Australian Dictionary of Biography

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David Allan (1780–1852)

by Bernard T. Dowd

This article was published:

David Allan (1780-1852), deputy commissary general, arrived in Sydney in the Fortune in June 1813. He had entered the commissariat in 1807, and in November took charge of the stores at Heligoland. When the commissariat in New South Wales was enlarged and reorganized as a branch of the army commissariat under the control of the Treasury in London, Allan was the first to take it in charge. He also became a large farmer. In October Governor Lachlan Macquarie promised him land at Illawarra so that he qualified for eight convict servants, equal to the largest number of any civil officer, and on 24 January 1817 he was formally granted 2200 acres (890 ha) called Illawarra Farm at Red Point (near Port Kembla). From this land he supplied the government extensively with meat and timber before Macquarie lowered their prices. The governor thought that Allan indulged in 'considerable private and Clandestine commercial Speculations' as well, setting an example which had 'a most prejudicial effect' on the conduct of his subordinates, two of whom were later convicted of robbery and fraud.  

When Allan assumed office, Macquarie agreed that he might issue promissory notes for all government purchases, though he had no authority from the commissary-in-chief to do so, and consolidate them in Treasury bills every two months. They had the advantage of being in convenient, small amounts, but Allan soon began to issue them far in excess of the colonial expenses for the benefit of his own trading activities, and he failed to supply any to Van Diemen's Land, either through neglect or by reason of a friendly arrangement with his deputy, Patrick Hogan, at Hobart Town. In 1815 Macquarie ordered the restoration of the former system of store receipts in place of Allan's notes. The result was a 'run' of Allan's creditors. He managed to hold them at bay but, acting on Macquarie's report in December 1817 that he was unfit for his situation and showed no desire to discover any frauds in his department, the Treasury sent out Frederick Drennan who replaced him in January 1819. In July Allan sailed for Europe in the Surry, with his wife, Sophia, and eight children, but he did not sell his farm on which, according to John Bigge, he had 2300 sheep and 850 cattle. It was bought in 1827-28 in turn by Richard Jones and William Charles Wentworth. Allan accepted the post of deputy commissary general in Barbados, but no official record shows that he went there. In 1822 he was living at Portobello near Edinburgh, where he was examined on his New South Wales administration by Bigge; apparently he was not prosecuted for any default, and his name appeared in the list of commissariat officers on half-pay until his death.

He married a second wife, Elizabeth, née Rennie, and their son, Maxwell Rennie, was born in Scotland in 1828. In 1829 he returned to Sydney where he died on 26 April 1852 at Paddington. Of Allan's other children, the eldest, Andrew, was employed in the commissariat, made a nuisance of himself, and married a daughter of Nicholas Bayly; two others, Robert and William, were early settlers in the Port Phillip District.

Allan was a dashing if rather disreputable individual who claimed acquaintance, though at some remove, with some of the less respectable persons who had influence in the army; according to George Johnston junior, he was 'a compound of perfidy, hypocrisy and I may even add dishonesty', and there seems no good reason to dispute this verdict.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 7-10, 12
  • S. J. Butlin, Foundations of the Australian Monetary System 1788-1851 (Melb, 1953)
  • B. T. Dowd, The First Five Land Grantees and Their Grants in the Illawarra (Wollongong, 1960)
  • CO 201/63
  • WO 61/2.

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Bernard T. Dowd, 'Allan, David (1780–1852)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

David Allan, n.d

David Allan, n.d

State Library of New South Wales, 14782

Life Summary [details]




26 April, 1852 (aged ~ 72)
Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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