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James Thomas Allan (1831–1912)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

James Thomas Allan (1831-1912), explorer and pastoralist, was born at Secunderabad, India, the only son of George Allan, military officer, and his wife Catherine, née Molloy. His father was an offshoot of the main line of the clan Macfarlane; after his death and the remarriage of his widow, James Thomas and his two sisters were sent to Scotland. Allan arrived in Australia in the Bank of England in 1852 and went at once to the goldfields. After working the diggings unsuccessfully for three years in New South Wales and two in Victoria he took a job on a station owned by William Henry Walsh near Degilbo on the Burnett River, Queensland. When the Canoona goldfield opened, he entered a partnership carrying supplies from Rockhampton to the diggings. He then undertook to form Kroombit station for the Landsboroughs in the Port Curtis district and was later employed for a year at George Living's station on the Dawson. 

According to family legend Allan was engaged at Goulburn, New South Wales, to a daughter of Sir Thomas Mitchell who told him of fine pastoral country he had discovered at the source of the River Victoria, west of the dividing range in central Queensland. By 1861 Allan had enough funds to explore this area. With Ernest Davis and a friend, he left the Dawson station, followed some of the tracks of Frederick Walker's expedition into the northern Warrego district and went on to the Barcoo River which Edmund Kennedy had discovered was the same stream as Mitchell's Victoria. Allan's party reached the permanent stretch of water named Douglas Ponds by Mitchell, examined the surrounding country and then headed for home. At Albinia Downs they sold their spare horses to Walker, who was taking a large expedition in search of Robert O'Hara Burke and William Wills, and hurried on to lodge their land claims and careful sketch maps of the area they proposed to lease. In due course Allan acquired the rights to Mount Enniskillen, over 600 sq. miles (1544 km²), and Elizabeth Creek (near Tambo); Davis took up Northampton Downs but soon sold it to Theodore Harden; he and Allan were the first settlers on the Barcoo. After a second expedition Allan leased more runs; at one time his stations on the Barcoo covered 1800 sq. miles (4662 km²).

To develop his properties Allan had to seek finance. In 1862 he signed a seven-year partnership with T. S. Mort and Sir William Manning who each contributed £2600 in cash while Allan's share represented the licences of his stations and all his improvements. When this agreement expired, another partnership was formed: Allan and Mort retained their shares and the third was taken by John Cameron who added his sheep stations, Barcaldine Downs and Foxall, to the proprietary. When this partnership was dissolved the properties were auctioned and Allan bought Mount Enniskillen, Birkenhead and Windeyer. At first he ran sheep but soon turned to cattle to avoid the long cartage of his wool. When seasons permitted he sent his fat stock to the market in Sydney, walking them first as far as the railway to Muswellbrook.

On one early trip Allan visited Goulburn and at St Saviour's Church on 19 August 1871 married Jane Barton, the only surviving daughter of Rev. Richard Connolly of St James's, Dublin, and niece of William Connolly of Goulburn. For his bride Allan built at Douglas Ponds a homestead roofed with bark and later covered by corrugated iron. In this isolated outpost Jane reared their two sons and three daughters, with some help from a near-by Aboriginal camp which also supplied Allan with stockmen. Widely known as 'Black Allan' he was a terror to cattle thieves and trade unionists, but well adapted to the setbacks of a harsh frontier. Although prosperous and intending to retire by 1890, he lost heavily in the long drought which ended in 1902. By 1909 on Mount Enniskillen he could muster 45,000 cattle which he sold at £4 a head, with the station thrown in, to Clark & Tait of Powalla. Under a settlement on 19 October with Queensland Trustees Ltd, he placed £30,000 in trust to provide for himself and his family. His sons George Richard (b.1872) and James Macfarlane (b.1874) had already taken up parts of the original Mount Enniskillen leases when they were resumed by the government. Allan retired to Sydney. At 81 he died at his home in Ashfield on 9 November 1912 and was buried in the Church of England cemetery at Rookwood. His widow died at Vergemont, Vaucluse, on 9 April 1920, aged 77.

Select Bibliography

  • M. J. Fox, The History of Queensland, vol 2 (Brisb, 1921)
  • A. Barnard, Visions and Profits (Melb, 1961)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Nov 1912.

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Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Allan, James Thomas (1831–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

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