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Politician had them 'quaking' for the workers

It is a humble headstone in a portion of Rookwood cemetery that is reserved for those who follow the Quaker faith. The humility of the grave belies the achievements of the man it was created to remember. The words are hard to read but intense scrutiny reveals the name of Alfred Allen who died on 6th August, 1917 aged 76 years. He was a man who filled those 76 years fruitfully.

Picture 1: Alfred Allen. Contributed by Noelene Harris, Australian Headstone Images Facebook page.

Alfred was born in 1839 in Belfast, Ireland, second son to William Allen the manufacturer and politician-cum pioneer of the protectionist movement in NSW. The family moved to Sydney, Australia in 1844, following William who had come out three years earlier. While William believed in protecting local trade from imports, Alfred grew up to be a free trader.

Alfred was always going to make waves when it came to standing up for what he believed was fair. In his apprenticeship with a Sydney engineering firm, he upset his bosses when he took on the role of secretary of the eight hour day movement. Also known as the short-time movement it was a social movement that aimed at regulating the working day to eight hours, instead of the 10 to 16 hour day, six days a week most workers currently experienced. He left the job when his bosses threatened legal action.

He went on to try many varied occupations including gold miner, sugar grower, printer and engineer. He was even an insurance agent for the Australian Mutual Provident Society. After the death of his father in 1869 he took over the family soap and candle manufacturing business for the next 25 years, building it up and re-organising it before selling out.

The area in which he shone and made a stamp in his world, however, was in politics. With his strong ideas on free trade and the temperance cause, he represented Paddington in the Legislative Assembly in 1887-94; for some time he acted as whip for Henry Parke's ministries. It was noted in The Daily Telegraph of the day that he was the first total abstainer to ever occupy the position of whip. In the general election of July 1894 he stood for Waverley but lost to Angus Cameron.

During his time in politics Alfred was well-known for his stance on free trade, believing it supported the worker over the manufacturer, and temperance but he made it clear that he had other beliefs as well. These included support for local government, the abolishment of log-rolling or vote trading by legislative members to obtain passage of actions of interest to each legislative member and the introduction of a judicious scheme of retrenchment in the Civil Service.

He was a believer in seats in the Upper House being elective with long tenure and in the federation of the colonies.

His public service went beyond politics, however, as he was active in philanthropic works, he was a life governor of Sydney Hospital and a founder of the Sydney Night Refuge and Soup Kitchen. As honorary secretary of the parliamentary local option movement, as mentioned before, he gave strong support to the temperance cause.

Picture 2: Alfred at the time of the election in 1894. Picture: The Daily Telegraph

He died at 78 years old at his home, Woolowin, Ebley Street, Waverley, on 5 August 1917 and was buried in the Quaker portion of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by Amelia, his wife and three sons and a daughter.

Picture 3: Alfred Allen's headstone in the Quaker section of Rookwood Cemetery. Photo: Noelene Harris

More Tales:


* G. P. Walsh, 'Allen, Alfred (1839–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 20 January 2020.

* 'Mr Alfred Allen', The Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 26 June 1894, Page 6

* 'Eight hour day', Wikipedia,, accessed online 22nd January, 2020

* 'Logrolling', Wikipedia,, accessed 22nd September, 2020

* 'Mr Alfred Allen's meeting', The Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 1 February, 1887, Page 6

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