Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Collins, William Edward

COLLINS, WILLIAM EDWARD (1867–1911), bishop of Gibraltar, born in London on 18 Feb. 1867, was second son in a family of five sons and four daughters of Joseph Henry Collins, mining engineer and writer on geology, by his wife Frances Miriam Denny (d. 1888). After education at Mr. Nuttall's collegiate school, Truro, he passed to the Chancellor's School, which was closely connected with Truro Cathedral. Here his early association with Canon Arthur James Mason, now Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, proved a determining factor in his career. After a short interval spent in a solicitor's office in London and in frequent visits to Spain, whither his family had removed, Collins decided to study with a view to holy orders. In 1884 he was able, thanks to the generosity of friends, to proceed to Selwyn College, Cambridge, and graduated B.A. as junior optime in the mathematical tripos of 1887, proceeding M.A. in 1891 and D.D. in 1903. The more congenial study of church history next engaged his attention, and the rapid development of his powers was mainly due to the stimulating teaching of Mandell Creighton [q. v. Suppl. I], then Dixie professor of ecclesiastical history. In 1889 Collins won the Lightfoot scholarship in ecclesiastical history, and in 1890 the Prince Consort's prize. In the same year he was ordained deacon, and priest in 1891, serving his first curacy under Canon Mason, who invited him to become a mission preacher at All Hallows Barking. He continued to combine historical study with the holding of missions and retreats, and in 1891 returned to Cambridge as lecturer at St. John's College on international law and at Selwyn on divinity.

In 1893, at the age of twenty-six, Collins was appointed professor of ecclesiastical history at King's College, London. His sympathetic methods of teaching, fortified by wide reading and strong convictions, served to establish close relations with his pupils. Meanwhile he was active in church work outside his official sphere. In 1894 he organised the missionary conference at St. James's Hall, and in the same year helped Mandell Creighton, then bishop of Peterborough, to start the Church Historical Society. In his capacity of vice-president Collins was responsible for preparing the society's publications for the press, and himself issued numerous historical studies, based on original authorities, including 'The Authority of General Councils' (1896), 'The English Reformation and its Consequences' (1898), and 'Church and State in England before the Conquest' (1903). In 1894 he renewed his connection with All Hallows Barking, where he took part in the celebration of the 250th anniversary of Archbishop Laud's execution (10 Jan. 1895), subsequently editing a commemorative volume of lectures on Laud (published in the same year). His reputation as a student of documents steadily grew, and his advice on church questions was frequently sought. In May 1899, when the archbishops heard at Lambeth arguments for and against the liturgical use of incense, Collins adduced early and mediæval authorities in disproof of the allegation of lawfulness. This evidence largely influenced the decision of Archbishop Temple [q. v. Suppl. II], prohibiting the use of incense as contrary to the second act of uniformity of 1559.

In 1904 Collins, despite delicate health, accepted the see of Gibraltar in succession to Dr. Charles Waldegrave Sandford. His earnest preaching, his linguistic attainments, and his cordial relations with the leaders of the orthodox Greek Church gave him special qualifications for the post. His duties, which included not only the administration of the diocese of Gibraltar and Malta but also the supervision of the English chaplaincies and congregations in southern Europe, involved constant travelling. In 1907 he visited Persia and Asiatic Turkey in the interests of the archbishop of Canterbury's Assyrian Mission, and on his return published his journal, 'Notes of a Journey to Kurdistan' (1908). At the same time he still rendered service to the church at home. During the meetings of the Pan- Anglican Congress (15-24 June 1908) his encyclopaedic knowledge was frequently in evidence, and he presided with ability over the debates on the Anglican communion. Subsequently he assisted Dr. Randall Davidson, archbishop of Canterbury, in drafting the encyclical letter which was issued on behalf of the Lambeth Conference (7 Aug. 1908). The strain of his unceasing activities produced a serious breakdown in 1909, when lung and throat trouble developed. By the autumn of 1910 he recovered sufficiently to resume his episcopal visits, but fell ill shortly after at the British embassy, Constantinople, and died at sea on 22 March 1911 on his way to Smyrna; he was buried in St. John's Church, Smyrna. A memorial service was held at Lambeth Palace. Collins was married on 26 Jan. 1904 to Mary Brewin Sterland, who died on 15 July 1909 without issue. A posthumous volume, 'Hours of Insight and other Sermons,' appeared in 1912 with a preface by Dr. Randall Davidson, archbishop of Canterbury.

[A memoir of the bishop is being prepared by Canon A. J. Mason; The Times, 25 March 1911; Guardian, 31 March 1911; Truro Diocesan Magazine, April 1911; L. Creighton, Life of Mandell Creighton, 1904, vol. ii.; private information.]

G. S. W.