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Collins, Henry (1832–1929)

Another of our old pioneers of the State, and a man who was destined to make an indelible mark on the pastoral history of South Australia, passed away on Friday, October 18th. His death at the age of 97 years was an historical event and with the exception of one or two other veterans still surviving, was the connecting link between this and another period of civilisation. Think of it — 97 from 1929 takes us back to 1832, to the days when Adelaide was hardly thought of, to before the convict days of Australia, to the days prior to the wakening of labor when the men were mere cogs in a machine and of little account and when to rise out of the ruck was almost an impossibility. The younger generation can hardly imagine the world as it then was, without telegraphs or telephone, steamships or motor transport, in fact, the state of society in 1929 is more different from that of 1832 than the world of 1832 was from 1500. And Mr. Collins was an intelligent observer of all those changes. What a wonderful life he had and how quietly, quickly and beautifully he passed out of it. Henry Collins was born in Devonshire, England. When only a boy of seven he arrived in this State with his parents on the Isabel Watson in 1839, three years after South Australia had been proclaimed a colony.

The family resided in various parts of the State south of the Burra during the first few years after their arrival. Many are the vivid stories that the late Mr. Collins related concerning his first occupations as a shepherd boy in the vicinity of Adelaide, and a little later as a milk boy on a dairy in a mid northern district. The Collins family then removed to the Burra, and as house accommodation was exceedingly limited they had to construct dugouts in the Burra Creek and resided there. At a very early age he worked at the Burra Mines and when his father went to the Victorian gold rush he was the sole support of his mother. By a determined effort he managed to get together a team of bullocks and a dray and commenced carting goods to and from Port Adelaide. When his father returned from Victoria, Henry had two bullock teams working and it is recorded that so small was this young teamster that a stool had to be taken on these trips to enable him to place the yokes on his bullocks. It was not long after this that a party including Henry set out for the Victorian gold fields. They met with little success and Henry returned to the Burra. Within a short time after returning he married Miss Jane Thomas, daughter of Mr. Thomas of "Three Trees," near the Burra. It was just after his marriage that he contracted to deliver iron stone from Iron Mine to the Burra Mines, and whilst at that work they resided in a tent at Iron Mine. Enough money was saved from this work to enable Mr. Collins to purchase two 80-acre sections about a mile from where the township of Mount Bryan is now situated. A little over 70 years ago he came to reside at "Lucernedale." To-day parts of the original homestead may still be seen. Mr. Collins first erected a "pine and daub" room, but when he brought the family to live on his section another room was added. About this time the Government surveyors were engaged in surveying the land north of Mount Bryan. Mr Collins was engaged in moving the surveyors and their belongings from camp to camp, as their work carried them further north. The Burra Mines were in want of timber for the mines and Mr Collins took the wood carting contracts. When these were finished he next was stone walling for Dr. Browne on Canowie station. Sixty years ago Mr. Collins commenced farming. In those days only single furrow ploughs were in use drawn by a team of eight bullocks. He carried on farming for twenty years. When wheat values became so low as to make it unprofitable to farm dealing in sheep was next attempted. In 1884 the foundation of the well known 'Stud Sheep' was laid by the purchase of valuable rams from John Lewis and Pewsey Vale Estate, and cast for age stud ewes from the then well-known studs. An interesting fact is made known when it is learnt that the first lucerne was purchased fifty three years ago and planted on Mr. Collins' fertile flats at Mount Bryan. As far as is known this was the first attempt to grow lucerne in large areas north of Adelaide. The tide of adversity had now turned and Mr. Collins seemed on a fair way to success. He purchased country in the Mount Bryan-East district as well as properties near to his homestead. Mr Collins attention was then drawn to a property "Waurkongaree'' part of Chewing's Estate, which he considered suitable for grazing purposes. This was not held long for it was eventually sold to Sir John Melrose. An interesting fact in the light of recent developments is that whilst mustering sheep on this property one of Mr Collins' sons picked up a stone which was thought to be valuable. This was at Twigham and the son took it home to his father. Mr. Collins had the stone assayed and the result was 39 ozs. of gold to the ton. A search for the reef was made by Mr. Collins but proved futile and it was not until recently that another attempt was made to prove the field Mr. Collins then leased country on the Eastern plains and extended his interests in the wool industry. Imbued with the faith that a great future was in store for the wool industry Mr. Collins concentrated on breeding stud sheep. In 1913 that wonderful ram 'Dandie Dinmont' was purchased from Messrs John Collins and Sons of Collinsville, who had acquired him from James Richmond, the then proprietor of the Haddin Rig stud for 1550 guineas. The Lucernedale stud was now an established fact and with the added knowledge of his early experience, the name of Collins of South Australia spread throughout the sheep breeding world. Henry Collins' enthusiasm for the production of high class sheep was sustained right up to the end. Although at the advanced age of 97 years, he still possessed the nucleus of a fine stud, and was most alert as to the finer points in sheep breeding. He attended the recent Burra Show and received many congratulations on gaining several prizes with his sheep. Such are a few of the incidents in the long life of the late Henry Collins, whose determination and force of character were his only aids in his climb from the lowest rung of life's ladder to the highest. The greatest school of experience was his only teacher. He was one of the foundation members and trustees of the old Bible Christian Church built in 1871. He loved his church and was a great factor in its progress. Many fine traits had Henry Collins, but none finer than his hospitality to all who entered his home. It may be said of the late Mr. Henry Collins that he was an empire builder, pioneer and sheep-breeder. He has given a great deal to Australia and the world at large and has earned a niche among the historic figures of this State.

The funeral took place on Sunday afternoon and before leaving "Lucernedale" a short family service was held by the Rev. S. Jew and the deceased's favorite hymn, "Jesu Lover of my soul" sung. An immense cortege then followed the remains to their last resting place in the family's burying ground at the Kooringa cemetery. On arrival at Burra numerous other cars joined in the procession and on reaching the cemetery the crowd there assembled comprised one of the most representative possibly seen in Burra, all anxious to pay their last respects to the memory of the "grand old man of the district." Another unusual event and possibly unique in the history of Australia was the presence at the graveside of such an aged parent of twelve children with the eldest son present of the one son (Alfred of Queensland), who was unable to get home in time. Of a family of 16 children, thirteen survive and those present were: Mr. John Collins, Collinsville; Messrs Dan Collins, Adelaide; Joseph Collins, Unley; Eddie Collins, Prospect; Maurice Collins, Glenunga, S.A.; Arthur Collins, Jamestown, and Horace Collins of 'Lucernedale,' Mt. Bryan. All his daughters namely Mesdames J. Rundle, Subiaco, W.A.; N. W. Martin, Peterborough; G. J. Hanlin, Willalo; Miss Alice Collins, 'Lucernedale,' Mt Bryan, and Mrs. T. Moore, Poochera. There were also present sons and daughters-in-law and a number of grandsons besides many other relatives. Seldom also has such feeling been shown at the last rites of such a venerable person. The family had never known their father spend a day in bed and he also had been able to converse with his children to within a few hours of his decease. Truly a wonderful record and a beautiful memory of a good living man. The service was deeply impressive and after the service opened the old hymn "There's a land that is fairer than day," was sung.

In a short address at the graveside the Rev. S. Jew said that in this case no one among the assembled company, he felt sure, would complain about death. They would understand that their late aged friend had welcomed that great change more fervently than he had welcomed any other incident in the history of his life. He had seen Mr. Collins shortly before he passed away and knew that he was one in spirit with Tennyson when the poet wrote:

Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me
And may there be no moaning at the bar
When I put out to sea.

All present realised that they were performing the last rites for a man who had had a wonderful career. He was a pioneer primary producer and none knew or could estimate what his example and work had contributed to the prosperity of the State. His name was well-known not only in Sth. Australia but all over the Commonwealth and his life story was one which all should know. Our grand old men and women of the early days, those who had laid the foundations of the State, were quickly passing through the vestibule of life, with their stories untold and so the real History of the state was passing into oblivion. There should be someone to gather and record the facts of the lives of those old pioneers, none knew what worth they had been to Australia and none could tell the history of Australia as they could. The life of Mr. Collins had been a triumph, and despite his great age, though his body was frail his mind was clear to the last. Often during the last months he had seen him in his chair with the light shining on him and reading that Book which was the light of his life and which gave him hope of continuance in another sphere. At the house they had sung that beautiful hymn, 'Jesu lover of my soul,' which must have comforted the bereaved and was a triumphant note at the end of the life of a great man.

The pall bearers were Messrs Isaac Tralaggan, Frank P. Pearce. Thomas Beckwith, William J. Bald, Jack Hooper and E. Weatherill, all of Mt. Bryan. Many beautiful floral tributes were received from all parts of the State.

Original publication

Citation details

'Collins, Henry (1832–1929)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/collins-henry-17048/text28899, accessed 25 April 2019.

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