An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales.


David Collins.

The 1798 First Edition of the most detailed of the early settlement narratives.

“A cornerstone in any collection of Australian books” (Jonathan Wantrup).


David Collins, Late Judge Advocate and Secretary of the Colony, AN ACCOUNT OF THE ENGLISH COLONY IN NEW SOUTH WALES: with remarks on the dispositions, customs, manners, &c of the native inhabitants of that country. To which are added, some particulars of New Zealand; compiled, by permission, from the MSS. of Lieutenant-Governor King. Printed for T. Cadell Jun. & W. Davies, The Strand (London), 1798. First Edition. Illustrated with two maps, one folding, and 19 engravings by Edward Dayes, some after drawings by the convict artist Thomas Watling. Quarto, xx + xxxviii + 617 pages, 27.5 x 22 x 5.2 cm, Half Title; Titlepage; Dedication to the Rt Hon. Thomas Lord Viscount Sydney; Preface dated London, May 25, 1798; Contents listing Introduction (3 parts), XXXII Chapters, Conclusion comprising accounts of Norfolk Island, New Zealand and its Inhabitants and a Short Vocabulary [specimen] of the New Zealand Language; Appendix (12 parts, the final part including some NSW Aboriginal words); and Postscript.

Condition: Good. Old but sound and tight full rebinding in quarter light tan calf and grey boards, red titling label on spine. Quarterbound surface possibly unfixed, with powder slowly abrading. Some browning and intermittent spotting throughout, though many pages are free of marks; minor edge losses to pp. 51-54 not affecting text; minor stain to corner of engraving following p. 124; some engraved plates browned or spotted on reverse, with some browning at top or sides of images; small neatly repaired tear to plate following p. 252; old faint marks not affecting text on pp. 496-497; old black mark 2 cm long not affecting text, p. 559; neat repair (5.5 x 1 cm) to top left-hand edge of Aboriginal plate following p. 566; minor to moderate offsetting from plates to pp. 569, 571, 573, 577, 579; minor edge loss to plate facing p. 579, not affecting text; old small black marks and offsetting on p. 581 facing plate; slight creasing to final 2 pages.

David Collins (1756-1810) wrote “the most painstaking of all accounts of the First Fleet voyage and the first settlement…and the last of the First Fleet journals, aptly described as the first history of New South Wales”. As Judge Advocate, in charge of the Marine detachment and close friend of Governor Phillip, David Collins— responsible for the Colony’s entire legal establishment—was perfectly placed to record all important transactions beginning with the preparation in 1786 of the First Fleet expedition and subsequent events in New South Wales involving crime, punishment, convict labour, health, rations and stores. This first volume, completed by Collins in May 1798, was illustrated with engravings by the English watercolour painter and engraver in mezzotint Edward Dayes (1763-1804), some after drawings by the convict artist Thomas Watling who was assigned to the surgeon-general, John White, an ardent naturalist who made extensive use of Watling’s artistic skill. When White left the colony in December 1794 it is thought that Watling may have been assigned to the Judge Advocate, David Collins. There is positive evidence that at least some of the plates in Collins’s An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales  were taken from original sketches by Watling. Collins returned in June 1797 to England. He described his objective in writing the first 1798 volume was to persuade readers in England that New South Wales should not be regarded with odium and disgust.

His 1798 volume was praised and sold well enough to encourage Collins to publish, in 1802, a second volume largely based on Governor Hunter’s reports, official records and dispatches and illustrated with engraved plates, some hand coloured. The particular importance of the second volume resides in its chronicle and narratives of subsequent events and discoveries, including early coastal voyages, inland expeditions, and new discoveries such as the wombat and the lyre bird, first illustrated here in colour. David Collins’s wife Maria abridged and edited the two volume work (1798 and 1802) in a single volume produced in 1804.

The administrative career of David Collins was filled with many frustrations from military, naval, and colonial office sources in England, Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land. Despite his pleas for recognition and support being often rebuffed he was eventually promoted to Lieut-Colonel in recognition of his work in NSW, commissioned in 1803 as Lieutenant-Governor of the new settlemernt in Van Diemen’s Land under the Governor of NSW, and promoted to Brevet Colonel in the Army in 1808. St David’s Cathedral in Hobart is named after him.