Edward Knight Collins

Somtimes curiosity gets the better of me.  Such was the case with one sentence in my prior post on early spoon design patents.  That one sentence was:  “His Tuscan pattern, patented in 1846, was developed at the request of shipping magnate Edward K. Collins for the dining room of a new transatlantic steamer.”  This sentence referred to an 1846 flatware design by Michael Gibney.  I could have just left it at that, but nooooooo….not me.  I wanted to know more about this Edward K. Collins and his transatlantic steamers.  What I found was pretty interesting and I thought I’d share it.

The following synopsis came from Wikipedia:

Edward Knight Collins “was born on August 5, 1802 in Truro, Massachusetts to Israel Gross Collins (1776–1831) and Mary Ann Knight (c.1780-c.1802). His mother was a niece of Sir Edward Knight and she died shortly after Edward was born. He was then raised by his aunts. His father moved to New York City. At age thirteen in 1815, Collins left Truro for New Jersey to attend school. He then went to New York City as an apprentice clerk in the counting house of McCrea and Slidell. Within a few years, Edward moved to Delaplaine and Company.[1]

“In 1821 he joined his father’s company and in January 1824 he became a partner in I. G. Collins & Son. In 1827 they started the first regularly scheduled packet service between New York City and Veracruz, Mexico. In 1826, Collins married Mary Ann Woodruff, the daughter of Thomas T. Woodruff. They had a son, Edward K. Collins II, as well as a daughter and at least one other child.[1]

“After his father’s death in 1831 he became involved with the cotton trade between New Orleans and New York. He bought his first shipping line in 1831. In 1836, he launched the Dramatic Line. He received a government subsidy in 1847 and formed the United States Mail Steamship Company to compete with the Cunard Line for transatlantic shipping. The subsidy was canceled in 1856 after two of the five ships sank.”

A very well written summation of Mr. Collins’ life can be found here (and I do recommend that you read it):


What really grabbed my interest was the sinking of two of his ships, the Arctic in 1854 and the Pacific two years later.  Edward K. Collins’ wife, daughter, and younger of his two sons were on the Arctic when it collided with another steamer, the Vesta, 60 miles off the coast of Newfoundland.  His wife and children, along with all other women and children on board the ship, were lost at sea. 

Wreck of the Steamship "Artic"

Wreck of the Steamship “Artic”

Despite the fact that all the women and children were lost, it is believed 24 male passengers and 60 crew members survived.  Approximately 350 people died in this tragedy.  “The public outrage over the treatment of the women and children aboard the ship resonated for decades, and led to the familiar tradition of saving “women and children first” being enforced in other maritime disasters.”  This last sentence was taken from a wonderful blog on the subject of the “Arctic” which can be found here:  http://www.steamerarctic.blogspot.com/

Also very interesting is the fact that although it was fully the intention of the captain, Captain Luce, to go down with the ship (along with his 11 year old son, Willie, who was also on board), the Captain survived although his son did not.  The captain was pulled under water twice, came to the surface twice and managed to grab hold of a piece of the paddle box along with 11 other men.  After floating on the ocean for two days and nights, only the captain and one other man remained alive on the floating wreckage when they were picked up by a passing ship.  Captain Luce’s heart wrenching letter to Henry K. Collins describing the events of the sinking and his survival is included in the steamerarctic.blogspot (scroll down toward the end as this is the last document).

In January of 1856 another one of Edward K. Collins’ steamships, the Pacific, disappeared and this loss involves a message in a bottle.

The Steamship "Pacific"

The Steamship “Pacific”

The following was taken from Wikipedia:

“Wyn Craig Wade mentions the missing ship (the Pacific) in his 1979 book The Titanic: End of a Dream. Wade wrote “the only clue in this instance had been a note in a bottle, washed ashore on the west coast of the Hebrides: On board the Pacific from Liverpool to N.Y. – Ship going down. Confusion on board – icebergs around us on every side. I know I cannot escape. I write the cause of our loss that friends may not live in suspense. The finder will please get it published. W.M. GRAHAM.

“Author Jim Coogan also mentions the missing vessel in his article “A Message from the Sea” published in the Barnstable Patriot (barnstablepatriot.com). Coogan writes that after the bottle was found “on the remote Hebrides island of Uist.. in the summer of 1861,” the passenger list was thoroughly checked by the London Shipping & Mercantile Gazette “and when the passenger list of the ill-fated steamer was examined, it contained the name of William Graham, a British sea captain headed for New York as a passenger to take command there of another vessel.”[citation needed]

“Coogan’s article goes on to say “…in 1991, divers found the bow section of the SS Pacific in the Irish Sea only 60 miles from Liverpool. Other than the claim, there is no other confirmation of the find, nor is it found in any other book…that no wreckage from the lost ship came ashore along the coast of Wales in the aftermath of her disappearance would…make it unlikely the ship foundered so close to Liverpool.”

I found both of these maritime disasters very interesting and was glad that I was curious enough to do some research on Edward Knight Collins.  Almost as interesting, for me at least, is the fact that Edward K. Collins is responsible for giving the Village of Larchmont, New York, its name.

In the mid 1800s, Edward bought a house in Mamaroneck, New York, that had been built by Peter Jay Munro in 1797.  The house faced the Boston Post Road and during the summer a considerable amount of dust was generated by traffic on the road.  To combat this, the Scottish gardner of Mr. Munro imported a Scottish species of larch trees that were known to be fast growing and planted them along the front of the property.  When Edward bought this property almost 50 years after it had been built, he remodeled the manor house and named the parcel, which extended down to the shoreline, to reflect the hilltop position of the house and its grand trees: Larchmont.

And I discovered that this house is now (September 2013) up for sale for just a little under $5 million.

Edward Knight Collins' "Larchmont a/k/a "Manor House"

Edward Knight Collins’ “Larchmont a/k/a “Manor House”

Even if you’re not in the market, you should take a look at all the photos:


After the sinking of his two ships, Edward lost the government subsidy in 1856 and his assets were sold to satisfy creditors in 1858.  Moving to his summer home, “Collinwood,” near Wellsville, Ohio, Collins tried to restore his fortune through iron manufacturing, coal mining, and drilling for oil, but all his efforts soon failed. He remarried, to Mrs. Sarah Browne, and by 1862 moved back to the New York City area, where he lived in declining comfort and increasing obscurity. After several decades of remarkable success as a maritime entrepreneur, his business failure with the collapse of the heavily subsidized Collins Line would tarnish his reputation, as well as the principle of government subsidy, for many years afterwards. Collins died in New York City and was buried in an unmarked grave in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.

Edward Knight Collins worked very hard to succeed and succeed he did, only to lose it all.  Interesting but extremely sad story. 

I have been unable to locate any pieces of flatware with the Collins Line name, United States Mail Steamship Co. name, or the names of any of his ships:  Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Adriatic and Baltic. 

Gibney Design Patent No. 59

Gibney Design Patent No. 59

It was this patent and that one sentence that started this whole thing.

That earlier post can be found here:  https://queenofsienna.wordpress.com/2013/09/06/the-early-spoon-design-patents-it-would-be-an-interesting-collection/

This entry was posted in Collins Line, Edward K. Collins, Edward Knight Collins, Larchmont, Michael Gibney, Tuscan pattern, United States Mail Steamship Co., USM Arctic, USM Pacific, women and children first and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Edward Knight Collins

  1. KerryCan says:

    You sure pack a lot into a blog post! This is so interesting. I really like the part about the genesis of the “rule” about women and children first!

  2. Very interesting and sad indeed. I love old stories and reading about past eras! Nicely done thanks 😉

  3. Jeff says:

    Postcript: Collins was the namesake of one of the U.S. Liberty ships in WWII that my father served on– SS Edward K. Collins

  4. CRAIG PRINCE says:

    Your blog is very interesting. I too know a bit about Collins and it was fun reading about the silverware they may have used on the ships. An aspect that I have never thought about before. There is a new book about Collins that was published in 2107 called Steam Titans by William M. Fowler.

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