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Percy Allan (1861–1930)

by Arthur Corbett

This article was published:

Percy Allan (1861-1930), civil engineer, was born on 12 July 1861 in Sydney, son of Maxwell Rennie Allan, later under-secretary, Colonial Secretary's Office, New South Wales, and his wife Frances, née Stubbs, and grandson of David Allan. Educated at Calder House, Sydney, Percy joined the roads branch, Department of Public Works, as a cadet on 8 September 1878. A member of the Newtown Football Club, he toured New Zealand in the 1886 Rugby side and later was a referee. He became assistant draftsman in 1882 and chief draftsman on 5 November 1889. His training by pupilage continued under senior engineers within the department in accordance with the conditions prescribed by the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, although some of his contemporaries were pioneers in academic schools of engineering. Appointed assistant engineer for bridges on 1 January 1895, he was promoted a year later to engineer-in-charge of bridge design. The swing bridges carrying city traffic at Pyrmont and Glebe Island are among the structures standing as monuments to his skill.

In 1900-08 Allan assumed increased responsibility for rivers, artesian bores, water-supply and drainage. His work included supervising the construction of Sydney's sewerage system with ocean outfalls. In 1908-11 he was district engineer at Newcastle, responsible for water-supply and drainage and for the harbour in which he constructed the northern breakwater designed by E. M. de Burgh. He personally designed and built additional coal-loading wharves and cranes. In 1911 he was promoted chief engineer for public works, Newcastle, but next year returned to Sydney as assistant to J. Davis, director-general of public works. When railway construction was transferred to the railway commissioners and the position of director-general was abolished, Allan, who had been acting since January 1917, was confirmed on 14 July 1918 as chief engineer, national and local government works, at £1250 a year. When he retired in 1927 his department had designed 583 bridges in his time.

In 1908 at Newcastle Allan was a founder and first president of the Northern Engineering Institute of New South Wales. His lecture with lantern slides, 'The construction of the new Pyrmont bridge', was the first of many contributions to its meetings. He was active also from 1900 as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, to which he presented four papers: 'Port improvements at Newcastle, New South Wales' (delivered personally in London by Davis and awarded a Telford Premium in 1921), 'Georges River bridge', 'The Wagga Wagga timber bridge, N.S.W.' and 'Pyrmont bridge, Sydney, N.S.W.'. The recorded discussions of these papers in London show a lively interest in the achievements of colonial engineers. Allan remained an honorary member of the Northern Engineering Institute and of its successor, the Newcastle division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia. He was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and of the Australasian Pioneers' Club.

At the Roman Catholic Church, Hawthorn, Melbourne, on 11 November 1890 Allan had married Alice Mary, daughter of C. M. Trangmar, farmer. He and his wife were keen golfers. He died of angina and cardiac failure at his home at Double Bay on 7 May 1930 and was buried in the cemetery at South Head. He was survived by his wife and two sons who inherited his estate valued for probate in New South Wales and Victoria at £6158.

Select Bibliography

  • Northern Engineering Institute of New South Wales, Papers, 1908-12
  • Institution of Civil Engineers (London), Proceedings, 212 (1920-21)
  • Institution of Engineers (Australia), Journal, Nov 1931
  • staff records (Dept of Public Works, Sydney).

Citation details

Arthur Corbett, 'Allan, Percy (1861–1930)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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