COLLIER, William (c.1687-1758), of Hatton Garden, London
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Family and Education
b. c.1687, 1st s. of William Collier of Bristol, Glos. educ. M. Temple 1708. m. suc. fa. bef. 1708.
?Gent. of privy chamber 1702–14; solicitor to Treasury and surveyor of coasts Sept. 1710–14.1
Collier’s origins are obscure. Nothing is known of him until his admission to the Middle Temple in 1708, when he was described as the son of William of Bristol. Collier was later described by Abel Boyer as ‘a petty-fogging attorney . . . hardly worth £30 a year’, but Colley Cibber’s assessment of Collier was more favourable, describing him as ‘a lawyer of an enterprising head and a jovial heart’. Given his obscure origins and apparently modest background it is questionable, though not impossible, that the future Member was the William Collier who served as a gentleman of the privy chamber throughout Queen Anne’s reign. In November 1709 Collier, a lesser shareholder of the Drury Lane theatre, took advantage of a conflict between the lord chamberlain and the holders of Drury Lane’s patent in order to obtain a licence for a new company to act at the theatre. During this company’s first season, however, the trial of Dr Sacheverell attracted larger audiences ‘of the better sort’ than did his plays. That Collier’s role in the cultural life of London led to friendships with leading Tories is suggested by a letter of 1709 from George Granville* to Robert Harley*, in which Granville wrote that ‘I can’t say Collier is entirely in the land of the living, for it is his hour of being very drunk, but as much of him as live is entirely devoted to you’. In the 1710s Boyer claimed that Collier also formed a friendship with Henry St. John II*, describing Collier as ‘an obsequious companion’ in St. John’s ‘nocturnal debauches’. Boyer asserted that this relationship led St. John to ‘advance him to a brighter station’, presumably a reference to Collier’s appointment in September 1710 as solicitor to the treasury and ‘surveyor of the coasts to prevent owling [i.e. smuggling]’. In the following two years Collier, according to Cibber, used his ministerial connexions to secure a settlement of disputes which had arisen concerning Drury Lane, an agreement which secured for Collier revenues of £700 p.a.2
According to Boyer, Collier was returned unopposed for Truro in 1713 thanks to Bolingbroke’s (St. John) prompting of the Duke of Beaufort, but more probably it was on the recommendation of his own friend Granville, now Lord Lansdown. Shortly before his election Collier had written to Oxford (Harley) to inform him of his ‘zeal and welfare for your person and welfare’, and in a further letter to the lord treasurer Collier put his name forward for the place of surveyor-general of the crown lands, now vacant because of the death of John Manley*. Collier assured Oxford that, should such an appointment be made, the consequent by-election would see either his own return or that of ‘a more worthy man’. However, Oxford chose to overlook him. On 12 Apr. 1714 Collier told against receiving a petition from an Irish peer requesting the repeal of an act passed by the Irish parliament. On 14 May he was appointed to prepare a bill to enable the development of the harbour at Whitesand Bay, near Land’s End, Cornwall. Later that month he clearly demonstrated his Toryism, telling on the 25th in favour of hearing at the bar the petition of the Bolingbroke-sponsored candidate defeated at the Harwich by-election. Two days later he told against agreeing with an amendment to the schism bill, from the committee of the whole, which would have removed from the bill those Dissenters who taught only writing. Collier’s support for this measure was made clear during the debate of 1 June upon the third reading of the bill. Boyer reported that Collier
took this solemn occasion to signalize his zeal for the cause he was to serve. With this intention . . . in order to expose the Dissenters, he desired leave to read to the House a collection of absurdities and impious expressions, which he pretended to have taken from their writings. After reading part of this impertinent legend, he fell on a passage extracted from the nonsensical rhapsodies of the late Mr Hickeringhill, minister at Colchester wherein Mr Collier said, he averred ‘that our blessed Saviour was the son of a w[hore]’. At these shocking expressions, Mr Bromley [William II] interrupted him, saying ‘such impious words ought not to be repeated in that assembly’. On the other hand, some other Members observed that Mr Hickeringhill was not a Dissenting teacher, but a minister of the Church of England, and that he was known to be crack-brained, and therefore his extravagances and blasphemies proved nothing against any set of men, much less against Dissenters.
On 22 June Collier told for agreeing with the resolution from ways and means to levy a duty on all imported buckrams, save those that came from Ireland, and three days later he told against a Whig attempt to adjourn consideration of the Southwark election case. The Worsley list duly classed Collier as a Tory. The Hanoverian succession brought an end to ministerial favour as far as Collier was concerned, and in addition to being removed from his offices his Drury Lane patent was assigned to Richard Steele*. Little is known of his later life. He may have been the Mr Collier who was solicitor to Viscount Perceval (John†) in the 1730s. Collier died at Bath on 24 May 1758, aged 70, leaving £100 to the Foundling Hospital.3
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison
- 1. Coke Pprs. 216; R. O. Bucholz, Augustan Court, 262; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 1350; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 630.
- 2. G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 182, 270; Boyer, Anne Hist., 702–3; Apology for Life of Colley Cibber (1740), 249–53; info. from Dr P. A. Hopkins; HMC Portland, iv. 527.
- 3. Boyer, 702–3; Wilts. RO, Suffolk and Berkshire mss 88/10/93, [Thomas Hare*] to Berkshire, 12 Sept. 1713 (ex inf. Dr C. Jones); Add. 70218, Collier to Oxford, 1 June, 21 Dec. 1713; Bull. IHR, xxiv. 215; Cobbett, 1350; R. H. Barker, Mr Cibber of Drury Lane, 100; info. from Dr Hopkins; HMC Egmont Diary, i. 142, 198, 200; Gent. Mag. 1758, p. 292.