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Sir George Wigram Allen (1824–1885)

from Sydney Morning Herald

George Wigram Allen, Australasian sketcher, 1880s

George Wigram Allen, Australasian sketcher, 1880s

State Library of Victoria, 49317536

Another of our leading men has gone over to the majority. Yesterday forenoon, at 10 o'clock, Sir George Wigram Allen died after a short illness. Towards the close of last week Sir Wigram was in his office, and apparently enjoying his usual health. On Saturday morning he was attacked by an illness which confined him to his bed. It is supposed by his family that the illness was occasioned by a cold which he caught during his last visit to town. Until Wednesday evening no serious danger was apprehended. During the greater part of that day he was cheerful and hopeful, and so confident were his family that there was no danger that they did not deem it necessary to send for several members of the household who were in another colony. Late in the day, however, Sir Wigram rapidly became worse, and before midnight hope of his recovery had become faint. From that time he gradually became worse, and at 10 o'clock on the following morning he passed away.

Few men in the colony have been better known than Sir Wigram Allen, and none have been more generally esteemed. He was identified with almost every movement both in the political and religious worlds, and he took an active part in many of the most important commercial enterprises in the city. He descended from a good stock. His father, the late Hon. George Allen, was one of the oldest and most respected of our colonists. He was the first colonial attorney and solicitor admitted to practice. From the time of his admission in 1822 until his death on November 3, 1877, he pursued a career of honourable activity. In 1842 he was chosen alderman of the first Corporation of the city of Sydney, and he was Mayor in 1841. In the following year he was appointed to a seat in the Legislative Council. In 1836 he was made a member of the present Legislative Council, and in the same year was elected Chairman of Committees, to which office he was subsequently re-elected 21 times in succession. He was also a member of almost every philanthropic institution in the metropolis, and contributed freely both of his energy and money to increase their usefulness. If there is anything in heredity, it will be conceded that the son of this distinguished, though unassuming, colonist came into the world richly endowed.

Sir Wigram Allen was born at Surry Hills on the 10th May, 1824. He was educated principally under the late W. T. Cape, first at a private school kept by that gentleman, and afterwards at the Sydney College, of which Mr. Cape became principal in 1835, and where so many of our native born citizens were prepared for the arena of public life. Among his fellow-students were the present Chief Justice, Sir James Martin; the late Hon. William Forster, Sir Saul Samuel, and the late Canon Stephen. In 1839 he took the first medal in classics, and in the following year gained the highest prizes in the same subject and in mathematics. In 1841 he was articled to his father, and five years afterwards was admitted as an attorney and solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. He married in July, 1851, the eldest daughter of the Rev. W. B. Boyce, first President of the Australasian Wesleyan Conference. In 1853 he was appointed University solicitor, and subsequently one of the superior officers of that body. In 1839 he was made a magistrate, and chosen first Mayor of the municipality of the Glebe, to which office he was re-elected for 18 consecutive years. In 1860 Sir William Denison appointed him a member of the Legislative Council, and he continued to hold that position until the expiration of the term for which that body was created. In 1853 he was appointed a Commissioner of National Education, and served on that council with Mr. J. H. Plunkett, Sir Charles Nicholson, Sir Roger Therry, Mr. G. K. Holden, Professor Smith, and others, for nearly 14 years–till the Public School Act came into force in 1867. In 1869 he was elected member of the Legisative Assembly for the Glebe, and was re-elected at two subsequent general elections. His representation of the Glebe extended over a period of 14 years. On the creation of the Department of Justice and Public Instruction he was appointed its first Minister, and he held the position and performed its duties to the satisfaction of all parties until February, 1875, when the Parkes Administration, of which he was a member, went out of office. At the election which took place consequent upon his acceptance of the office of Minister for Justice and Public Instruction, vigorous efforts were made to secure his defeat. It was publicly advertised that he had 60 relatives in the public service. He was in a position to say that there was not a single word of truth in the statement. He declared "he had not one relative in the public service; and what was more, he never had one, except his father, who for some time held an elective office in the Legislative Council." He was also in a position to say, on the same occasion, that "he had himself held various offices, but he had never received a sixpence for anything he ever did in any of them." On March 28, 1875, he was elected Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. He was proposed by Mr. (now Sir) Alexander Stuart, and seconded by the late Mr. S. C. Brown. Mr. R. Wisdom was also nominated. His name, however, on being submitted to the House, was rejected by 80 votes to 29, and Sir Wigram Allen was elected by 43 votes to 11. In consequence of a statement made by Mr. Forster that the member for Northumberland (Mr. Stevens) had inadvertently voted with the noes when Mr. Wisdom's name was submitted to the House, Sir Wigram Allen resigned the Speakership on the second day after his election to the office. The press commended his action as being that of a dignified and honourable gentleman. On March 30 he was re-elected to the position by a vote of 40 to 5. In returning thanks for his election he said that he would "always try to act with the purity of an English Judge and the courtesy of an English gentleman." He strictly adhered to his noble ideal. The unvarying courtesy and the undeniable ability which he brought to the discharge of his duties soon disarmed opposition, and the House showed its appreciation of those qualities by retaining him in the high and responsible office until 1883. Possessing a clear intellect, and gifted with patience and perseverance, his decisions as Speaker were sound, and seldom was any of them disputed. In 1877 he received the honour of Knighthood, and by none was the honour better deserved, and by none has a similar honour been more worthily carried.

In addition to the political and municipal offices which he filled, Sir Wigram Allen was a member of, the University Senate, and a trustee of the Sydney Grammar School. He was also a director of a number of prosperous commercial companies. Honourable in his business transactions, from first to last in his adult career of 40 years the breath of calumny never justly rested on his name.

In works of religion and charity Sir Wigram Allen was both earnest and consistent. He was a Wesleyan by profession, but a Wesleyan of the original type, who loved the liturgy of the Church of England as the noblest repository of devotional thought in the English language. Regularly for years he read that beautiful liturgy every Sunday morning in the church which his father built on the Toxteth Estate, and it is only the simple truth that by no person in Sydney has that service been better performed. Some of Sir Wigram's contributions to charity are known, but many are unknown. He was not accustomed to let his left hand know what his right hand did. In the exercise of the virtue of hospitality he excelled. Possessed of large means, he conceived that his wealth imposed upon him the obligation to entertain visitors and dispense hospitality to his fellow-citizens. In the palatial residence at Toxteth travellers from the old country, and public men of mark from the sister colonies, received royal entertainment. There they found the courtesy, the refinement, and the kindness which are associated with the homes of England. Sir Wigram Allan has left a family of four daughters and six sons. Two of the daughters are married. The sons are all unmarried. Two of these took high honours at our local University, and one of these and another brother are at present studying at the University of Cambridge. In his political and social career, and in his domestic relations, Sir Wigram served his generation faithfully and well.

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'Allen, Sir George Wigram (1824–1885)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 16 April 2024.

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