Supporting the father of federation – Sir Henry Parkes

A pivotal moment in the story of our nation occurred on 1 January 1901. It was the day six British colonies united to become the Commonwealth of Australia. Much of the credit goes to Sir Henry Parkes, who inspired the people of Australia to unite under a central government. Unfortunately he didn't live long enough to see it. He died in 1896. 

Sir Henry Parkes by HB Solomons. Collection of State Library of New South Wales.

Sir Henry was a longtime friend of the Allen family. A document from 1887, still held by the firm, is testament to the support the firm showed Sir Henry. Partner Sikeli Ratu has been helping uncover details of the contract, which provides interesting insights into one of Australia's most influential politicians and legal documents of the time.

Sir Henry dedicated much of his life to improving Australian society, as did our founder George Allen. Among their shared passions was the improvement of education in the colony of New South Wales. When the Public Schools Act was passed in 1866, introducing compulsory free education, both men were appointed inaugural members of the Council of Education.

George Allen was fortunate to receive a good education. He attended school in England before completing five years of legal training in Sydney. Sir Henry was largely self-taught but he read widely and developed a love of writing and politics. He trained as a bone and ivory turner before boarding a boat to Sydney, aged 24, in search of new opportunities.

Upon arriving in the colony, Sir Henry undertook a variety of jobs and business endeavours, including publishing the Empire newspaper. He was, however, largely unsuccessful in his business affairs and became bankrupt on several occassions. It didn't stop his political drive and he was elected Premier of New South Wales five times. In 1870, after he had again been declared bankrupt, Sir Henry wrote to his sister and said, 'I am wholly unfit for business, but the fittest of men for Parliament'. He was one of the most highly regarded people of his time.

In 1882 Sir Henry became gravely ill. He was 67. Many people called on him but only Sir George Wigram Allen (George Allen's son) was allowed to enter the ailing man's room. Sir Henry was then taken to Toxteth House, Sir George Wigram's home, to convalesce. Sir Henry recovered but Sir George Wigram died suddenly three years later, aged 61.

In 1887 Sir Henry's monetary affairs began to unravel once again. To prevent a further bankruptcy our firm – then known as Allen & Allen – drew up an 'assignment for benefit of creditors'. Under legislation passed in 1841 (and now known as the Advancement of Justice Act 1841 (NSW)), ownership of assets could be vested to appointed trustees as a way of dealing with debts. This approach avoided Sir Henry's estate becoming insolvent, which would have immediately disqualified him from sitting in the parliament.

Three trustees were appointed, Reginald Allen (Sir George Wigram's son and senior partner at the firm), Charles Palmer (manager at the Sydney head office of the Bank of New South Wales) and Fletcher Dixon (manager of the New South Wales branch of the English, Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank). The two banks and the Allen family were major creditors of Sir Henry, with £9,344 plus interest owing on a loan given by Sir George Wigram. The assignment gave the trustees authority to sell Sir Henry's property and distribute the proceeds to the creditors on a pro rata basis. The list of creditors contained in the document is a veritable who's who of Sydney's commercial and political circles at the time.

The assignment for benefit of creditors prepared for Sir Henry Parkes in 1887. Allens archives.

Under the legal requirements for this assignment, Sir Henry had to publish a notice in the Government Gazette informing the public and providing details of where the assignment could be inspected. Despite being advised by 'most eminent legal authorities' of his right to retain his seat, Sir Henry resigned his position as the member for St Leonards once news of his financial distress hit the media. There was a strong outpouring of sympathy for the man who had devoted much of his life to the people of Australia, and a public meeting was held to raise financial support for him. The Evening News noted, 'there is no public man in the colonies whose name is more familiar, and whose career has exercised a larger influence than Sir Henry Parkes'.

Despite his challenging financial situation, Sir Henry continued to promote the advancement of the colonies. In 1889 he delivered his now famous address at Tenterfield in rural New South Wales in which he called for the Australian colonies to federate into one nation. Sir Henry recommended a convention be held with delegates from each colony to draw up a constitution. The first of these took place in Melbourne in 1890. The rest, as they say, is history.


Colonial delegates at the 1890 Australasian Federation Conference. Henry Parkes is in the middle row, third from the left. National Archives of Australia.

A glimpse into our history

A global platform: Joining forces with Linklaters

Ten years ago, on 1 May 2012, Allens and Linklaters formed a global alliance to enhance and expand our offering to our people and clients. Since then, more than 200 people have enjoyed global career opportunities through the alliance and we have worked together on thousands of matters spanning the world. Here is where it all began...

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.