Collier, Sir George

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Collier, Sir George

COLLIER, SIR GEORGE. (1738–1795). British naval officer. Born in London on 11 May 1738, Collier entered the navy in 1751 and became a lieutenant on 3 July 1754. After service at home and in the East Indies, he rose to post-captain. On 3 September 1763 he married Christina Gwyn only to divorce her nine years later. In the years prior to the War of American Independence this sensitive, cultured, short, muscular dynamo of a man not only held a series of naval commands but also successfully adapted a version of "Beauty and the Beast" for the Drury Lane stage.

In 1775 he was sent to America on a special mission, the nature of which is still unknown, but for which he was knighted on 27 January 1776. On 20 May he sailed in the frigate Rainbow (forty-four guns) for the American station, where Richard Lord Howe appointed him senior naval officer at Halifax. On 8 July he captured the large, newly built American frigate Hancock, which was taken into the Royal Navy as Isis. In August he preempted a planned rebel strike at Nova Scotia by destroying the stores the rebels had accumulated at Machias, and went on to burn about thirty of their ships.

In February 1779 he was ordered to New York to succeed Rear Admiral James Gambier in command of the North American station. On 4 April he was appointed commodore and hoisted his broad pennant in Raisonnable (sixty-four guns). Despite the depletion of his squadron to reinforce the West Indies, Collier at once persuaded Henry Clinton to mount a combined operation in the Chesapeake. Sailing with two thousand soldiers under Major General Edward Mathew, Collier reached Hampton Roads on 9 May, took Fort Nelson, and subsequently burned or captured vast quantities of naval stores and at least 137 ships. On 30 May, having returned to New York, Collier took ships up the Hudson River to support Clinton's operations against Stony Point and Verplancks. Not content with all this activity, he agreed to personally accompany the Connecticut coast raid in July. From the coast of Connecticut he moved north to bottle up and destroy the rebel flotilla attacking Francis MacLean's Penobscot base in Maine. On returning to New York, Collier found that the inevitable had happened: Vice Admiral Marriot Arbuthnot had arrived to be a permanent replacement for Gambier. Put out, but most certainly not surprised, Collier sailed for home in the frigate Daphne, reaching Portsmouth on 27 November. Shortly afterward he vented his dissatisfaction by claiming that the war in America could not be won with the methods and men currently employed.

He was not long ashore. Early in 1780 he was given Canada (seventy-four guns) in the Channel Fleet. In her he took part in Darby's timely relief of Gibraltar, and on the return voyage captured the Spanish forty-four-gun frigate Leocadia. But on his return home he resigned his command. There is no evidence that he was personally at odds with the earl of Sandwich but there seems to have been some incident, perhaps a failed application for patronage, which gave him a grievance against government.

On 19 July 1781 he married Elizabeth Fryer, by whom he had six children. In 1784 he was elected to Parliament for Honiton and in 1786 aroused the Pitt ministry's ire by opposing its attempt to give the Prince of Wales only limited powers should a Regency become necessary. Rightly or wrongly, Collier later maintained that this stance delayed his advancement to flag rank. He was certainly unemployed until the Nootka Sound crisis in 1790, when he was given St. George and ordered to prepare her for a flag officer. Angered by being again passed over, Collier, with the approval of fellow officers, complained to the Admiralty and the order was revoked. However, Collier still did not get his flag, and when the crisis passed St. George was paid off. (When a ship reached the end of its commission the ship's company was paid off; they were no longer employed.) He had to wait until a new war loomed before becoming rear admiral of the White on 1 February 1793, followed by promotion to vice admiral of the Blue on 4 July 1794. In January 1795 he was made commander in chief at the Nore, only for his health to compel resignation within weeks. He died in London on 6 April 1795, still embittered by his belief that his brilliant few months of independent command in America had not received due recognition.

SEE ALSO Arbuthnot, Marriot; Clinton, Henry; Connecticut Coast Raid; Howe, Richard; MacLean, Francis; Sandwich, John Montagu, fourth earl of; Stony Point, New York; Verplanck's Point.

                        revised by John Oliphant

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