George Allen's escritoire
We've welcomed the office of the past into the present with the arrival of a desk originally owned by our founder, George Allen.
The desk, officially known as an escritoire, was a gift to the firm from the Allen family and has been lovingly restored to bring it back to its former glory. An escritoire is a writing desk with compartments and draws concealed by a hinged flap. George was clearly a man ahead of his time for this escritoire offers the user the opportunity to sit or stand. Lead weights in the back ensure the escritoire remains upright, but they make it a heavy piece of furniture at over 250kgs.
The escritoire was made in Europe and brought to Australia by boat in the 1830s for George Allen to use as his personal desk. To keep jewellery and documents safe from prying eyes, it has several secret drawers. In those were found a few ink nibs and a small ladies ring.
George Allen was born in London in 1800. He arrived in the colony of New South Wales in 1816, after a six-month journey by boat with his mother and siblings. The family was following George's stepfather who had arrived as a convict a few years earlier.
When George arrived, he was granted legal training with one of only two solicitors in the colony and he became the first person to complete legal training in Australia. After five years as an articled clerk George began his own legal practice. His firm evolved into the Allens we know today.
George arrived in Australia with very little, but eight years later he wrote in his journal, 'Not two years ago I was only a clerk to Mr Garling with little or no prospect of succeeding in life – my path appeared gloomy – my way dark and dreary… now I have a house of my own, a flourishing business… and have the prospect of doing well.' The purchase of the escritoire would have been part of his investment into his future and one of the benefits of his flourishing business.
The firm's first office was in a cottage in Elizabeth Street. The property backed onto Phillip Street, just across the road from Allens' current Sydney office. The firm remained there for 70 years. When the escritoire first arrived in Sydney it would have been delivered to the cottage in Elizabeth Street. Now it is back, almost to where it first began service.
A closer look at George Allen's escritoire
There are many delightful surprises to be found in this 200-year-old desk belonging to our firm's founder. Resident historian Jillian Maxwell shows us one in the below video.