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George Allen (1800–1877)

by Norman Cowper and Vivienne Parsons

This article was published:

George Allen (1800-1877), solicitor, was born on 23 November 1800 at Southwark, London, the second son of Richard Allen, a physician of London, and his second wife Mary, née Tickfold. Richard Allen died in 1806, leaving a widow and five children between 14 and 6, and little to support them. As well as his practice, he had had a business of vending medicines; it was managed by Thomas Collicott, whom his widow married in 1809. In 1812 Collicott was convicted of failing to affix revenue stamps to his medicine bottles, and was transported to New South Wales in the Earl Spencer in October 1813. His wife, with George Allen and two other children of her first marriage and three children of Collicott's previous marriage, followed him, reaching Sydney in the Mary Anne in January 1816.  

Mrs Collicott bore a letter of introduction to Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who received her kindly and arranged for George Allen to be articled to the government solicitor, William Moore, but this fell through on Moore's suspension after a quarrel with the governor. Instead, Allen was articled in July 1817 to Frederick Garling; Collicott, who described himself as a merchant, paid the premium of £100, and supported him until he was able to provide for himself. Allen was admitted to practise as a solicitor on 24 July 1822. He was the first solicitor who had received his legal training in the colony, and the founder of the oldest legal firm in Australia. His office was at first on the corner of George and Hunter Streets, later in Macquarie Street, and from 1825 in Elizabeth Street.

During the five years of his articles and until his marriage, Allen was a lonely man, because of the absence of his family, first at Parramatta and afterwards in Hobart Town, and because, though not an emancipist, he had few friends among the free settlers, since his stepfather was an ex-convict. This may have been a reason why he became intensely religious. He joined the Methodist Society in 1821 and was soon a leading member. He was active in the Wesleyan Missionary Society, the Sydney Bethel Union, the Religious Tract Society, and the British and Foreign Bible Society. In keeping with the spirit of the times, he extended his puritanism to his purse, and his affairs prospered. By 1831 he owned three houses in Sydney, held an estate of thirty acres (12 ha) at Botany Bay, had acquired from the Church and School Corporation ninety-six acres (39 ha) of the old St Philip's glebe, and had built there a house, Toxteth Park, where he and his family lived for the rest of his life. Besides conducting a lucrative legal practice, he was a founding director of the Gaslight Co. in 1836, as well as its solicitor, became the solicitor of the Bank of New South Wales in 1843, was a director of the bank in 1860-66 and 1868-77, and its president in 1863-66, and was a vice-president of the New South Wales Savings Bank and a director of several other companies.

Allen was humane and philanthropic and had a strong sense of duty. He was the honorary secretary of the Benevolent Society for many years and a member of the Temperance Society. In 1826 he joined the Agricultural and Horticultural Society. In November 1842 he was elected a councillor of Bourke Ward in the first poll for the Municipal Council of Sydney, and he was also an alderman for Brisbane Ward. He supported the popular cause in the council, advocating the employment of the poor rather than convicts on public works, though this may have been with the object of relieving the Benevolent Society from the burden of helping them. From November 1844 to November 1845 he was mayor of Sydney. In July 1845 Governor Sir George Gipps appointed him to the vacancy in the Legislative Council created by John Blaxland's resignation. In 1856 he was appointed for five years as a member of the first Legislative Council under responsible government, and in 1861 was reappointed for life, but resigned in 1873. He was elected chairman of committees in the Legislative Council on twenty-two occasions.

He was a founder of the Sydney Free Grammar School in 1825, and at various times its secretary, president of its trustees, and a trustee of its successor, the Sydney College. He was a member of the Denominational Board from 1848 to 1866, and of the Council of Education, established after the Public Schools Act of 1866, from 1867 to 1873. He became a member of the senate of the University of Sydney in 1859.

In 1847 he had taken his son, George Wigram, into partnership, the name of their firm being Allen & Son. He retired in 1855. The practice has been carried on uninterruptedly since 1822; since 1894 its name has been Allen Allen & Hemsley.

George Allen had married Jane, the daughter of the schoolmaster, Thomas Bowden, on 24 July 1823; she bore him fourteen children, of whom five sons and five daughters survived infancy. His son George Wigram was not only his partner and successor in his legal firm but continued many of his public activities, becoming minister of justice and public instruction in Parkes's administration in 1873-75, and afterwards Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

On George Allen's death on 3 November 1877 the Sydney Morning Herald referred to him as 'one of the foremost public citizens, who overcame the temptation of successful men to live a life of easy self-indulgence'. The sour description of him in Rev. John Watkins's Journal on 6 May 1871 as 'the stereotyped chairman of religious meetings' did him far less than justice. He was assiduous and successful in the practice of his profession, a supporter of good causes, zealous for the public interest, and a man of piety and rectitude.

Select Bibliography

  • G. W. D. Allen, Early Georgian (Syd, 1958)
  • A. Halloran, ‘Some Early Legal Celebrities’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 10, part 6, 1924, pp 301-47
  • C. H. Bertie, ‘Pioneer Families of Australia: The Allens’, Home (Sydney), May 1932, pp 37, 62
  • Sydney Gazette, 26 July 1822
  • Australian, 2, 11 Nov 1842
  • manuscript catalogue under George Allen (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

  • funeral, Sydney Mail, 10 November 1877, p 587

Citation details

Norman Cowper and Vivienne Parsons, 'Allen, George (1800–1877)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 May 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

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