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Allison, William Race (1812–1865)

by John Reynolds

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

William Race Allison, by J. W. Beattie, n.d

William Race Allison, by J. W. Beattie, n.d

State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125647255

William Race Allison (1812-1865), landowner and politician, was born in England, the eldest child of Francis Allison (1786?-1857), master mariner, and his wife Hannah, née Race. His father, who had served in the navy at Copenhagen under Nelson and later in the American war, decided to emigrate. With his wife and five children he left his family home at Robin Hood's Bay, Yorkshire, and arrived at Hobart Town in the Christiana on 22 November 1822. Having a letter of recommendation from the Colonial Office, he was granted 1000 acres (405 ha), which he called Streanshalh, on the Macquarie River, took over the licence of the Nelson Head in Liverpool Street but settled his family at Sandy Bay. Here in April 1825 their house was attacked by ruffians; they were driven off after Captain Allison had been severely beaten on the head and William, who went to his father's help, had been thrown over a hedge and then had run to the neighbours. In 1827 Allison gave up his publican's licence, sold his 200 acres (81 ha) at Sandy Bay and moved to Streanshalh. Next year he bought 965 acres (390 ha) of crown land adjoining his grant and, in spite of an active share in the Black War and a long and bitter quarrel with his neighbours, the Gatenbys, he steadily improved his property. By 1831 he had begun building a stone house, rented 2000 acres (809 ha) and had 90 acres (36 ha) under cultivation, 1400 sheep and 100 cattle. By 1852 he held 43,400 acres (17,563 ha). Captain Allison died at Streanshalh on 3 June 1857, aged 71, survived by nine sons and three daughters. His third son, Nathaniel Paul (1822-1884), became manager of the family properties, but after Streanshalh was lost to the Gatenbys he committed suicide.  

After arrival in Hobart, William Race Allison went to James Thomson's school in Hobart, then worked with his father on Streanshalh, and acquired much grazing land for himself in several districts. He thus gained an unusual knowledge of Tasmania and in 1856 explored the Gordon River country. In 1861 he was elected a warden of the new rural municipality of Richmond. At St George's Church, Battery Point, on 18 June 1858 he married Bessy, eldest daughter of C. Leach, headmaster of the Normal School.

Allison's most important work was as a politician. After the Patriotic Six walked out of the Legislative Council, he was nominated in April 1846 by Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Eardley-Wilmot as 'a gentleman of education and character, and fully competent to discharge the duties of a Legislative Councillor with honour to himself and advantage to the public'. Next year when the Patriotic Six were reinstated, Allison wrote angrily to Lieutenant-Governor Sir William Denison and had his letter returned with a mild rebuke. His annoyance soon evaporated, and by August he was complimented for not adding his name to the resentful complaint of four other loyalists who had also been displaced from the council; in August 1848 at the first vacancy Allison was reappointed. Unpopular for being a 'loyalist' and for favouring the continued transportation of convicts as cheap labour, he was also criticized for punishing his assigned servants too severely. In 1851 he was beaten at the polls for the first part-elective Legislative Council, and promptly returned as a nominee. His enemies described his political career as a continuous blunder and condemned him for siding with authority and not with the liberty of the people. Nevertheless he slowly won respect for taking a prominent part in drafting new and unpopular land regulations, condemning colonial borrowing, defending a franchise based on property, and resisting to the last the new Constitution bill. On 5 September 1855 the Mercury conceded that his lone vote in favour of privilege for the upper chamber was 'a rare act of straight forward honesty, that supports his well established repute of sterling character … Here he stood alone, and thinks and acts for himself'. In 1856 at the first election under responsible government he easily won the seat for Campbell Town in the House of Assembly, and in 1861 held it unopposed. He won more repute by opposing the abolition of state aid to churches and by resisting the proposal that the colony should pay for the upkeep of convict establishments. Next year he was beaten at Campbell Town and at Deloraine, but topped the poll of five members at Hobart.

His last courageous struggle was for the survey of a railway between Hobart and Launceston. At the age of 52, he died on 26 September 1865, the day before parliament was prorogued. According to an inscription in St David's Park: 'He did his duty. This monument is erected by public subscription limited to one shilling as a token of respect.'

Select Bibliography

  • L. L. Robson, Press and Politics (M.A. thesis, University of Tasmania, 1954)
  • correspondence file under Allison (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

John Reynolds, 'Allison, William Race (1812–1865)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/allison-william-race-1698/text1835, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 September 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

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