Monday, 13 May 2013

Governor David Collins' Burial Site

Two hundred years ago Lieutenant Governor David Collins was buried following a grand ceremony in the colony he had established just seven years earlier. Just 100 years later, no-one knew where he was buried. It's known that David Collins was buried in what is now St David's Park, but the exact location of his tomb isn't known.

David Collins died on 24 March 1810, just a few years after he established a British settlement in what became Tasmania. Collins played an important part in the formation of Australia in its very early days of British settlement. He came out on the First Fleet in 1788, was sent to Port Philip Bay in Victoria in 1803 to set up a new out-post, decided that wasn't a suitable place for settlement and went on to establish Hobart instead.

It's undeniable that Collins had a big impact on Australian history, yet his final resting place was nearly lost forever. For years there were rumors surrounding the grave of Collins. Collins was very poor at the time of death and it was said he was buried with all his secret savings (in truth, he seems to have ended up poor mainly due to his supporting his wife back in England and his mistresses and children in the colony).
There was a rumor he was buried with numerous scandalous notes and letters that his detractors would never let come to light and it was even said he took a mistress right to the grave with him and that he wasn't alone in his tomb.

In 1925 the chance to answer all these rumors came up when it was decided to turn a burial ground into a public park. There had been a wooden church built on top of Collins' grave, but that structure fell down just a short time after it was built and St David's Cathedral was built a bit up the road on Murray Street. So the now unused burial ground was turned into a park and as the workers were moving the headstones down to the bottom of the park (where they now stand in a memorial wall), they discovered the tomb of Collins.

The tomb, or vault, was covered with a three tonne stone. It was lined with brick, surrounding a Huon pine coffin, which contained a lead coffin which in turn contained another Huon pine coffin. Once they got through all the layers of coffins, they found a large amount of native vegetation piled on top of the body in full regimental dress. It was described as being: "Perfectly persevered as though he had died the week before, the handsome Lt Governor with his fair waving hair with barely a tinge of grey." It said the native plants and herbs used in Collins' burial had a strong embalming affect, preserving the body of the Englishman. The workers only had the grave open for half an hour and then it was all closed up and he was laid to rest again.
Once the hole was refilled, it seems the exact location of the tomb was promptly forgotten again, as no-one is certain just where in the park it is.

There is a memorial in the Park to mark Collins' burial place, but it's thought it's not actually over the grave and has been said to be 30m from the actual site. Looking at photographs of the burial ground, there really wasn't much room to leave an area free for that to be true and the description that seems to be in most publications is that the memorial rests on the western end of the tomb. Despite attempts to find the physical tomb, searching historians haven’t been able to confirm the exact location.

David Collins is remembered as the founder of Hobart and the colony with the naming of Collins Street in Hobart and the suburb of Collinsvale.