Story: Allen, George Frederic

Page 1 - Allen, George Frederic

Allen, George Frederic

1837–1929

Architect, surveyor, teacher, tourist guide

This biography was written by Athol Kirk and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

George Frederic Allen was born in London, England, on 15 February 1837, the son of Maria Day and her husband, George Allen, an eminent architect. After training as an architect and surveyor, he was appointed engineer to the Great Barrier Kauri Timber and Copper Mining Company in New Zealand. He set sail in the Egmont on 5 April 1860, arrived in Auckland on 19 July, and proceeded to Great Barrier Island. The venture proved disastrous and Allen returned penniless to Auckland 18 months later. There he secured a position as assistant master at the Church of England Grammar School.

After a few months Allen began practising architecture and surveying in partnership with J. O. Barnard. The partners won a competition for the design of St Matthew's Church and afterwards William Fox offered them positions as district surveyors for the Wellington provincial government. They accepted, and in July 1862 moved to Wellington. In November Allen was transferred to Wanganui and Barnard to Wairarapa.

Once settled in Wanganui George Allen sent to England asking his fiancée, Caroline Frances Hanson, to join him. They were married in St Matthew's Church, Auckland, on 21 October 1863. The couple were to have four sons and a daughter.

After more than three years working under the district surveyor, David Porter, Allen set up in private practice. He surveyed properties at Papaiti and drew up plans for a new vicarage, but then, due to the unsettled state of the district, found himself out of work and opened a private school. He also spent four years in the militia and was a member of Major C. C. Rookes's party, which was sent up the Wanganui River to relieve besieged Pipiriki.

A very religious man, Allen conducted prayers morning and evening for his family. He became a churchwarden of Christ Church and designed the furniture for the new church, opened in 1866. An accomplished musician, Allen was a competent organist, flautist and vocal soloist. He formed the church choir and was a member of the founding committee, conductor and soloist for the Wanganui Choral Society. A Freemason, Allen joined Lodge Tongariro in 1866 and became chaplain and choirmaster of Lodge St Andrew Kilwinning. He was also the secretary of the Wanganui Volunteer Fire Brigade.

With the return of peace in 1869 George Allen was able to devote himself to his work. In 1867 he had drawn up the plans for Trenton House, Oneida, the home for J. A. H. Burnett, and he now designed St Stephen's Church, Marton. He then surveyed large blocks of land in the Waitotara valley and on the Wanganui River. While doing so he explored the upper reaches of the river and climbed Mts Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. His writings were published in 1894 as Willis's guide book of new route for tourists. The book covered the route from Auckland to Wellington via the Wanganui River. This was the culmination of Allen's association with the river over many years.

By the 1890s the central North Island had opened up to tourists and a coach service ran from Waiouru to Taupo. Allen built a summer camp half-way between these two points on the banks of the Waihohonu Stream. Situated between Mts Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe it was an ideal refreshment stop for coach passengers. Allen also provided overnight accommodation so that those wishing to could take his guided tours up the mountains.

On 11 October 1889 George Allen was presented with a purse of sovereigns by the citizens of Wanganui in recognition of his public service. His wife, Caroline, died on 10 January 1903. Allen married Sarah Alice Thomas (née Edmeades), a widow, on 11 February 1907 at St Peter's Church, Caversham, Dunedin. There were no children of the marriage. They retired to Masterton where George died aged 92 on 28 February 1929.