Richard Collyer was a member of Michael Howe’s gang who was born in Kent, England, in 1786. In July 1799 at the age of only 13, he was sentenced to death at the Maidstone Assizes for the crime of committing an “unnatural act” with 45-year-old Thomas Bowles. However, this sentence was later commuted to life, while Thomas was executed soon after. Young Richard spent almost a year on a prison hulk before finally being transported to NSW on the Royal Admiral in March 1800 and then onto Van Diemen’s Land, a voyage which was horrendous for a man, let alone a mere boy. It is so far unknown what led Richard to escape his assignment and join Michael, but poor treatment and a hunger for unshackled freedom was more than likely the cause, just as it had been for Michael and James Whitehead.
After the attempt was made on Richard’s life by George Hillier in late 1817, which saw the right side of his neck slashed and his hand shattered by a bullet, he made his way into Launceston and surrendered. For his involvement in the gangs fight with Dennis McCarty at New Norfolk in 1815, which resulted in the death of Charles Carlisle, Richard was sentenced to death. Before his execution on the 25th of January 1818, the 32-year-old spent a great deal of time with Reverend Knopwood, which Knopwood recorded in his diary. While the Hobart Town Gazette reported the following detail, “it is satisfactory to announce, that the criminal, Collyer, died truly penitent and resigned, admitting fully, that his life was justly forfeited to the law. The attention of the Reverend Mr. Knopwood to the unhappy man was constant; and appears to have wrought the happiest effects. Collyer prayed fervently and addressed the crown servants, who witnessed the execution, in becoming terms; exhorting them to take warning by his fate, and to avoid the course of life which led to it. May his example have its due effect!”
Snippet from the Hobart Town Gazette, January 31, 1818.
Illustration by Aidan Phelan