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 Anne, she arrived with six children including George, the youngest at 15 years of age.
The 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 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