Collinson, Richard (DNB00)

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COLLINSON, Sir RICHARD (1811–1883), admiral, was a native of Gateshead, of which place his father, the Rev. John Collinson, was rector. He entered the navy in December 1823, and in 1828 served as a midshipman of the Chanticleer with Captain Forster, in a surveying voyage round the coast of South America. In 1834 he was a mate of the Medea, one of the first steamers in the navy; was promoted in 1835, and appointed on 28 Sept. to the Sulphur, surveying vessel [see Beechey, Frederick William; Belcher, Sir Edward]. In June 1838 he was appointed to the President, the flagship of Rear-admiral Ross in the Pacific; and in January 1840 to the Wellesley, on board which Sir James John Gordon Bremer [q. v.] subsequently hoisted his broad pennant as senior officer in China. During the first Chinese war Collinson was employed as surveyor and pilot in seas and rivers till then unknown; and to his skill and ability was largely due the success of the operations both in the Canton river and in the Yang-tse-kiang. After commanding for some time the Bentinck brig on this service as a lieutenant, he was promoted, 19 Feb. 1842, to be commander; was advanced to post rank on 23 Dec. 1842, and nominated a C.B. on the next day; but continued in command of the Bentinck, renamed the Plover, till 1846, during which time he was employed in the exact survey of the coast of China, from Chusan to Hongkong, the results of which afterwards formed the groundwork of the 'China Pilot.'

In 1849 Collinson was appointed to command an expedition for the relief of Sir John Franklin, by way of Behring Straits; he himself had command of the Enterprise, and with him was Commander Robert Le Mesurier McClure [q. v.] in the Investigator. The two ships sailed together from Plymouth on 20 Jan. 1850, but unfortunately separated in the neighbourhood of Cape Horn and did not meet again. The Enterprise passed Point Barrow on 21 Aug. 1850; but the ice, which had offered but slight hindrance to the Investigator a fortnight earlier, was now impenetrable, and Collinson, finding his attempts to go north or east were vain, determined to return southwards and to winter at Hongkong, from which place, after having filled up with provisions, he sailed on 2 April 1851. After rounding Point Barrow he gradually worked his way to the eastward, and passed through Prince of Wales Strait to where the Investigator had wintered while the Enterprise was at Hongkong; but finding further progress barred by the dense pack, he returned and wintered at the southern entrance of the Strait. On 5 Aug. 1852 the Enterprise was released from her winter quarters, and during the short season got as far east as Cambridge Bay, where she was frozen in and wintered. In retracing her way the following year she was caught in the ice in Camden Bay, and there passed the third winter; she reached Point Barrow on 8 Aug. 1854, after being shut up in the Arctic, entirely on her own resources, for upwards of three years. The addition to geographical knowledge was very considerable, and would have been tantamount to the discovery of the North-west passage, had this not been already actually achieved by the men of the Investigator. In recognition of the good work which he had performed, the Royal Geographical Society awarded Collinson its gold medal in 1858; but he had expected some official reward, and was much mortified by the scanty acknowledgment his service received. He never again applied for employment under the admiralty, though he acted on commissions on the naval defence of the Canadian lakes, and of the United Kingdom generally.

He attained his flag in 1862; became a vice-admiral in 1869, and admiral, on the retired list, in 1875, in which year he was also made a K.C.B. In 1857 he settled at Ealing, and there, in the society of his mother and sisters, he spent the remainder of his life. In 1862 he was elected an elder brother of the Trinity House, and in 1875 to be deputy-master, an appointment rarely conferred on an officer of the royal navy. He was an active fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, serving for many years on its council, and assisting in 1871 in editing the 'Hints to Travellers.' He also edited for the Hakluyt Society 'The Three Voyages of Martin Frobisher in Search of a Passage to Cathaia' (1867), and contributed in 1862 'Three Weeks in Canada' to Mr. Francis Galton's 'Vacation Tourists.' To the last, too, he took a great interest in the local affairs of his neighbourhood, with which he had closely identified himself, serving as churchwarden, on the local board, or in other offices of the parish and district. He died on 13 Sept. 1883 at Ealing, and was buried at the adjacent hamlet of Perivale, where a monument to his memory has been erected by subscription.

[O'Byrne's Nav. Biog. Dict.; Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, xvii. 130, xxv. 194; Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society (new series), 1883, pp. 606, 734.]

J. K. L.