REV. JOHN ALLEN -
PIONEER OF MELBOURNE'S GAS SUPPLY

[Rev. John Allen]

Reverend John Allen (1804-1861)

The establishment of a gas supply for Melbourne owes much to the efforts of the Rev. John Allen. He arrived at Port Phillip on 1 November 1849 with his wife and family on the ship "Travancore" from London, England. The following year, after public interest had been aroused by William Overton's experimental use of gas to light his bakery and confectionery shops in Swanston Street, Melbourne, the Rev. John Allen gave illustrated public lectures on "The Manufacture and Employment of Gas" at the Melbourne School of Arts on the evenings 5 July 1850 and 9 August 1850. Rev. Allen was said to have previously been involved in the establishment of a gas company in one of the principal towns of England.

At a Public Meeting on 28 August 1850 a Provisional Committee was formed and met on 2 September 1850 at the Mechanics Institute. With 21 members present Rev. John Allen was unanimously appointed Secretary pro tem and two sub-committees formed, one to prepare a prospectus and correspond with the Melbourne Council and the other to prepare a Deed of Settlement. The Office of the Company was William Overton's Swanston Street shop. Further meetings followed and at a meeting on 9 December 1850 the Rev. John Allen was formally elected as Secretary of 'The Melbourne Gas Company.' Land was subsequently purchased in Collins Street and the first gas works erected, but later moved to larger premises on the Yarra Bank. In January 1852 Rev. Allen resigned and went to the Diggings and Mr. J. Patterson replaced him as Secretary. Mr. Patterson resigned after a short time and on 31 August 1852 Rev. Allen was re-elected as Secretary.

[Melbourne Argus, 9 August 1850]

"Argus" 9 August 1850

Rev. Allen was born in 1804 at Birmingham, Warwickshire, England. In 1826 he married Mary Ann Vowles of Draycott, Somerset, England at Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England. For some years they lived at Tipton, near Birmingham. In 1835 he was appointed the first Superintendent of the newly formed London City Mission. By 1839 they had moved to Reedness, Yorkshire and then on to South Cave, Yorkshire. During their time at South Cave, Rev. Allen had a number of books published, including: "The Stranger's Guide to Ferriby, Welton, Elloughton and South Cave in the East Riding of the County of York" (1841); "Counsels and Cautions Addressed to Young Men" (c1841); "The Widow's Daughter. A Narrative" (1842); "The Widow's Son. A Narrative" (1844); and "Our Home Population: or, The Voluntary Principle and Lay Agency Sanctioned by God" (1844).

Rev. Allen and his family then moved to Glasgow, Scotland where he ministered in the Seamen's Chapel and sought to become a Licentiate of the United Presbyterian Church. He then responded to the Rev. Dr. John Dunmore Lang's call for ministers to emigrate to Australia and in the middle of 1849 the family emigrated on the "Port Phillip and Clarence River Colonization Company's" ship, the "Travancore." Two other ministers, the Rev. Ingram Moody and the Rev. Benjamin Cuzens also emigrated to the Port Phillip District with their families on board the same ship.

Soon after arriving at Port Phillip, Rev. Allen formed a congregation based on the voluntary principle and in December 1849 the foundation stone of the Tabernacle Church at the corner of Napier and Gertrude Streets, Newtown (now Fitzroy) was laid by the Rev. Andrew Mitchell Ramsay. Though the church was initially declared to be based on the principles of the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland, by April 1850 at a meeting attended by Rev. Alexander Morison and Rev. Thomas O'Dell it was being described as an Independent (Congregational) Church. The declaration of faith and order adopted being the one published by the Congregational Union of England and Wales. The unfinished building was opened for public worship and use as a school-room shortly thereafter.

In September 1850 John Wroe of the Christian Israelites (or 'Beardies') arrived back in Melbourne and planned to occupy the preaching ground of Mr. Cartwright in the open area in front of the Court House on a Sunday afternoon, but was prevented from doing this because of rain. However he preached twice in the Tabernacle Church to a select and attentive congregation. In reporting this Garryowen incorrectly states that the Tabernacle Church was located in Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy which was the street in which the Christian Israelites eventually established their own church.

[Tabernacle Church c1861]

Tabernacle Church, corner Napier and Gertrude Streets, Fitzroy, near Melbourne (c1861)

The Tabernacle Church officially opened on Sunday, 16 February 1851 with Rev. John West of Van Diemens Land preaching in the morning, the Rev. Thomas O'Dell in the afternoon and Rev. John Allen in the evening. The following Tuesday evening about 120 friends attended a tea and meeting in the new building where it was stated that it had been constructed for under 600 and that only 70 still needed to be raised. Melbourne was in the turmoil of the gold rush at this time and for some rerason the Tabernacle Church was put up for sale after only one year. It was purchased by a United Presbyterians congregation which used the building for the next twenty years.

Rev. John Allen does not appear to have received any regular salary as a minister and, with a large family to support, had to seek income from other sources. During his time in Victoria he was often seeking employment or running for public office. On one occasion the Sydney newspaper "Freeman's Journal" of 14 May 1853 stated: "The only gentlemen now legitimately in the field for the City of Melbourne are Messrs. John Hodgson, J. M. Smith, L. M'Kinnon, and Mr. alias the Rev. John Allen, a species of Free Church preacher, a staunch disciple of Dr. Lang, and the Secretary of our embryo Gas Company. What claims his reverence can advance for the important trust he seeks at the hands of the Melbourne constituency are to me utterly incomprehensible - except that being a noisy member of the Colonial Reform Association, a low, canting, half chartist, and whole radical sort of a Johnny Fawkner-born cabal, which never had, nor ever will have any considerable share of public confidence. I don't believe for a moment that Mr. Allen can seriously think of being successful. Surely Melbourne with her merchants, her land-holders, her shop-keepers, and her many tried men of means, integrity, and independence, can never, and particularly at such a moment - exalt Mr. John Allen to the highest office in her power to bestow. And to speak the truth, Mr. Smith and Mr. Hodgson are little better, Mr. M'Kinnon (though one of the shareholders of the "Argus") making a very bad third."

In April 1857 Rev. John Allen was an unsuccessful candidate for appointment as chaplain of the Floating Chapel and Sailor's Mission. In July 1861 it was reported that the Independents at Buninyong were about to form a Church there and had engaged the services of the Rev. John Allen, from Melbourne, as their minister. In August 1861 the Mechanics Institute in Ballarat referred to their Lecture Committee a letter received from Rev. John Allen of Buninyong, offering to lecture for the Institute.

However, on 11 November 1861 Rev. John Allen died at Buninyong. He had had for some time suffered from disease of the lungs and had been seized with paralysis for the previous 11 days which hastened his death. His body was conveyed to Melbourne, and after a funeral procession that moved from the residence of his brother, Samuel Allen in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery, Carlton. His death was registered in Buninyong as having occurred on 10 November 1861, but his brother, Samuel Allen, who was the local Deputy Registrar for Collingwood, sought to re-register his death by adding the date of burial and making minor changes to some other details. However this second registration was later cancelled and the original entry allowed to stand.

Rev. John Allen made his Will on 17 September 1857 and, realising that wills are documents that are likely to survive indefinitely, included in it details of all his children with their dates and places of birth together with the date and place of his own marriage and other genealogical information. Even though his Will was never probated by his widow whom he had named as the sole executrix, after her death one of their sons administered his estate with his Will still being deposited with the other court documents.

John Allen was born 12 March 1804 at Birmingham, Warwickshire, England and baptised 9 April 1804 in St. Phillip's Church, Birmingham, died 11 November 1861 at Buninyong, Victoria, buried 13 November 1861 at the Melbourne General Cemetery, Carlton, the son of Samuel Allen, gunsmith, and his wife Hannah, nee Crook. He married 10 April 1826 in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England to Mary Ann Vowles, of Draycott, Somerset, England, born 5 October 1804 in England, died 4 October 1871 in Collingwood, Victoria, buried at the Melbourne General Cemetery, Carlton, the daughter of George and Hannah Vowles. Their children were:

1. Samuel John Allen, born 13 March 1827, died 13 September 1834 at Tipton, England.

2. Charles Henry Allen, surgeon, born 11 November 1828, died 14 November 1856 on board the ship "Belle" at the Brass River on the African coast.

3. Frederick Augustus Allen, born 8 September 1832 at Tipton, England, died 20 May 1865 in Dunedin, New Zealand.

4. William John Allen, born 10 May 1835 at Tipton, England.

5. Alfred James Allen, born 29 March 1837 in London, England.

6. Mary Ann Jane Allen, born 19 June 1839 in Reedness, Yorkshire, England, died 1913 in South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

7. Hannah Maria Allen, born 23 December 1841 in South Cave, Yorkshire, England, married 18 April 1862 at her mother's residence, Collingwood, near Melbourne to Rev. William Potter, Baptist Minister at Mount Clear, Ballarat, Victoria, died 1887 in South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

8. Caroline Crook Allen, born 2 March 1844 in South Cave, Yorkshire, England, married 31 December 1868 at her mother's residence, Prahran, near Melbourne, Victoria, Arthur John Faram, son of George Faram, Esq. of Queensland.

9. George Baron Allen, born 4 Mar 1846 in South Cave, Yorkshire, England, married 1 July 1869 at the residence of the bride's parents to Annie Elizabeth Rogers, eldest daughter of John Rogers and his wife Sarah, nee Howie.

10. Eliza Marshall Allen, born 24 November 1848, died 26 October 1851 in Tabernacle House, Newtown (Fitzroy), Victoria, Australia.

( Contributed by Alexander Romanov-Hughes. PPPG Member No. 52 )

( Source of Images: State Library of Victoria. )


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