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Dr Alexander Collie (1793-1835) was surgeon on board HMS Sulphur, the third ship to arrive in the Colony, in June 1829. Collie Street in Fremantle is named after him, as are also the River Collie and the town of Collie. He was born in Aberdeenshire and died in Albany on his way from Perth to Sydney, of tuberculosis.
Dr Alexander Collie (2 June 1793 – 8 November 1835) was a Scottish surgeon and botanist who journeyed to Western Australia in 1829, where he was an explorer and Colonial Surgeon.
Collie was born in Insch in Aberdeenshire, Scotland on 2 June 1793 to Alexander and Christina Collie (née Leslie). The youngest of three sons, Collie studied medicine in Edinburgh before moving to London to further his studies. In January 1813, he joined the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons and became an assistant surgeon in the navy.
He sailed on the frigate Doris to Tenerife, China and the East Indies, before returning to Europe to study botany, mineralogy and chemistry. In 1824 he was a surgeon on board HMS Blossom and travelled to Africa, Brazil, Chile, the Sandwich Islands, California, Kamchatka Peninsula, Taiwan and Mexico.
Collie was ship's surgeon on HMS Sulphur. This was part of the expeditionary group, including the barque Parmelia, which set out from Portsmouth in February 1829 to found the colony of Western Australia. While at sea on 16 April 1829 Collie assisted with the birth of Frederick Henry Stirling, the son of Lieutenant-Governor James Stirling and his wife Ellen.
They arrived at Rottnest Island on 3 June 1829, upon which Collie started working in a hospital tent on Garden Island. He studied botany in his free time. He received 1,500 acres (610 ha) of land on the banks of the Swan River.
He and Lieutenant William Preston explored the south west of Western Australia, discovering two rivers that Lieutenant-Governor Stirling named after them: Collie River and Preston River. In 1830 he investigated the conditions on the Peel estate. He reported that the estate's manager, Thomas Peel, was incompetent, which led to government assistance for the settlers.
In 1831, Collie was allotted 500 acres (200 ha) of land in Albany, where he was appointed a Justice of the Peace and became the town's first government resident. Suffering from ill health he returned to Perth and was appointed the Swan River Colony's Colonial Surgeon from 1833 to 1835. His decision to return to England was made too late; although he had embarked on HMS Zebra, he died before the ship left Western Australian waters. He died in King George Sound on 8 November 1835 and was buried beside Mokare, his Aboriginal exploring companion.
The graves of both Collie and Mokare were disturbed during the construction of the Albany Town Hall in 1887. Collie's remains were interred at Pioneer Cemetery in Albany.
The town of Collie and Collie River are named in his honour in Western Australia, with a granite monolith erected for him in Collie The dedication on the monument reads:
"To ALEXANDER COLLIE R.N. Physician, Explorer, and Administrator, Who discovered and named the Collie River November 23rd, 1829.
Erected by the Municipal Council of Collie November 23rd, 1935".
Wikipedia article, from which much of the above comes.
Bryan, Cyril 1936, ‘Surgeon Alexander Collie, R.N.’, Medical Journal of Australia, 18 April: 537-40.
Cohen, B.C. 1966, Bio in ADB.
Stephens, Robert 1961, 'Nakina, Mokare, Waiter: three black brothers of the King George’s Sound tribe of Aborigines', Early Days, Volume 5, Part 7: 65-82.
Description of a letter from Collie to Hooker in the Kew Archive.
A second such letter.
Roth, Vanessa 2021, 'Alexander Collie: new discoveries in the collection', RWAHS newsletter, December (by the RWAHS Museum Curator).
I don't have permission to republish this, but as it's so important, here it is anyway, sosumi:
Alexander Collie — new discoveries in the collection
Three of our ‘new’ acquisitions actually entered our museum collection over 80 years ago! A sketch of an Aboriginal man and two letters written by Dr Alexander Collie were rediscovered in a collection audit last year. It was a wonderful, if surprising, find.
Alexander Collie joined the Royal Navy as a ship’s surgeon in 1813, completing several voyages to different parts of the world. He was a renaissance man with an enquiring mind and a keen interest in many fields, including botany. Therefore, whilst on these voyages, he collected specimens for Kew Gardens and described new plant species.
Collie arrived in the Swan River Colony on HMS Sulphur in 1829 and set up the first hospital tent on Garden Island, spending his spare time on his botanical studies. He was granted land in both Perth and Albany.
Collie and Lieutenant Preston explored the southwest to Geographe Bay in November 1829, finding the Collie and Preston Rivers. His sketch of an Aboriginal man at Port Leschenaultia, later renamed Bunbury, appears to have been executed during this journey.
‘A Native of Port Leschenault with the kind of Fish they generally spear on the Flat, he was both taller & stouter than any of his tribe. Western Coast of New Holland – 1830’.
Collie was then appointed to investigate conditions at the struggling Peel Estate settlement, his report demonstrating Thomas Peel’s incompetence and leading to government assistance for the settlers. He was appointed Resident Magistrate and Justice of the Peace for Albany in 1831.
He built a wattle and daub cottage on his farm, Strawberry Hill, and two Aboriginal brothers, Nakina and Mokare, soon became guests. Mokare had worked with other European explorers and guided Collie on an expedition to the Porongorups in April 1831. The brothers made Collie aware of the impact of colonisation on the Menang people; and informed a series of articles, The Aborigines of King George Sound, written by Collie and published in the Perth Gazette in 1834. These include a detailed description of Aboriginal fishing techniques, clearly an interest of Collie’s as demonstrated by the sketch in our collection. During his time at Albany, he collected Aboriginal objects for the Royal Navy’s Haslar Hospital Museum, which were later acquired by the British Museum.
Mokare became seriously ill in June 1831 and was nursed by Collie in his home. His death greatly affected Collie, who ensured Mokare was given a traditional burial in the grounds of Strawberry Hill.
Collie returned to Perth as Colonial Surgeon in 1833 in failing health, probably due to tuberculosis. He had given up on the idea of marriage, writing that ‘no one would marry a broken winded animal such as I’. He attempted to return to Britain for treatment in late 1835, but his ship made it only as far as Albany before he became gravely ill and was forced to disembark.
Collie’s last request was to be buried beside his friend Mokare. The graves were disturbed during construction of Albany Town Hall in the 20th century, and the remains were re-interred at Memorial Park Cemetery.
After Collie’s death, his possessions were sent to his brothers in Scotland. However, a number of letters were gifted to Western Australia for the centenary celebrations in 1929 and are now in the collection of the State Library of WA. The letters and sketch in our collection were acquired from a descendent, Reginald Collie, by Coalfields Road Board Councillor (and later mayor) J S Morrison, during a visit to Britain in 1936. They were then lent to the WA Historical society, presumably for an exhibition. Correspondence from the 1930s indicates that the Road Board intended to reclaim the items. However, it seems that both parties forgot about them.
Biographer Gwen Chessell describes Collie as a prolific letter and journal writer, but much of what he wrote and collected in WA fell victim to bombing during World War II. Collie’s sister-in-law Margaret also destroyed a number of his books and folios. The sketch in our collection appears to be his only surviving artwork.
We are grateful to the Shire of Collie for allowing us to keep these significant items in our collection.
Vanessa Roth, RWAHS Museum Curator
B C Cohen, 'Collie, Alexander (1793-1835)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1966.
G Chessel, Alexander Collie: Colonial Surgeon, Naturalist and Explorer, 2008.
Perth Gazette & WA Journal, July-August 1834.
Garry Gillard | New: 25 June, 2018 | Now: 14 April, 2022