It all started in 1822

Founding the firm

George Allen arrived in Sydney from London in 1816 as a free settler. His mother Mary had made the bold decision to follow her convict husband (George's stepfather, Thomas Collicott) and, after a six-month journey aboard the Mary Ann, she arrived with six children including George, the youngest at 15 years of age.

story_founding.jpgThe family brought few possessions with them but one item, a letter of introduction to Governor Lachlan Macquarie, set in train the course of young George's life and led to the establishment of Australia's most enduring legal firm – Allens.

Within days of arriving in Sydney, Mary met with Governor Macquarie, who arranged for George to complete legal training under the tutelage of Frederick Garling, one of only two solicitors serving the small community. The five years of legal training (or 'articles of clerkship' as they were called) cost £100, which also covered 'good and sufficient meat drink lodgings and all manner of apparel both linen and wollen'.

On 21 July 1822, George Allen was greatly relieved to be free of his articles of clerkship. The following day he was admitted as an attorney and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Civil Judicature of New South Wales and began his legal practice. At the time, he was living with his friend Robert Howe above the printing presses of The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, run by Howe's father. Amidst the din of the presses George's legal practice began.

Within a month, George had established his own office on the corner of Hunter and George Streets. He made another move, to Macquarie Street (opposite the general hospital), before purchasing a cottage in Elizabeth Street, not far from Allens' current Sydney office. The cottage served as both the office and the family home and there was enough space at the rear of the property for stables in which George kept horses for visiting clients. The family moved to a new house in Glebe in 1831, but the cottage remained the firm's home for 72 years.

The first months of private practice were busy with complex estate management, conveyancing and property sales. Completing legal work in the firm's early days was a slow process. Many clients spent time in England and correspondence with London could take up to nine months. Execution of legal contracts was also time consuming, requiring 'engrossing clerks' who were employed for their fine handwriting skills to meticulously craft and bind these documents.

Over the next 200 years the work undertaken by the firm transitioned from advising individuals and estates to more commercial matters. One of the firm's earliest clients was Australia's first bank – The Bank of New South Wales (now known as Westpac) – and the firm continues to provide legal advice to the bank today.

As the nation expanded, so did the firm; merging with Feez Ruthning and Arthur Robinson & Hedderwicks to form the Allens we know today.

Image: Hon. George Allen
Collection of State Archives & Records Authority of New South Wales

A glimpse into our history

The launch of World Series Cricket

The summer holidays mean one thing for many Australians: cricket. Heading to a day-night match and watching the brightly coloured teams smacking the ball into the crowd is what we've come to expect. But, it wasn't always like this and Allens played a big part in transforming the game of cricket into what it is today.

The book that changed Australia

Today we take for granted our ability to read any book we choose, but it wasn't long ago that Australia had some of the most severe censorship regulations in the Western world. Allens played a pivotal role in changing this and bringing an end to literary censorship in Australia.

Upholding the right to vote

In 2006, the Howard Government introduced significant changes to Australia's voting laws through the Electoral and Referendum Amendment (Electoral Integrity and Other Measures) Act 2006 (Cth). Among the changes contained in the legislation was the denial of voting rights to all people in prison.

Hard to find – but worth the hunt

One of the frustrations of historical research is knowing something exists but being unable to locate it. That was the case with letters from Allen Allen & Hemsley to client Angus & Robertson. The letters related to the copyright of several works by Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson, including The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses.

Lawyers draft wills better than authors

When legal practices were first established in Australia, a significant portion of their work involved the management of complex wills and estates. However, over time, the founding firms of Allens shifted their focus from managing family estates and trusts to become predominantly commercial practices. This is the story of the firm's involvement in celebrated author Nevil Shute's will.

Hidden treasures

Research for the Allens history book has turned up a variety of interesting items, among them a hand-drawn map of Brisbane from 1849 and a mallet used by founder George Allen in 1859 to lay the foundation stone for a new chapel in Newtown, Sydney.

First true civil libel case in Australia

In 1817, 16-year-old George Allen was just a few months into his legal training when he found himself amidst one of the most interesting legal cases in the colony of New South Wales. George had just entered his articles of clerkship with Frederick Garling when Garling was appointed to represent defendant John Thomas Campbell in the first true civil libel case in Australia.

Helping Bush Heritage preserve precious land

Since 1995, Allens has committed thousands of hours of expertise to helping Bush Heritage with its vision of healthy Country, protected forever. This includes 14ha of land in the Liffey Valley of Tasmania, which former Australian Senator Bob Brown gifted to the organisation in 2011 with support from Allens.

Seeking justice for the Stolen Generation

Right from the start, almost 200 years ago, Allens has shown support for Australia's Indigenous communities and, in 1996, we helped pave the way towards the National Apology through our involvement in the first Stolen Generation legal trials.

Supporting critical Australian infrastructure

17 October 1949 marked the official start of what is still considered one of the largest and most ambitious engineering projects ever undertaken in Australia – the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

It all started in 1822

Allens was founded on 22 July 1822, the day 21-year-old George Allen was admitted as an attorney and solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and became the first person to complete their full legal training in Australia. When he began his small legal practice in a cottage on Elizabeth Street in Sydney, he could not have foreseen the story that would follow.