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GEORGE LEAVIS ALLAN, MUSIC DEALER, PUBLISHER & TEACHER (1826-1897

Two covers with faint identical background advertising were found, both addressed to Germany and having similar but different travelling post office postmarks, were found. The first had 3 stamps of Victoria, the green-blue ½d ‘bantam’, the green 6d and the pink 1d, cancelled with 2 copies of the double circle ENGLISH MAIL T.P.O./ OUT/ 24 MA 09/ ---- postmark. The second’s background advertising was somewhat more legible and advertised Allan & Co. Proprietary Limited , Melbourne Pianofortes, American Organs, Band Instruments and Music. It had the combination franking of the 2d grey Kangaroo on Map of Australia and the 3d orange Victoria stamp, both postmarked with the double circle ENGLISH MAIL T.P.O./ OUT/ 10 JL 13/ -----/ VICTORIA. The poor clarity of both covers made reproduction of the covers not worthwhile.

A third cover was satisfactory and it also advertised Allan & Co, Importers of Pianofortes, American Organs, Band Instruments and Music and the lilac ‘TWO PENCE’ and ‘THREE PENCE’ QV stamps of Victoria were both canceled MELBOURNE/ PM/ 5/ 22-3-05/ 5. The cover was addressed to Messrs Mermod Freres, Ste. Croix, Switzerland, a firm of watchmakers and music boxes. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

George Leavis Allan, music dealer, was born in London, son of John Allan, civil servant, and his wife Ann Bailey. His family had been established in Cornwall since the sixteenth century and was notable for its contributions to law, naval history and Indian administration. Allan joined the Ordnance Department and had a varied experience in the public service before he was attracted to Australia by news of gold discoveries. By this time his interest in music had already been confirmed, if only on an avocational basis: he had received some training in the Hullah sight-singing system and was singing master as well as secretary and librarian at George's Sunday school in Camberwell.

Allan arrived in Melbourne in 1852, and on 3 January 1853 he took out gold licence, and set out with a party for Campbell's Creek and Bendigo. He and his mates did share some gold finds, but he returned to Melbourne in 1853 and started to capitalize on his musical experience. In the next twelve years his name figured widely in the record of the young colony. He opened singing classes on the Hullah’s ‘fixed-doh’ method in March 1853 in Bourke Street East, and in May of that year Lt.-governor Latrobe appointed him singing master in the chief denominational schools at a salary of £300. In the same year he was a committee member and a moving spirit in the formation of the Melbourne Philharmonic Society.

In January 1854 Allan's salary in denominational schools was twice raised subject to his taking classes in three additional schools. In July he was given his first assistant, George Tolhurst and Allan started singing classes at the Mechanics' Institution. Until 1861 he taught singing in the Roman Catholic schools in Melbourne and in 1863 began to teach at the Melbourne Ladies' College. He was ubiquitous over this decade wherever music was taught and he lectured and taught in the city and in North Melbourne, in association with his singing classes at St Mary's Church, the Church of England schoolroom in North Melbourne, and St John's schoolroom in the city. In addition he was an examiner of prospective music teachers.

Allan's other contribution to Australian music is better known, for in 1863 he joined the musical warehouse of Wilkie & Webster, and twelve years after becoming a junior partner, Allan found himself sole proprietor. His son George Clark (born 3 May 1860) became a partner in 1881 when the name of the firm was formally altered to Allan & Co. By 1877 it was the largest musical warehouse south of the equator, a distinction it retained; in spite of many changes in musical retailing, the firm of Allan built its name into the record of Australian music.

In 1879 Allan introduced a music catalogue of publications from overseas and from local composers. Its Australian yearbooks were best sellers, selling over 100,000 copies in 1900. Charles Tait, a director of the firm from 1896 contributed to the growth of the publishing arm and in 1922, a dedicated music printing plant was established to print music specifically for Allans, and its growing market.

 

Allan never lost touch with teaching or with practical music. He was responsible for a series of concerts which in scope has probably never been paralleled in the history of Western music. At age 70, Allan died at his home in St. Kilda on 1 April 1897. He had married Agnes Clark in 1859, and of their children, George Clark Allan was the most notable and he controlled the family business, which continued through him.

The on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography largely contributed to the content of this paper. The same cover has been used to describe the Swiss firm, and is also listed under Mermod Freres in the Category Arts & Artists.

 

 
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