronicle, xxxii. 381-3). He returned home in the Daphne frigate, arriving at Portsmouth on 27 Nov. 1779.

Early in the following year he was appointed to the Canada of 74 guns, which he commanded in the Channel during the summer of 1780, and at the relief of Gibraltar by Vice-admiral Darby in the spring of 1781. On the homeward voyage he had the luck to chase and come up with the Spanish frigate Leocadia of 44 guns, which he took after a short though spirited resistance; her captain, Don Francisco Winthuysen who, as a rear-admiral, was slain in the battle of St. Vincent, on board the San Josef (Nelson's Despatches, ii. 343) losing his right arm. Owing, it is said, to some discontent with the government, or dissatisfaction with Lord Sandwich, then first lord of the admiralty, Collier resigned his command on his return to England. In 1784 he was returned to parliament as member for Honiton. He had no further naval employment till 1790, when he was appointed to the St. George during the time of the Spanish armament. He was promoted to his flag in February 1793, and advanced to be vice-admiral of the blue on 12 July 1794. In the following January he was appointed to the command-in-chief at the Nore, but was compelled by ill-health to resign it a few weeks later. He died 6 April 1795. His life during the last fifteen years had been embittered by a feeling that his really distinguished service in America, during the few months of his independent command, had not received due recognition. Whether, as has been stated, this neglect is to be attributed to a too frank expression of an opinion adverse to the policy of the ministry in America may be doubted. Lord Keppel, or after him Lord Howe, made no attempt to atone for the conduct of Lord Sandwich ; and even after he attained his flag rank he was left unemployed, with the last exception of a harbour appointment, in which, but for his early death, he might have lived down the hostile influence.

He was twice married: first, in 1773, to Miss Christiana Gwyn, by whom he had one son ; second, in 1781, to Miss Elizabeth Fryer, by whom he had two daughters and four sons, who all entered the service of their country, two in the navy [see Collier, Sir Francis Augustus] and two in the army. During his stay on shore previous to the American war he adapted for the stage a version of 'Beauty and the Beast,' which, under the name of 'Selima and Azor,' was favourably received at Drury Lane in 1776. He wrote Also a very full journal of a visit to Paris and Brussels in the summer of 1773, published by his granddaughter, Mrs. Charles Tennant, in 1865, under the title of 'France on the Eve of the Great Revolution.'

[Naval Chronicle (with what seems a good portrait), vol. xxxii.; Ralfe's Naval Biog. i. 357; Charnock's Biog. Nav. vi. 490.]

J. K. L.