Sergeant 4 John Collins

An example of research a genealogist carried  out. Sgt 4 Collins image is on our home page and his ancestor spotted this and updated us with his research

John Collins was my father’s maternal grandfather, and my father was named John Roland Hards after him. All I have on John Collins is the following:

John Roland Collins

By my reckoning John Roland Collins was born sometime between the beginning of April and the end of November 1852 in London, Marylebone: son of Frederick Collins and Sarah nee Mason. Frederick was a plumber, but he died at the end of 1859, aged 47 and when John was only about 7.

I haven’t found the birth certificate or a baptism record for John: there is more than one possibility; certificates are now £9.25 and so I don’t want to order the wrong one.

John was with his mother, a widow and a charwoman, at the time of the 1861 census but not with her at the time of the 1871 census. Perhaps he was in the Army by then: he is said to have joined the Black Watch and served in Afghanistan.

He married Frances Smith in November 1881, and we have a photo of him in his uniform on his wedding day.


John seems to have left the Army and got a job (as a warder ?) at Winchester Prison by the end of 1884, because that is the district where his first children were recorded. I was told that the oldest children were born within the prison walls.

Then a daughter was registered at Portsea Island at the beginning of 1890. I wonder if John had joined the police force by then and that was his first posting.

Sgt 4 John Collins

Sgt 4 John Collins

By the way, the Hampshire Police HQ is right next to Winchester Prison now, and I wonder if it was in John Collins’ day.

By the time of the 1891 census he was a Police Sergeant and with his family on the Isle of Wight.

I have traced baptisms for three of his children on 19 August 1900 in the East Cowes Wesleyan Methodist Chapel.

In the 1891 census the family were recorded as living at 3 Church Road in East Cowes. The cottages were pulled down a few years ago and the area boarded up awaiting redevelopment, but I traced a photograph of the terrace. I don’t know which cottage was number 3.


In 1901 the family was in 2 Clarence Cottages, Clarence Road. The cottage is still standing, but is now number 83.

I have been told that John’s primary duties involved supporting Osborne House, including accompanying the Queen and other members of the royal family. At some point in the 1890’s I understand that John was posted back to the mainland, but that on discovering his absence, the Queen demanded that he come back, which he did.

The Queen died in January 1901. In the 1904 Kelly’s Directory, 2 Clarence Cottages was occupied by another Police Sergeant: Walter Charles Ryall.

I think that John and his family moved from East Cowes, presumably after the Queen died, to ( I think ) Margaret Cottage, Seaview, at the NE corner of the island. I have a found reference to it on the internet, but can’t locate it.

At the time that John Collins was on the IoW it was administered by a Standing Committee to which the Chief Constable reported. The bulky hand–written minutes of their meetings are available for view at the Newport Record Office. Surprisingly, so far as I could see, there are very few references to the Queen or Osborne House, or to the police force’s responsibilities in that regard. There are however lengthy reports by the Chief Constable, including things about the terms and conditions of the policemen.

The minutes show that John was the Drill Sergeant for the police force on the IoW and that he retired from the Force in 1907. There was some debate over the level of pension that he should be awarded (the decision being to hold it at the lowest possible level). He retired because of an injury incurred while launching a lifeboat, although at an age of about 54 (if he was born about 1852) he was already working beyond his retirement age of 50.

It would seem that in policing terms, East Cowes was a bit of a back-water – there was more ‘action’ in West Cowes !

I assume that John moved to the mainland on retirement, but I don’t know if it was to Chidden where he did live in the 1930s.

He died on 14th April 1936 and was buried at Hambledon Church.

I would like to fill in as many details as I can about his time in the Force and it would also be good if there any reference to his time in the Army – the family ‘legend’ is that he was in the Black Watch, and he wore a busby at his wedding, but it would take an expert on uniforms to be sure that he was in the Black Watch. Given that he had such a common name, I’d rather not start trawling the National Archives until I have narrowed things down as much as possible.


With thanks

Phil Hards