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Collins, Charles (1850–1898)

by Clarence Karr

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Charles Collins (1850-1898), merchant and politician, was born on 12 May 1850 at Goulburn, New South Wales, the second of six children of Joseph Collins and his first wife Lydia, née Marks. He was educated at the academy of Rabbi Davis. Originally from Moravia, the family had achieved prominence in the Goulburn social and commercial communities. After two years of apprenticeship to a merchant, Charles, a dark-eyed Jewish youth of 17, moved to Narrabri in the north-west of New South Wales. Since the first lots had been sold in 1860 at the neighbouring police town of Wee Waa, Narrabri had grown quickly and had two hundred residents when Collins arrived. After six years, first as clerk and then as manager, Collins embarked on his own business career. By 1883 he was a magistrate, had opened stores at Walgett, Pilliga and Wee Waa, and become the first mayor of Narrabri. He also participated in the Jockey Club, the Hospital Association, and other organizations. For some time he also conducted an auctioneering and land agency business and built up one of the largest tank-sinking plants in the colony.

Collins was an active supporter of Thomas Dangar, the local parliamentarian, and in 1885 when he retired temporarily because of failing health, Collins won the seat and entered parliament. He did not stand in the next election but after Dangar died in 1890 Collins again entered the Legislative Assembly. Like his predecessor, Collins prided himself on his principles of free trade and his position as a 'roads and bridges' member. He never considered himself a 'party' man and only spoke in the assembly on matters directly affecting his own electorate, but his generosity, energy and quiet manner gained him esteem as a dedicated, if uninspiring, politician.

Meanwhile Collins's commercial activity had not ceased. In the late 1880s he bought the Gwydir brewery at Moree and, with Benjamin Joseph, the Castlemaine brewery at Walgett. He sold his Narrabri store to a company headed by his brother Albert Ernest in 1888. This business was the biggest in Narrabri and remained under the Collins name until 1966. Early in 1896 Charles Collins joined in partnership with Henry Hyman to manage the extensive stores and agencies of Cohen & Levy of Tamworth, whither he moved. Unmarried, he died of a stroke on 12 April 1898 in a Tamworth hotel and was buried in the Jewish section of the Rookwood cemetery.

In his thirty years in the north-west, Collins changed from a clean-shaven youth to a slightly corpulent, middle-aged gentleman; he had quickly built up one of the largest businesses in the district. Although both he and Dangar were conservative enough to satisfy the clique that sponsored them for election Collins campaigned as a convincing land reformer in 1885 and borrowed much from the Labor platform in a tough fight in the 1891 election. His career mirrored the emergence of north-western New South Wales from an area of weatherboard and sheep in the 1860s to a more sophisticated land of railroads, unions and wheat in the 1890s. He was also important for pioneering Jewish participation in the commercial development of rural New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1880-98
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1880-98
  • M. Rosenbaum, ‘Genealogy of an Australian Jewish Family’, Australian Jewish Historical Society, vol 3, part 4, 1950, pp 187-93
  • Narrabri Herald, 1873-98
  • Narrabri Age, 1894-98
  • Tamworth News, 13 Apr 1898
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Apr 1898.

Citation details

Clarence Karr, 'Collins, Charles (1850–1898)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/collins-charles-3245/text4903, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 22 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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