Arms granted to John Allen in 1779 and matriculated to Henry Howard Allen in 1878
(Crown Copyright) Courtesy of Jonathan Allan
It has been some time since I last uploaded a family tree, and last week I updated the Allen family of Glasgow, along with the associated Scott, Dehany, Gregory and Welch families. [NOTE October 2020: Family Trees are not currently uploaded].
I revisited the Allens following a query I received, and it occurred to me that they provide a good model of what happens to a particular kind of middle class merchant and professional family during the eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Looking at them may provide clues if you are researching a similar family of your own.
John Allen, who was the business partner and close friend of Robert Cooper Lee, came from a Glasgow merchant family and probably went to Jamaica about 1750 or thereabouts, like so many young men in search of fortune. Lucky enough to survive the unhealthy conditions there, he returned to Britain with his wife Favell Dehany in the 1770s, and two sons were born to them in London. John Allen was godfather to Robert Cooper Lee’s son Matthew Allen Lee while in Jamaica, and Robert Cooper Lee and his wife Priscilla named their last child Favell after John Allen’s wife. John Allen’s first son was named John Lee Allen.
There is a delightful portrait of this boy with his younger brother James, painted in the 1790s by Henry Raeburn and now housed in the Kembell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (source: Wikimedia Commons).
John Allen suffered badly from asthma and in January 1795 Margaret Grant, a mutual friend, wrote to the Lee family:
With the deepest concern I take up my pen to inform you, that our dear friend Mr Allen is no more. They returned from a short excursion they had made to Glasgow on Saturday last; that night he was seized with a severe attack of the Astmah which though alleviated by medical aid did not yield to it and joined to some internal malady, which the force of medicine, or human skill could not reach, at ¼ past eleven yesterday morning proved fatal.
His disconsolate Widow and her dear Boys are with me, she wonderfully calm and collected under her severe loss, the more so as so unexpected, at least by her. May the Almighty support and protect her and her Boys. [A Parcel of Ribbons, p.318]
The family were left very well off, for John Allen had bought the Inchmartine and Errol estates in Perthshire on his return from Jamaica. Sadly the house that John Allen knew was destroyed by fire in 1874 and the current Errol Park dates from 1875-7. John Lee Allen worked to improve the estate.
The farm-buildings have been much improved, and draining has been carried to a considerable extent; embankments have been also constructed for protecting the low lands from the inundations of the Tay. The principal of these was completed by Mr. Allen in 1836, when about 100 acres were reclaimed from the river, now forming some of the richest land on his estate; the embankment is forty feet wide at the base, and two feet on the summit, and is eleven feet high; the lower portion of the bank, to the height of four feet, consists of a wall of dry stones, and the upper of earth and reeds intermixed with stones. A second embankment has been more recently constructed by Captain Allen, R.N., on a similar plan, to the east of Port-Allen, and of greater extent than the former to the west of the port; and in process of time, by continuing these embankments, a very large portion of most valuable land will be added to the farms contiguous to the river. (source: http://perthshire.blogspot.co.uk/2007/12/errol-perthshire-scotland.html)
Two of John Lee Allen’s sons went into the Royal Navy and the youngest appears to have migrated to Canada. The nineteenth century saw many families bidding farewell to members who sought fortune overseas, but now instead of the West Indies eyes turned either to India or to the new colonies in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
John Lee Allen’s brother James, who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the 23rd Lancers, married the daughter of a Colonel in the East India Company. It was their son Henry Howard Allen who completed the matriculation of the family coat of Arms, and who by then was resident in England at least as much as in Scotland. His eldest brother James Vaughan Allen had died young, in Brussels of cholera, leaving a young widow Barbara Elrington Douglas who married twice more, but separated from her third husband possibly because she blamed him for the death of her epileptic son following an argument with his step father. She settled in Norway where she led a very interesting life farming, writing books and cohabiting with a translator called Oluf Endresen. However towards the end of the nineteenth century the money that paid her annuity from the Inchmartine estate was running out and sadly she ended her life in poverty.
The line from James Allen dies out by the end of the nineteenth century, with all his descendants either unmarried or childless, but the descendants of John Lee Allen were more numerous and by the late nineteenth century he had grandchildren and great grandchildren in Australia, where three of the children of Commander Henry Murray Edward Allen had settled.
The pattern of descent and settlement from John Allen and his Jamaican wife Favell Dehany shows many features common to similar families of the period. First successful colonists return home from Jamaica and invest their acquired wealth in their mother country, often with property in several places. Their sons have careers in the Army or Navy and marry well, into upper class or aristocratic families. Some of their children die young (but not nearly as many as in previous centuries) and some do not marry or are childless. A few carry on the family line, but seek to make their fortunes in the newly developing colonies and eventually settle there.
My mother’s family followed a similar pattern with sons in the Indian Army and Indian Army medical Corps during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, then others who tried for new lives in America and South Africa before settling in Australia and New Zealand. Such migration was often driven by the need to provide for the larger families resulting from reduced infant mortality, and from periods of agricultural depression in the UK.
So if you cannot find your family members where you expect them to be, look away from their geographical origins. If you are searching online widen your search terms to include other geographical areas. Look at records from India held by the British Library, check passenger lists for ships travelling between Britain and her expanding Empire, above all do not be surprised by the degree of geographical mobility of our ancestors.
The Allen family, who began as Glasgow merchants, had members who made a fortune in the West Indies; they settled in Canada, Norway, Australia and New Zealand, and have descendants still in the UK today.