Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Allen (1790–1856)

by W. R. Ray

This article was published:

William Allen (1790?-1856), master mariner, pastoralist and philanthropist, was born in England, probably the son of Thomas Allen and his wife Elizabeth, of Dover. At 15 he entered the navy of the East India Co., and served in the Sullimany for three years. Later he went into the 'country trade'; by 1815 he had his own command and was greatly respected for his proficiency. In 1834, while master of the Ann bound from Canton for Bombay, he subdued a mutiny among 150 Lascar seamen, and took the ship to Singapore where the mutineers were tried and their leaders executed.

In 1837 Allen returned to England; his parents had died and he was heir to their property. However, he found it hard to settle down, and sailed in the Buckinghamshire for South Australia, arriving in March 1839. Within a few weeks he and his friend, Captain John Ellis, bought 2000 acres (809 ha), including the Buckland Park town site, from George Milner Stephen's special survey on the lower banks of the Gawler River. By 1842 Allen had more than 600 sheep, but in 1845 his most profitable investment was in copper mining. By subscribing £1355 to the South Australian Mining Association, he became its second largest shareholder, a director and later chairman. From its Burra mine alone he drew fifteen dividends of 200 per cent in the first five years.

Allen used some of his profits to buy city, suburban and country land, but he also made many generous gifts to churches and charities. Any good cause could count on his anonymous support. The Church of England received his largest benefactions. To Bishop Augustus Short's Pastoral Aid Fund he donated £3500. The Collegiate School of St Peter, of which Allen was an original promoter, received gifts amounting to £7000 as well as land. He also gave land to the Pulteney Street school (later Pulteney Grammar School) and served on its board of trustees. In 1853 Allen visited England and on his return in 1855 he gave up his pastoral activities. He died suddenly on 16 October 1856. He never married and most of his wealth went to his English relatives, but his generous bequests to the Church of England prompted Bishop Short to call him 'the greatest benefactor (next after the Baroness Burdett-Coutts) whom the diocese has yet been permitted to know'.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Grenfell Price, The Collegiate School of St Peter, 1847-1947 (Adel, 1947)
  • F. T. Whitington, Augustus Short, First Bishop of Adelaide (Adel, 1887)
  • Register (Adelaide), 18 Oct 1856.

Additional Resources

Citation details

W. R. Ray, 'Allen, William (1790–1856)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 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

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]




16 October, 1856 (aged ~ 66)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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.

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