Richard Collinson

Sir Richard Collinsion
Richard Collinson 1877.jpg
Collinson in 1877
Born7 November 1811
Died13 September 1883
AllegianceUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branchNaval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
Commands heldHMS Enterprise
HMS Plover
AwardsKnight Commander of the Order of the Bath
RelationsThomas Collinson (brother)

Admiral Sir Richard Collinson KCB (7 November 1811 – 13 September 1883) was an English naval officer and explorer of the Northwest Passage.

Early life

He was born in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, England, then part of County Durham. He joined the Royal Navy in 1823 at age twelve and rose in the ranks, becoming a lieutenant in 1835, commander in 1841, and captain in 1842.


Collinson was in command of the Lady Bentinck, a vessel of 1800 tons burden and 520 horsepower, when it appeared with the Phlegethon off Chapoo in eastern China, causing a "sensation".[1]: 303, 344 

On 1 April 1842, the British Plenipotentiary of Trade Henry Pottinger reported that Collinson, as commander of the Nemesis based in Chusan, had contributed to a successful skirmish with Chinese troops on the island of Taisam near Ningbo in February of that year.[1]: 300 

As commander of HMS Plover, and with the aid of Lt Henry Kellett in HMS Starling,[2] he surveyed the China coast from 1842 to 1846, producing charts upon which all successors were based.[3]

HMS Plover commanded by Collinson from 1842 to 1846 during his survey of the coast of China

Bering Strait

The three expeditions sent in 1848 to locate Sir John Franklin and Franklin's lost expedition in search of the Northwest Passage all failed. In 1850 Collinson was instructed to look for him in the Canadian Arctic by sailing eastward from the Bering Strait and Alaska, while Horatio Austin and others would use the normal route westward through the Parry Channel. Collinson was given HMS Enterprise and was to be accompanied by Commander Robert McClure commanding HMS Investigator. They left Plymouth in January 1850. After becoming separated off the coast of Chile the two ships became independent. (McClure got to the Bering Strait first and was frozen in on Banks Island. When he was rescued and taken to England he became the first person to traverse the Northwest Passage). When Collinson reached the Bering Strait and learned that McClure was ahead of him he turned back and spent the winter in Hong Kong. He returned to Bering Strait in mid-July 1851 and sailed east along the coast. On 29 August he was off the coast of Banks Island and saw an open strait tending northeast. This was the Prince of Wales Strait. He entered the strait thinking that he might have found the northwest passage, but after a while he saw a flagpole on a hill. Under the flagstaff was a message saying that McClure had wintered here the previous year. Collinson pushed on a little beyond McClure's maximum before he was blocked by ice. Returning south he found another message saying that McClure had passed that point only 18 days before but it did not mention McClure's plan to circumnavigate the island. He went a little further southeast and chose winter quarters at Minto Inlet. Here he found another message left by one of McClure's sledging parties. In the spring of 1852 he sent a sledge party north to Melville Island where they found tracks from an unknown traveller (these were McClure's men who were frozen in to the west.) On 5 August he was freed from the ice and went along the south coast of Victoria Island into the Coronation Gulf, the easternmost point reached by a ship from the Bering Strait. He wintered at Cambridge Bay on the southeast coast of Victoria Island.

In the spring of 1853 he led a sledge party to the easternmost point on the island (Point Pelly). A little later some Inuit drew them a map of the area to the east. On the map was a ship. If Collinson had not disregarded this, or had had a proper interpreter, he might have sent a sledge party east and found some of Franklin's men, if they were still alive. He returned through Bering Strait and around the Cape of Good Hope. At the cape (January 1855) he learned of John Rae's report that Franklin had been lost just to the east of where he had turned back.

Collinson's reputation is lower than it perhaps should be. The problems are that McClure was always there first, and Collinson's constant quarrels with his officers and bad luck. Roald Amundsen praised him for navigating a large ship through waters that were difficult for Amundsen's small ship, Gjøa. Collinson's account of the voyage was published six years after his death by his brother, Thomas Bernard Collinson.[4]

Later life

He was awarded the Founder's Gold Medal by the Royal Geographical Society in 1858, knighted in 1875, and made an admiral on the retired list in the same year.

In 1862 he became an "elder brother" of Trinity House and in 1875 became Deputy Master.


  1. ^ a b "The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and Foreign India, China, and Australia". Parbury, Allen, and Company. 1842. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ Barr, William (2007). Arctic Hell-Ship: The Voyage of HMS Enterprise, 1850–1855. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-88864-472-5.
  3. ^ Davies, Stephen (2011). Holdsworth, May; Munn, Christopher (eds.). Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography. University of Hong Kong Press. ISBN 978-988-8083-66-4.
  4. ^ Heath, Philip. "Thomas Bernard Collinson (1821–1902)".

Further reading

External links

Media files used on this page

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Author/Creator: unknown, Licence: PD
Richard Collinson 1877.jpg
Sir Richard Collinson
H.M.S. Plover and Young Hebe. The two vessels which surveyed the Coast of China from Shanghae to Hong Kong, under Capt. Collinson, RN CB and Lieut Bate RN in 1842-43-44-45 RMG PW8093.tiff
H.M.S. Plover and Young Hebe. The two vessels which surveyed the Coast of China from Shanghae to Hong Kong, under Capt. Collinson, RN CB and Lieut Bate RN in 1842-43-44-45


H.M.S. Plover and Young Hebe. The two vessels which surveyed the Coast of China from Shanghae to Hong Kong, under Capt. Collinson, RN CB and Lieut Bate RN in 1842-43-44-45