Mark Joseph Allan



Prior to the development of amateur photography brought about by the Box Brownie after 1889, and more recently by compact cameras and the explosion of digital photography, the photographer’s studio was an important locale for those who wanted to record themselves for posterity. It remained so when a good quality photograph, copy, or mount was wanted. One of Collingwood’s longest-lasting photography studios was initiated in the 1880s by Mark Joseph Allan and continued under the name of the Allan Studio after his departure.

Mark Allan was already known in the Collingwood district, but as a bootmaker, at what was then number 268 and 270 Smith Street, now approximately 306-308, just south of Perry Street.  Here he sold shoes and boots for men, women and children, undertook repairs, and made shoes to order. Around 1884 he changed tack and took on a new profession, that of photographer. He advertised for a young man to help with printing, and a lady re-toucher. In 1885-86 Patrick Coyle, the owner of the Albion Hotel on the north corner of Perry Street, was constructing a pair of two-storey shops immediately to the north of the hotel, and Allan took the opportunity to move into a new shop and dwelling at 278 Smith Street. This was soon re-numbered 318, and is currently (2018) the southern half of the shop Vintage Garage. By around 1890 Allan must have been doing well financially as he bought a new residence, a rather grander two-storey house with arcaded loggia, in Delbridge Street North Fitzroy.

If bootmaker to photographer seems a strange career change it is worth noting Allan’s scientific and technical interests. A lecture he gave in 1881 entitled ‘The Road to Ruin’ was accompanied by ‘dissolving views’ (a type of magic lantern show exhibiting the gradual transition from one projected image to another). In 1882 he was a member of the newly-formed Collingwood Microscopic Society, and was elected Vice-President in 1883, reading a paper on Double Staining of Vegetable Tissues for the occasion. Years later, in 1898, he would apply for a patent for ‘Improvements to Machines for Checking Cash Payments’ and was soon advertising his patent cash register till for sale at the studio. It was apparently based on the American Simplex Cash Register.

A committed advocate of abstinence from alcohol, Allan was a member of the Collingwood Total Abstinence Society, later President of the George St Fitzroy Baptist Church Total Abstinence Society, and a proponent of a Coffee Palace for Collingwood, so that workmen would have somewhere to go other than the many pubs to be found in the area. The Coffee Palace Company and Workingman’s Club company was formed in 1878 and he was a director along with James Mirams, MLA for Collingwood, Dr John Singleton, and J. Meaden. The Coffee Palace was built on the Fitzroy side of Smith Street and opened in August 1879, with a display of scientific inventions. Allan also gave services for children every Sunday morning at Singleton’s Mission Hall in Wellington Street.

The studio kept a number of props including background photographs, furniture and decorative objects. A good example is the c. 1890 photograph of the Vale sisters, in which they are seated around a tea-table furnished with teapot and cups, as if in their own home. A remarkable example is that of a small child made to look as though he is at the seaside, leaning against a sand dune matted with grass, and holding a spade. The studio was quite a substantial building which would have provided sufficient space for some of Allan’s larger group photographs.

In the early twentieth century Mr Allan moved to Geelong, where he continued his interest in microscopy, invented a microscope accessory, and became a very active member of the Geelong Field Naturalists Society. He later re-located to Brighton. By 1902 Mr Ernest David Sharp, a photographer who had been living in North Fitzroy, was in charge of the Allan Studio, living above the shop with his family. Under his management the Allan Studio went on from strength to strength over the next forty years. It was to continue at the same site until the 1970s, and at a location on the Fitzroy side of Smith Street in the 1980s.

Life Summary

Birth Date Birth Place
1843 England
Spouse Name Date of Marriage Children
Catherine Ann Heppell 1869 None
Home Addresses
Home Street Home City Status of Building
306 or 308 Smith Street, formerly 268-270 Smith Street Collingwood Demolished
318 Smith Street, formerly 278 Smith Street Collingwood Extant
17 Delbridge Street North Fitzroy Extant
Work Addresses
Work Street Work City Status of Building
306 or 308 Smith Street, formerly 268-270 Smith Street Collingwood Demolished
318 Smith Street, formerly 278 Smith Street Collingwood Extant
Death Date Death Place Cemetery
16 September 1927 Brighton, Victoria Brighton

The Age; The Argus; Mercury and Weekly Courier; Adelaide Advertiser; Sydney Daily Telegraph; Geelong Advertiser.