Mr. Collis, who was the son of a solicitor, was born at Stourbridge in 1839. He received his early education at a private school at Kidderminster and at the Grammar school in the same town, but at the age of twelve years he went to Westminster School, at which be had gained an entrance scholarship. At the age of seventeen he entered the Woodside Ironnworks at Dudley of Messrs. Cochranes, becoming afterwards under-manager of the blast-furnace. He also spent some time at the Middlesbrough works and colleries of the same firm. He was closely connected with the Granville and Gorsty colliery, which had been opened up by Mr. J. E. Swindell and his father, who died in 1858. In this connection, in collaboration with his brother, the late Mr. E. J. Collis, be took out patents for coke ovens. Later, he, with a Mr. Dawson, patented a gas-fired wagon brick kiln, which he worked with considerable success.
For some time prior to 1870 he practised as a consulting engineer in partnership with the late Mr. J. J. King, and about that time started, with a few friends, a system of mine drainage which eventually developed into the South Staffordshire Mains Drainage Commission.