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Taylor, Sir Allen Arthur (1864–1940)

by Alan Roberts

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Sir Allen Arthur Taylor (1864-1940), timber merchant, ship-owner and politician, was born on 13 May 1864 at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, fourth child of John Bate, a bricklayer from Worcestershire, and his native-born wife Martha Jane, née King. From the age of 12 Allen was employed for two years as a railway 'nipper'. Moving to Sydney about 1882, he attended night-school while working for railway contractors. He was a clerk when he married Adela Mary Elliott, daughter of a coach proprietor, on 19 June 1886 with Presbyterian forms at Annandale. He claimed to have tried his fortune in Western Australia before becoming a road and bridge contractor in 1888. For reasons that remain obscure, he changed his surname to Taylor some time between 1890 and 1895.

Moving into the field of hardwood timber supply, he founded the firm of Allen Taylor & Co. Ltd of which he was managing director. In the 1890s he also became chairman of the Illawarra and South Coast Steam Navigation Co. Ltd and the North Coast Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. He was in partnership with (Sir) Robert Anderson in the early 1900s. Through the shipping companies, he promoted the economic development of the north and south coast districts, providing finance for building silos and improving dairy herds. He was also a local director of the London Bank of Australia, a director of the Insurance Office of Australia Ltd and the Auburn Brick Co. Ltd, and a trustee of the Savings Bank of New South Wales.

He felt sufficiently secure in business by 1895 to stand for the Borough Council of Annandale, where he lived, an inner western suburb of Sydney at the centre of the timber-milling and shipping trade. Elected, Taylor became chairman of the works committee in 1896 and was mayor in 1897-1902; he visited Britain and Europe 'mainly to get a practical knowledge of municipal methods and requirement in the older lands'.

An alderman on the Sydney Municipal Council, he represented Pyrmont Ward (1902-12) and Bourke Ward (1915-24). Persuading parliament to grant the council additional powers of resumption and borrowing money, as lord mayor in 1905-06 and 1909-12 Taylor embarked on a vigorous programme of civic improvement. Like a child with building blocks, 'he arranges, alters, amends, improves, develops'. His most notable achievements were the clearing of a notorious slum known as Wexford Street to create Wentworth Avenue, the widening of Oxford Street and the creation of the square that bears his name at Darlinghurst. Taylor supported a Greater Sydney through territorial expansion (incorporating Camperdown and the University of Sydney) and promoted the extension of the council's electric power to the suburbs. A member of the Board of Health and a commissioner for the Franco-British Exhibition, London, in 1908, he was knighted on the occasion of King George V's coronation in 1911 and resigned from council next year owing to the strains of office.

Efficient urban transport remained an abiding interest. Taylor returned from another overseas visit in 1924, satisfied that the remedy for London's traffic problems (removing the trams) would be followed in Sydney and convinced of the importance of motor cars in 'solving' traffic problems in the United States of America. He continued proposing various street widenings and extensions, and was a member of the Citizens' Reform Association which defeated the Labor domination of the council in 1921.

Conservative in politics, Taylor was nominated to the Legislative Council in 1912; when it was reconstituted in 1933, he was elected for a six-year term and re-elected in 1940. He was successively a member of the Liberal, National and United Australia parties and of the shadowy Consultative Council, the fund-raising organization behind the National Party. In 1922 he was guest of honour at a banquet held by Sydney's business community and was praised by the former premier, William Holman, and the governor of the Commonwealth Bank, Sir Denison Miller.

A director of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales (1909-13) and of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (1916-36), Taylor helped to found the Dreadnought Fund (to add a warship to the Royal Navy) and was chairman of the Dreadnought Trust Fund (1926-31): the £90,000 it had raised was partly used to sponsor the immigration of British boys to be trained for rural work in New South Wales. He was also a member of Taronga Zoological Park Trust and a supporter of many charitable institutions. A 'rough, bluff man of action', Taylor was portly, with a drooping moustache and jowls that gave the impression of a receding chin; his partial baldness was accentuated by his cropped hair.

Lady Taylor died on 4 May 1924. On 29 December 1926 Sir Allen married a widow Linda Turner Hawkes, née Carter, at St Matthias's Anglican Church, Paddington. Predeceased by his wife and by the son of his first marriage, Taylor died at his home in Lang Road, Centennial Park, on 30 September 1940 and was buried with Anglican rites in South Head cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £49,517.

A self-made man, Taylor was widely respected for his entrepreneurial and managerial skills in business, skills which he brought to bear on civic administration with notable success. He was a New South Wales patriot, always keen to promote the 'expansion and importance of our magnificent city and State'. His portrait by Norman Carter is held by Sydney Municipal Council.

Select Bibliography

  • F. A. Larcombe, The Advancement of Local Government in New South Wales, 1906 to the Present (Syd, 1978)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 8 Oct 1940
  • Lone Hand, 1 Feb 1912
  • Arrow, 28 Apr 1906
  • Bulletin, 28 Apr 1906
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 21 June 1911
  • Punch (Melbourne), 21 Mar 1912
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Apr 1912, 8 Feb 1922, 9 Jan 1923, 8 Sept 1924, 1 Dec 1926, 2 Nov 1937, 1 Mar 1939, 1 Oct 1940
  • Allen Taylor & Co Ltd papers (Australian National University Archives)
  • information from Sydney Municipal Council Archives.

Citation details

Alan Roberts, 'Taylor, Sir Allen Arthur (1864–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-sir-allen-arthur-8753/text15335, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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