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Collins, Henry Michael (1844–1928)

We regret to announce the death of Mr. H. M. [Henry Michael] Collins, which occurred with tragic suddenness in Collins street shortly before 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon. Mr. Collins was walking along the south side of Collins street, between Elizabeth and Swanston streets, when he collapsed and fell to the pavement. Two pedestrians summoned a taxi-cab and took Mr. Collins to the casualty department at the Melbourne Hospital, where he was found to be dead. The news will bring profound sorrow to a large number of friends, who esteemed Mr. Collins for his very cultured outlook, his remarkable activities in many directions, and his lovable personality. Mr. Collins became very ill last year when he resigned the presidency of the Alfred Hospital, which he had served for 33 years as a member of the board of management, but he made a good recovery. Until the last he retained mental and physical rigour unusual in a man of his age. Only on Wednesday he attended a meeting of the trustees of the Baker Institute at the Alfred Hospital.

Born in 1844, the fourth of a family of 12, at Savernake, England, Mr. Henry Michael Collins spent the whole of his working life, with the exception of two years, in the service of Reuter's Agency. Educated privately and at Malborough he was compelled when aged 16 years to leave school and begin work as a tutor, a post which he abandoned to become an assistant master in a preparatory school at Streatham. That appointment was really the turning point of his life, for during the summer and Christmas holidays he was placed in charge of Herbert de Reuter, the only son of Baron Julius de Reuter, and so began a lifelong association and friendship. In 1862 Mr. Collins joined Reuter's staff in London, and continued in the service of that organisation until he retired in 1909. Before he was aged 22 years Mr. Collins was selected to organise the business of the company in the East, from India to Japan, with headquarters at Bombay. That mission was accomplished successfuly in six and a half years, during which Mr. Collins travelled all over the East.

Returning to London in 1872 he found that Baron de Reuter had obtained from the Shah of Persia a comprehensive concession. Mr Collins was invited to become the special representative of Baron de Reuter's interests in Persia. That a railway should be constructed in Persia under British auspices provoked the hostility of Russia, and the Shah was informed that Russia viewed the Reuter concession with displeasure. Eventually Persia declared the concession null and void, though neither then nor in the future did it venture to claim the £40,000 "caution money" which it had placed to Baron de Reuter's credit.

In 1878 Mr. Collins left Persia, and within 24 hours of his arrival in London he was offered and accepted the post of general manager of Reuter's for Australasia, a position which he occupied for 30 years. At that time cable communication with the outer world had been established only about five years and was subject to frequent and annoying interruptions. Mr Collins saw the cable service expand and improve until interruptions were almost unknown, and in his retirement he witnessed the advance of wireless with increasing interest. When in 1899 Mr. Collins desired to revisit Britain, Baron Herbert de Reuter invited him to do so by the Cape and to conduct an investigation into the affairs of the agency in that part of the world. Mr. Collins did so, with the result that for a period he had to abandon his furlough and take control of the work. While in South Africa he witnessed the meeting between Lord (then Sir Alfred) Milner and President Kruger, and subsequently attended the reception given by President Steyn to the two statesmen. After he had been three weeks in Britain the announcement of the outbreak of war caused him to be sent back to South Africa to take charge of the work of the agency there during hostilities, and his experiences included witnessing the fighting which preceded the relief of Ladysmith. The value of his work was recognised by the High Commissioner in an official letter to Reuter's. In 1906 Mr. Collins was sent on a special mission to the United States and Canada. While in Persia Mr. Collins had, as he wrote in his book From Pigeon Post to Wireless, the "good fortune to win the affections of the only English-born maiden then resident in the country." The young couple were married by the British Minister plenipotentiary, Sir William Taylour Thomson. Two of their sons served with the Imperial forces throughout the war. The elder survives as a lieutenant-colonel of the Royal Engineers; the younger was killed near Ypres when commanding a heavy siege battery. Another son, Mr. Edmund Collins, is in business in Melbourne.

Mr. Collins joined the board of management of the Alfred Hospital in 1895, on the death of Mr. William Strachan, a member of the board. For many years he sat as an ordinary member, and in 1912 he was appointed a vice-president. In 1921 the Alfred Hospital entered upon what proved to be a remarkable period of expansion, it's bed accommodation being doubled in less than two years, while existing buildings were remodelled and enlarged, many departments of research also being established. This brought the hospital into the front line of such institutions in Australia. In this period Mr. (now Sir) George Fairbairn, who was president of the hospital's board of management, resigned that position to take up that of Agent-General for Victoria in London, and Mr. Collins, the senior vice-president was elected to the chair. Mr. Collins went abroad in 1924, and it was while he was absent that he was asked to succeed Sir George Fairbairn as president. For some time previous to this appointment Mr Collins had shown a vigorous practical interest in the many growing activities at the hospital. He was the first chairman of the council of the Alfred Hospital auxiliary which was the first organisation of its kind to be formed in Victoria. On his accession to the presidency his interest in every aspect of the affairs of the hospital was, if anything, stimulated, and he devoted considerable time and money in this direction. Mr. Collins was predeceased by his wife. For many years he was attorney in Australia for several important firms in Great Britain, and he continued in that capacity after he retired from Reuter's. His book From Pigeon Post to Wireless was a most engaging record of a life in which romance and achievement were mingled to an unusual degree. His mental vigour and clarity of outlook were remarkable in a man of his age and even under disadvantages of comparatively dim sight he had no need for spectacles.

The burial will take place privately tomorrow.

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'Collins, Henry Michael (1844–1928)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/collins-henry-michael-5737/text29048, accessed 21 November 2017.

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