Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Allan, William
ALLAN, Sir WILLIAM (1837–1903), engineer and politician, born at Dundee on 29 Nov. 1837, was third son of James Allan (d. 1883), machine maker and proprietor of Seabraes Foundry, Dundee, by his wife Margaret Dickson (d. 1879). Allan served his apprenticeship as an engineer at his father's foundry. As a journeyman he removed to Glasgow, and shortly afterwards (1856) he went for a short time to Paterson, New Jersey. In 1857 he joined the royal navy as engineer, and spent the next three years mainly at foreign stations. In 1861, when the civil war broke out in America, Allan's love of adventure led him to take service as chief engineer on board a blockade-runner. He was in Charleston harbour when the Federals bombarded the city (21 Dec. 1861), and was captured and carried as a prisoner to the Capitol, Washington. Being released on parole, he returned to Dundee, resuming work at Seabraes Foundry. His varied experience had made him a competent workman, and when the North-Eastern Engineering Company was formed at Sunderland in 1866 he was engaged as foreman over one of the departments. The new venture was not at first successful. In 1868 the company was in difficulties and Allan became manager. Under his control the concern flourished, and after its removal to Wallsend, on the Tyne, enjoyed a high position in Tyneside engineering. In 1886 Allan started with great success on his own account the Scotia Engine Works at Sunderland, and remained active head of the firm till 1900. The business was then amalgamated with Messrs. Richardson, Westgarth & Co., Ltd. Allan became director, and was also until his death chairman of the Albyn Line, Ltd., shipowners of Sunderland.
From his youth Allan was an advanced radical, and showed practical sympathy with the working-classes. He was the first large employer to introduce an eight-hours day in his own works. At a bye-election at Gateshead on 24 Feb. 1893 Allan was returned in the liberal interest by a majority of 868 over his opponent, Mr. Pandeli Ralli. He represented Gateshead till his death. He spoke in the house with more force than elegance, but always with sincerity and common-sense. His practical knowledge led Him to oppose strenuously the introduction of the Belleville type of boilers into the navy (Hansard, 25 June 1896; Lucy's Unionist Parliament, 1895-1900, p. 78). On the occasion of King Edward VII's coronation in 1902 Allan was knighted. He died on 28 Dec. 1903 at Scotland House, Sunderland, and was buried in Ryhope Road cemetery, Sunderland. Allan was married to Jane, daughter of Walter Beattie of Lockerbie, who survived him.
In addition to his other activities Allan was a writer of Scottish songs fluent, patriotic, fervid. From 1871 till his death he published so many volumes of verse that he was described as 'the most prolific poet of our time.' His poetic publications include: 1. 'Rough Castings in Scotch and English Metal,' 1872. 2. 'Hame-spun Lilts, or Poems and Songs chiefly Scottish,' 1874. 3. 'Heather-bells, or Poems and Songs,' 1875. 4. 'Ian Vor, a Drama,' 1876. 5. 'Roses and Thistles, Poems and Songs,' 1878. 6. 'A Life's Pursuit,' 1880. 7. 'After Toil Songs,' 1882. 8. 'Lays of Leisure,' 1883. 9. 'Northern Lights, or Poems and Songs,' 1889. 10. 'A Book of Songs in English and Scottish,' Sunderland, 1890, 4to. 11. 'A Book of Poems,' 1890. 12. 'Democratic Chants,' 1892. 13. 'The Rose of Methlic,' 1895. 14. 'Sunset Songs,' 1897. 15. 'Songs of Love and Labour,' 1903. Allan's only technical publication was 'The Shipowners' and Engineers' Guide to the Marine Engine' (Sunderland, 1880). A cartoon portrait by 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1893.
[Dundee Year Book, 1903; Dundee Advertiser, 29 Dec. 1903; Cat. of Lamb Collection of Dundee Books, Dundee Reference Library; Reid's Bards of Angus and the Mearns; H. W. Lucy's Balfourian Parliament, 1906, p. 109 (with sketch portrait by Phil May); private information.]