Tudor Washington Collins was born on 9 March 1898 at Towai, Northland, one of 10 children of Henry Collins, a small farmer and general labourer, and his second wife, Sarah Wilson; Henry also had six children from his first marriage. The family later moved to the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn, where Tudor attended Grey Lynn School. When he was 10 or 11 he was sent north to assist his sister and brother-in-law on their farm at Batley. He stayed for a year and went to two local schools before returning to Grey Lynn. After leaving school at 14 he worked as a packer at a soap manufacturer’s, then joined his brother Jim at a fellmongery.
Tudor Collins’s long association with the sea started when his brother Reg arranged a job for him on a coastal boat, the Tiri. He went on to serve on many scows, including the Huia , the Lena Gladys and Reg’s boat, the Jane Gifford. He also gained his master mariner’s ticket.
In May 1918 Collins joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and trained as a machine-gunner, but the war ended while he was bound for Europe. On his return he joined his brother Jim at Mercury Bay, where he ‘felt the call of the kauri bush’, and in December 1918 resolved to be a bushman. He also worked for his brother Bert in the Kauaeranga Valley near Thames. While at Mercury Bay Tudor met Annie Elizabeth McLeod, and on 25 September 1923 the couple were married in Whitianga; there were no children of the marriage.
After settling in Warkworth in 1924 Collins went to sea again with Reg on the Jane Gifford , but by 1928 he and Annie were running a photographic business out of a small shop. They soon began selling radio and electrical supplies as well, and even generated electricity to supply part of the town. After building a service station near the store they began retailing petrol. A successful businessman and a prominent citizen of Warkworth, Tudor Collins served on the town board from 1932 to 1941.
He went back to sea in the Second World War. By now in his 40s, he served as a petty officer in the Royal New Zealand Navy, mostly in coastal waters. Annie managed the radio business and the service station in his absence. After her death in April 1946, Tudor purchased a run-down farm on the Tawharanui Peninsula and began to develop and farm it.
Tudor Collins was also a notable photographer. At 15, while working in the bush at Glenbervie, near Whangarei, he had become interested in photography and on a visit to Auckland purchased his first camera. When he was working at Kauaeranga in 1921 the New Zealand Herald photographer George Bourne urged him to buy a tripod and develop his own film in his bush shanty. Collins went on to photograph many subjects besides the bush, including big-game fishing and visiting naval ships. He was often commissioned by the New Zealand Herald to cover newsworthy events: he was one of the first photographers in Napier after the Hawke’s Bay earthquake of 3 February 1931; he recorded the riots in Auckland’s Queen Street on 14 April 1932; and he was the only photographer to meet the passengers and crew from the mined Niagara on 19 June 1940. On a trip around the Pacific Ocean in 1953 he recorded Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to Fiji. Many of his photographs appeared in the Weekly News. For a period he was the proprietor of Marine Photos in Queen Street.
However, Collins is best remembered for his photographs of the kauri timber industry, many of which were reproduced in 1953 in The story of the kauri , by A. H. Reed. Collins donated his kauri bush negatives to the Otamatea Kauri and Pioneer Museum at Matakohe, where the Tudor Collins Wing is devoted to the display of his photographs. The Auckland Museum also holds a small collection of his kauri negatives, along with prints of his other subjects. The rest of his collection is held by a nephew.
Tudor Collins died in Auckland on 22 June 1970. A friendly, powerfully built man with boundless energy and enthusiasm, in his last years he was instrumental in preserving the McKinney kauri trees at Warkworth, and in his memory the Tudor Collins Drive was established at the Parry Kauri Park.