Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Allan, George Leavis (1826–1897)

by Kenneth Hince

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

George Leavis Allan (1826-1897), music dealer, was born in London, son of John Allan, civil servant, and his wife Ann, née Bailey. His family was an offshoot of the Buller family, established in Cornwall since the sixteenth century and later notable for its contributions to law, naval history and Indian administration. Allan joined the Ordnance Department and had a varied experience in the public service before he was attracted to Australia by news of gold discoveries. By this time his interest in music had already been confirmed, if only on an avocational basis: he had received some training in the Hullah sight-singing system and was singing master as well as secretary and librarian at George's Sunday school in Camberwell.

Allan arrived in Melbourne in 1852. On 3 January 1853 he took out gold licence no. 88, and set out with a party for Campbell's Creek and Bendigo. The only relevant record of any success is the analysis of a find at Taradale, when he shared with several mates the proceeds of 8 lbs. 11 oz. 12 dwts. And 17½ grains (4 kg) of gold, of which his share was £79 5s. 8d. He returned to Melbourne in 1853 and started to capitalize on his musical experience. In the next twelve years his name figured widely in the record of the young colony. He opened singing classes on the Hullah method in March 1853 in Bourke Street East, and in May Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe appointed him singing master in the chief denominational schools, apparently the first such appointment, at a salary of £300. In that year he was also a committee member and a moving spirit in the formation of the Melbourne Philharmonic Society. Its first rehearsal was in October.

In January 1854 Allan's salary in denominational schools was twice raised: first by 25 per cent and then by 50 per cent, subject to his taking classes in three additional schools. In July he was given his first assistant, George Tolhurst. In the same month Allan started singing classes at the Mechanics' Institution (Melbourne Athenaeum). Until 1861 he taught singing in the Roman Catholic schools in Melbourne and in 1863 began to teach at the Melbourne Ladies' College. He was ubiquitous over this decade wherever music, which effectively meant singing, was taught. He had been twelfth to enrol on the staff of Melbourne Grammar School in 1857; he lectured and taught in the city and in North Melbourne, in association with his singing classes at St Mary's Church, the Church of England schoolroom in North Melbourne and St John's schoolroom on the corner of La Trobe and Elizabeth Streets in the city. As early as October 1858 he was given a Benefit Concert in the old Exhibition buildings, which netted him £22 15s. 6d.; yet in December 1862 he was advertising that he would open classes in singing and choral work in the next year. But this virtually marks the watershed of his decade's work as a pioneer singing teacher in Melbourne. This work was important in Victoria, and indeed in Australia. With his colleagues, Tolhurst, Walter Bonwick and others he set the tone of education in music; from his teaching evolved a philosophy of musical education which has not been completely superseded.

Allan's other contribution to Australian music is certainly better known. In 1863 he joined the musical warehouse of Wilkie & Webster, established in May 1850 by Joseph Wilkie. Webster came from the English firm of Broadwood, and joined the new firm in 1862. Twelve years after becoming a junior partner Allan found himself sole proprietor. His son George Clark (b.3 May 1860) became a partner in 1881 when the name of the firm was formally altered to Allan & Co. By 1877 it was the largest musical warehouse south of the equator, a distinction it retained; in spite of many changes in musical retailing, the firm of Allan built its name into the record of Australian music.

Allan never lost touch with teaching or with practical music. He was responsible for bringing Frederick Cowen to Australia for the 1888 International Centennial Exhibition and for a series of concerts which in concentration has probably never been paralleled in the history of western music. Allan was a commissioner at this exhibition and engaged the professional orchestra which Cowen brought with him to Melbourne. Aged 70 Allan died at his home in St Kilda on 1 April 1897.

On 25 January 1859 Allan had married Agnes, the second daughter of John Clark, at Chalmers' Church, East Melbourne, where a plaque commemorates her parents who were lost in the wreck of the London in January 1866. Of their eight children, George Clark was the most notable and control of the family business descended through him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. M. Humphreys (ed), Men of the Time in Australia: Victorian Series (Melb, 1882)
  • J. A. Allan, The Old Model School: Its History and Romance 1852-1904 (Melb, 1934)
  • T. Waters, ‘A Pivot of Musical Life. The death of Mr. George C. Allan’, Australian Musical News, 1 Nov 1934
  • company records (Allans Music Pty Ltd, Melbourne)
  • family papers.

Citation details

Kenneth Hince, 'Allan, George Leavis (1826–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/allan-george-leavis-2875/text4105, published in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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