Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Joseph Francis Allen (1869–1933)

by David Black

This article was published:

Joseph Francis Allen (1869-1933), architect, civil engineer and politician, was born on 6 August 1869 at Mount Perranzabuloe, Cornwall, England, son of William Allen, carpenter, and his wife Salome, née Williams. When 10 he came to Parramatta, New South Wales, with his parents, and in 1884 was articled to the Sydney architect Gordon Mackinnon. He then worked for Rhodes & Co., civil engineers, and from 1894 managed the workshops of Henry Simon & Co., milling engineers. In 1896 he moved to Western Australia where, after working as an assistant engineer on the Fremantle harbour works, he commenced private practice as an architect with Allen & Nicholas in 1898. His works included the East Fremantle Town Hall, Fremantle Trades Hall and Geraldton flour mills, as well as the Westralian, the first steel ship built in Western Australia. On 25 September 1900 he married Jean Symington Buntine.

In 1903 Allen won a seat on the East Fremantle Council and held it, but for one year, until his death. He served as mayor in 1909-14 and became property-owners' representative on the East Fremantle Tramways Board and a member of the board of the Fremantle Public Hospital.

After an unsuccessful attempt in 1912, Allen entered State parliament in 1914 as a Liberal member for the West Province of the Legislative Council, defeating W. Somerville by eight votes after a recount. In 1918 he attacked the National Coalition government over an agreement for the right to construct wheat-handling equipment. The validating bill was defeated but Allen was said to have admitted representing his former employer Henry Simon & Co. He became chairman of committees in the council in August 1919 but was defeated in the 1920 election. Henceforth his political influence was to be exclusively outside parliament. He stood unsuccessfully for Fremantle in the assembly in 1921, for the Senate in 1922 and for the West Province of the council in 1923.

Early in 1921 Allen became chairman of the West Australian divisional council of the Australian National Federation. This included three constituent bodies—the Liberal League, the National Federation and the National Labor Party; the first two amalgamated to form the National League with Allen as founding president. He retained the position after the league absorbed other groups in December 1924 to form the United Party.

Allen tried often to conclude election pacts with both State and Federal Country parties. His task was complicated by Country Party disunity and the opposition of some leading Nationalist members who advocated amalgamation or active competition — the policy of 'fuse or fight'. They probably nullified his attempt to negotiate a joint National-Country Party Senate ticket in 1922; his success in so doing in 1925 was due to pressure from Federal leaders and financial backers. In 1926 he was opposed again when he sought a pact for the Legislative Council election. When the party repudiated him publicly, he resigned as president in March with two other senior executive members.

Allen remained prominent in public affairs. In 1928 he became chairman of the Rottnest Island Board of which he was a foundation member in 1917, and in 1931 he was elected mayor of East Fremantle for the second time. He also held office in the Fremantle Municipal Tramways and Electric Lighting Board, Fremantle Chamber of Commerce (president in 1921-25 and 1933), the Royal Institute of Architects and the local Rotary club. Throughout his life in Western Australia he was active in Presbyterian and Masonic affairs. He died suddenly on 23 May 1933: his body was found in the Swan River near his home; the coroner found no suspicious circumstances. Survived by a daughter, he was buried in the Presbyterian section of the Fremantle cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. S. Battye (ed), Cyclopedia of Western Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1912)
  • West Australian, 19 May 1914, 10, 12, 23 Mar 1926, 24, 25 May 1933
  • D. W. Black, The National Party in Western Australia, 1917-1903: Its Origins and Development with an Introductory Survey of ‘Liberal’ Party Organisation, 1901-1916 (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1974).

Citation details

David Black, 'Allen, Joseph Francis (1869–1933)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 15 April 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 August, 1869
Mt Perranzabuloe, Cornwall, England


23 May, 1933 (aged 63)
Swan River, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.