||Collinson entered the Navy in 1823. From 1831 to 1833 he served in the survey ship AETNA off the west coast of Africa and in the Mediterranean. He was commissioned as lieutenant in 1835 and in September of that year was appointed to the SULPHUR, surveying vessel, Pacific, under Captains Frederick Beechey (1796-1856) and Edward Belcher (q.v.). He was promoted to commander in 1841 and the following year was appointed to the PLOVER, surveying vessel, in which he made the first survey of the China coast. He remained in the PLOVER until 1846, having been promoted to captain in 1842. Collinson is known chiefly for his voyage of 1850 to 1855 in the ENTERPRISE, during which he spent three years exploring the Arctic beyond Point Barrow in a fruitless search for Sir John Franklin (q.v.) and his ships the EREBUS and TERROR. It was, however, his second-in-command, Robert McClure (q.v.), who went ahead in the INVESTIGATOR, who, while equally unsuccessful in the Franklin search, achieved the transit of the North West Passage, the goal of British Arctic exploration since Elizabethan times. Despite losing his ship in the process, he received the major share of public acclaim. Collinson was annoyed that his work had not received more attention and that he was not given any official reward. He never again applied for employment under the Admiralty, although he attained his flag in 1862, became vice-admiral in 1869 and an admiral on the retired list in 1875. He was an Elder Brother and Deputy Master of Trinity House, 1862 to 1883, and an active member of the Royal Geographical Society.
||The papers were purchased from Maggs Bros. in 1965. There are private journals for 1836, 1850 to 1855, logs, 1843 to 1846, a remark book, 1850 to 1851, and letterbooks, 1845 to 1846 and 1850 to 1854. There is a large amount of material relating to Collinson's survey work, in particular to China and to the voyage of the Enterprise. It includes numerous records of observations and calculations on navigation, magnetic variation, meteorology and tides. There is also a large body of official, semi-official and private correspondence, 1835 to 1855, together with copies of some letters and memoranda by Collinson. His correspondents included Sir Francis Beaufort (1774-1857), Hydrographer to the Admiralty, Peter la Trobe (1795-1863), Horatio T. Austin (so. 1800-1865) and John Barrow the younger (1808-1898). The only items relating to his later career are notebooks on his work for Trinity House and printed papers, mainly official publications.