Captain Frederick Collins

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Captain Frederick Collins of Brighton

Frederick Philip Collins Gillam ( born 19th November 1832, Brighton - died 30th August 1912, Barcombe, Sussex)

Early Life

Frederick Philip Collins Gillam, who gained fame as "Captain Collins of the Skylark", was born at Kent's Court, Brighton on 19th November 1832 *, the son of Ann Billinghurst and Philip Collins Gillam, a local fisherman. Frederick was born out of wedlock, but his parents married nearly eight months later at Brighton's St Nicholas' Church on 10th July 1833.

Frederick Philip Collins Gillam was the eldest of at least five children born to Ann Billinghurst and Philip Collins Gilham. Frederick's siblings were Edward Collins Gillam (born c1838, Brighton), Sarah Ann Collins Gillam (born 1840, Brighton), Mary Elizabeth Gillam (born c1843, Brighton - baptised 14th January 1844) and George Thomas Billinghurst Gillam (born 1846, Brighton).

Philip Collins Gillam, Frederick's father, was a sailor and fisherman of Brighton. Philip Collins Gillam was born in Brighthelmstone (Brighton) around 1814, possibly the son of Sarah Collins (born c1776, Brighthelmstone). Frederick's mother, Ann Billinghurst was born around 1814 in the small village of Chipstead, near Sevenoaks in Kent. In November 1832, in the Sussex parish of Brighthelmstone, Ann Billinghurst gave birth to a baby boy named Frederick Philip Collins, presumably fathered by Brighton fisherman Philip Collins Gillam. Frederick Philip Collins Gillam and Ann Billinghurst were joined in holy matrimony at Brighton's St Nicholas' Church on 10th July 1833, when their baby son Frederick Philip Collins was almost 8 months old. It is possible that Frederick's father Philip Collins Gillam was also born out of wedlock and, consequently, gave his surname variously as "Collins" (possibly his mother's name), "Gillam" (probably his putative father's name) or "Collins Gillam" ( a combination of both parent's surnames). This would partly explain why, in adult life, Frederick Philip Collins Gillam, preferred to be known as "Frederick Philip Collins". Another reason why Frederick Collins dropped the Gillam surname was that he was particularly proud of his great-grandfather, an Able Seaman Collins, who served on HMS Queen Charlotte, the flagship of Admiral Lord Howe, at the Third Battle of Ushant on 1st June 1794 (a sea battle with the French Republican Navy famously known as the "Glorious First of June"). Given his later nautical career, "Captain Frederick Collins" was keen to strengthen the bonds between himself and his brave naval ancestor.

When the census was taken on 7th June 1841, Frederick Collins, his parents and his young brother and sister were living in Upper Russell Street, Brighton, at the home of sixty-five year old Sarah Collins, presumably the mother of Philip Collins Gillam. Possibly in deference to his mother, Philip and his family are listed under the surname of "Collins". On the census return, Philip Collins is described as a twenty-seven year old "Mariner". No occupation is given for his twenty-seven year old wife Ann, who was kept busy caring for their three children - Frederick ( whose age is given as "5" rather than 8 years), Edward (aged 3) and Sarah (aged 1). Sarah Collins, who heads the list of household members, states on the return that she is of "Independent Means", which suggests she might have been in receipt of a naval pension from her late husband.

As a boy, Frederick Philip Collins Gillam was educated by Mr James Ward at the Puget School for Boys in North Lane (Meeting House Lane), Brighton, a "self supporting" school financed by quarterly payments. An article recounting the career of "Captain Fred Collins" on the occasion of his 70th birthday, notes that "Young Collins was educated by Mr James Ward, at Puget's School, where many prominent townsmen also acquired their fundamental knowledge", adding "So great, however, was his passion for the sea, that when he was not in school, he was on the beach engaged in fishing or acting as a boy cook on board some of the boats that ploughed the ocean." [Brighton Gazette, 20th November 1902, page 5].

In his teens, Frederick Collins (Gillam) was apprenticed to a local plumber and glazier, but, as the  Brighton Gazette article later explained "his devotion to Neptune was insurmountable" and "consequently his indentures were cancelled". As his obituary noted some 65 years later, Fred Collins was "attracted by the sea; he took to the fishing industry as a means of livelihood, and at the age of 16 had established a reputation for coolness and seamanship" [Brighton Gazette, 31st August 1912, page 5]. The Brighton Gazette remarked in November 1902 on the occasion of his 70th birthday that, even as a teenager, Fred Collins was "heart and soul, a son of the waves".

When the 1851 census of Brighton was taken on the "Night of the 30th March, 1851", Philip Collins Gillam was recorded with his family at 25 Great Russell Street, Brighton. On the census return, Fred Collins' father, Philip Gillam, is recorded as a "Fisherman", aged 37. The teenage Fred Collins, (entered as "Frederick Gillam", aged 16, on the census return) is described on the census form as a "Fisherman Boy". By this date, Philip and Ann Gillam had a family of five children - three sons and two daughters. In addition to Frederick, the Gillam children were listed as Edward (aged 13), Sarah (aged 10), Mary (aged 7) and George Gillam (aged 4).


Frederick Collins (Gillam) was working as a fisherman and "pleasure boat proprietor" in Brighton when he met Lucy Post (Poste), the eldest daughter of Eliza and George Poste, a journeyman bricklayer of Barcombe. George Poste, who was born in Buxted, Sussex, in 1815, had married Eliza Constable (born 1819, Barcombe) in her home village of Barcombe in 1837. Lucy Poste (Post), the couple's first child, was born shortly afterwards, either in 1837 or 1838. Lucy Post was the eldest of eleven children, all of whom were born in the Sussex village of Barcombe. [ Arlene Constable, a descendant of Eliza Constable, Lucy Poste's mother, has identified Lucy's ten siblings as George William Post (born 1840), Henry Thomas Post (born 1841), John Post (born 1844), Alfred Post (born 1846), Jane Post (born 1848), Mary Post (born 1850), David Post (born 1852), Louisa Post (born 1854), Ruth Post (born 1857) and Joseph Post (born 1859). Although Lucy's father George Poste spelt his surname "Poste", his children's births were generally registered under the surname of Post ].

Frederick Philip Collins Gillam married Lucy Post (Poste) on 9th May 1858. The entry in the marriage register at St Nicholas' Church notes that the groom was living at 13 Queen Street, Brighton. Interestingly, Frederick Philip Collins Gillam gives his occupation as "Pleasure Boat Proprietor" at the time of his marriage to Lucy Post. ( Twenty-six years later, Fred Collins arranged for the entry of his marriage in the church register to be amended. Written in the margin of the marriage register are the words "For Gillam should read Collins Gillam - corrected on the 3rd September 1884 by me H. C. Beardmore, Curate of St Nicholas, Brighton in the presence of Frederick Philip Collins Gillam" ).

Lucy Post was pregnant when she married Frederick Collins (Gillam) and a few months later, on 16th July 1858, at 40 Russell Street, Brighton, she gave birth to a baby boy. Frederick and Lucy's son was baptised with the name Frederick Post Collins Gillam on 15th September 1858. ( Frederick Collins later dropped his Gillam surname and noted in his will that there had been an error in his son's baptism entry and instead of "Gillam", the surname should have been entered as "Collins").

[ABOVE] Frederick Philip Collins Gillam (1832-1912), a Brighton boatman and beer house keeper who gained fame as "Captain Collins", the proprietor of the pleasure yacht the "Skylark", which took holidaymakers out to sea during Victorian times. The above portrait is taken from a carte-de-visite photograph by William Hall, photographer of 80 West Street, Brighton. The carte-de-visite dates from around 1874, when Captain Collins was in his early forties and is signed "Yours truly, Fred Collins, Skylark" .

[ABOVE] Captain Frederick Collins (1832-1912), the proprietor of the pleasure yacht the "Skylark", a carte-de-visite photograph by William Hall of 80 West Street, Brighton (c1874). The photograph is signed "Yours truly, Fred Collins, Skylark".

[ABOVE] Fishermen and boys with their distinctive fishing vessel known as a "hog boat", photographed around 1862 by the Brighton photographer Edward Fox . (Frederick Collins (Gillam) worked as a fisherman as a young man, but was already taking holidaymakers out to sea on pleasure trips in the 1850s.

* NOTE: Frederick Philip Collins (Gillam) always maintained that he was born in Brighton on 19th November 1832. However a birth or baptism record entered at Brighton's St Nicholas' Church states that "Frederic Philip Collins" was born on 20th March 1836, the son of Ann and Philip Collins. The date of this entry probably refers to the date of Frederick's baptism rather than his date of his birth.

Captain Frederick Collins and his Interest in British Naval History

[ABOVE] Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood (1748-1810) from a portrait by Henry Howard [ABOVE] Admiral Lord Howe (1726-1799) from a portrait by John Singleton Copley

Captain Frederick Collins was fascinated by British naval history. Collins' great-grandfather served under Admiral Lord Howe at the Third Battle of Ushant, a British naval victory popularly known as "The Glorious First of June". Captain Collins commemorated the famous naval battle each year on 1st June in the grounds of his home in Barcombe. The Brighton Gazette noted that "Captain Collins perpetuates the glorious victory on each anniversary, and gets quite a mimic action in his picturesque grounds at Barcombe." Captain Fred Collins was a great admirer of the naval commander Cuthbert Collingwood and he was convinced that he was related to this famous naval sea captain. By 1895, Captain Collins had re-named his residence in Barcombe, "Collingwood House", presumably in honour of the great 18th century naval officer.

[ABOVE] "The Glorious First of June", a painting by Philip James de Loutherbourg (1740-1812) depicting Lord Howe's victory at the Battle of Ushant on 1st June 1794.  Frederick Collins, the "Captain" of the Brighton pleasure yacht "Skylark", was particularly proud of the fact that his great-grandfather Able Seaman Collins served under Admiral Lord Howe on his  flagship HMS Queen Charlotte during the Third Battle of Ushant, a British naval victory over ships of the French Republican Navy.


Holidaymakers Board a Pleasure Yacht on Brighton Beach during the Summer of 1857

[ABOVE] "Brighton Beach - 8th August 1857", a drawing made on location by the artist William McConnell, showing holidaymakers boarding a pleasure yacht on Brighton's beach. William McConnell (1831-1867), a prolific cartoonist and illustrator, drew a number of scenes on Brighton's seafront in the 1850s and 1860s. McConnell's drawings of Brighton were later engraved by the Dalziel Brothers and used as illustrations. [ABOVE] A detail from William McConnell's drawing "Brighton Beach - 8th August 1857", showing (on the left) Brighton mariners touting for business and (in the centre) helping holidaymakers to board the vessel. In the background, on the left, are a row of bathing machines.  Brighton's famous Chain Pier can be seen on the horizon in the distance.

Captain Collins and the Skylark Pleasure Yacht in Brighton














[ABOVE] Frederick Philip Collins Gillam (1832-1912), known as "Captain Collins", owner of the Skylark, Brighton's most famous pleasure yacht. This picture postcard produced by The Brighton Mezzograph Company, York Hill, Brighton, was issued in 1912 to mark the death of Captain Collins. (The card is postmarked 27th May 1916).

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