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Allen Family Burma Collection


Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Captain William Henry Allen (W.H. Allen), a member of an aristocratic British family, settled in Burma from his home at Castle Dhuarigle in County Cork, after his position as ship Captain first took him to and from the Far East in the early 1880s. During his first perilous voyage, he transported pilgrims from Bombay to Jeddah on the S.S. Adowa. Earning a reputation as a responsible seaman, Captain Allen then captained the S.S. Kathleen; joined the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, a passenger and cargo ferry company on the Irrawaddy River in Burma; and finally joined the Royal Indian Marine, serving as captain of the patrol boats Patrick and George which also carried passengers and government stores. He was appointed Assistant Port Officer, a position which he held until about 1910 when he was appointed Secretary to the Mayo Marine Institute.

Captain Allen married Annie Rayner (born 1864), and at the end of 1888, they traveled together to live in Burma. Annie Rayner was the daughter of Hugh and Mary Smyth Rayner and the sister of Mary, Hugh, Ellen, Fanny, Bertha, and Charles. During her life in Burma, Annie remained in contact with her family through letters and visits. Captain and Mrs. Allen were socially very active as they were part of the protocol of Rangoon and Mandalay. Over the years, the Allens spent time at Maymyo, a British Hill Station in the Shan Highlands, in addition to Rangoon.

In 1889, the Allen's daughter, Barbara Allen (1889-1979), was born. Barbara was part of the British society of Burma, despite the fact that she was probably educated at Bedford High School for Girls in England. She eventually married Major George Cecil Brooke (1870-1915), a career soldier in the 1st Battalion of the Border Regiment, and son of Brigadier Henry Francis Brooke (1836-1880). Major Brooke was educated at Wellington College in Crawthorne, Berkshire England and at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. During his military career, Major Brooke served in the Waziristan Expedition in 1895, the Malakand Expedition from 1897 to 1898, and the Siege of Tientsin and Relief of Pekin from 1900 to 1903. From 1907 to 1910, Major Brooke acted as Adjutant of Militia and Special Reserve of the Lancashire Fusiliers Depot in Bury, England. Following their marriage in 1912, George and Barbara Brooke were invited to Buckingham Palace, where they spent some time before their son, Henry John Allen Brooke, was born in 1913. Major Brooke was killed in action at the Dardanelles on April 28, 1915, very shortly after the death of Barbara's father. Barbara appears to have kept in contact with her husband's mother Ann Isabella Christopher Brooke (about 1847-1927), and his sisters, Mabel Alice (1868-1954) who married Alister Grant Dallas and Violet (1869-1936) who married Francis Hall.

Following the deaths of her father and husband, Barbara spent a good deal of time at Hampton Court Palace, living in Apartment 21, by "grace and favour" of the monarch. Like his father, Henry John Allen Brooke (1913-2003) was educated at Wellington College and made his career in the military. He served as a Commander in the Royal Navy from the late 1930s to the early 1960s, seeing action in the Spanish Civil War from 1937 to 1938 and in World War II.

This collection, which documents two generations of British aristocrats in colonial Burma, consists of two diaries, dating from 1889 to 1890, and two scrapbooks, dating from 1781 to 1935. The scrapbooks, alone, tell the story of the Irish Allen family who occupied Dhuarigle Castle in County Cork, Ireland and held the title of Baron. In the late 1880s, William Henry Allen, a ship captain, left Ireland and moved to Burma with his new wife Annie Rayner Allen. At the start or their voyage on the S.S. Kathleen, Annie Allen's story is the central focus of the scrapbooks and from 1889 to 1890, the diaries and the scrapbook, used together, provide a detailed and intimate view of the challenges of sea travel, the uncertainties of living in a very foreign country, and her joy at becoming a mother. During the years of 1889 to 1912, the scrapbooks document the Allen family's life in Burma and their interest in Burmese culture, but also show the determined effort to remain close to family who remained in the British Isles. The life of Captain and Mrs. Allen's daughter, Barbara, is documented through photographs, letters, and sketches. Although the family spent more than twenty years in Burma, their collection and display of ephemera show clearly how they stayed close to their British heritage by taking pride in the monarchy and celebrating traditional events, memorials, and practices.

Around 1912, the focus of the scrapbooks seems to shift to Barbara Allen and her circle of friends, and in particular, her husband, Major George Cecil Brooke. The scrapbooks include material about their wedding, their trip to Buckingham Palace shortly after their marriage, and the birth of their son, John Henry Allen Brooke. Very little about the deaths of Captain Allen and Major Brooke, both of which took place early in 1915, is included in these scrapbooks, but there are a considerable number of newspaper clippings about the extended family and friends of the Allens, Rayners, and Brookes. It is unclear who actually created the scrapbooks, although, it appears that it may have been constructed by Barbara Allen's descendants, since her own son and grandchildren are included.

In total, the collection is extensive; within the scrapbooks are nearly six hundred items, including photographs, newspapers clippings, letters, and ephemera. The photographs date from both the 19th and 20th centuries, and many of the 19th century photographs were made by Watts and Sleens of Rangoon. As a group, this collection gives a great insight into colonial life in Burma immediately following Burma's incorporation into the British Empire.

Arranged alphabetically.

This collection was purchased in 2013.

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

This collection was processed by Holly Mengel in 2013. Finding aid written by Holly Mengel in 2013.

No material was separated during 2013 processing.

Manuscripts Division
Finding Aid Author
Holly Mengel
Finding Aid Date
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

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Collection Inventory

Anne Rayner Allen's Diary, 1889. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Anne Rayner Allen's Diary, 1890. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Scrapbook, 1781-1907. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

This scrapbook, dating from 1781 to 1907, contains family history material and material relating to the first eighteen years of the Allens' lives in Rangoon, India, from 1889 to 1907.

The first portion of the scrapbook consists of information on the Allen family's Irish ancestors. The central figure is Lady Anne Ponsonby, of whom Thomas Gainsborough painted a portrait. Researchers will find photographs of her portrait and portraits of her mother and grandmother, as well as other family members. Genealogical charts, indentures for land in Ireland, and several other land related documents make up these first seven pages of the scrapbook.

The remainder of the scrapbook documents the lives of Anne Rayner, her family, her husband William Henry Allen, and her daughter Barbara Allen. While the largest component of the scrapbook is ephemera (programs for concerts, sporting events, church services; newspaper clippings of family and friends' events; and postcards of Rangoon and Burma), there is a significant number of letters to and from family members, in particular, to and from Anne's mother, Mary Smyth Rayner. These letters document Ann and William Henry Allen's trip to Rangoon, Burma aboard the S.S. Kathleen; their early life in Burma; the birth of their daughter Barbara on October 21, 1889; Prince Albert's visit to Rangoon on December 20, 1889; the Anglo-Burmese population's celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee and the Coronation of King Edward and Queen Alexandra in 1902; the Prince and Princess of Wales' visit to Burma in 1906; and the visit of the Viceroy and Countess of Minto in 1907. The family made a few visits to family in Ireland over the years, and the scrapbook documents these trips with family portraits and photographs of sightseeing in Ireland.

Researchers should be aware that Anne Rayner Allen's diaries from 1889 to 1890 provide context for the materials in the scrapbook from the same time period.

Ephemera and photographs or postcards exist for the following ships: B.G.S. Patrick, B.G.S. George, B.G.S. Dufferin, S.S. Mandalay, S.S. Ava, and S.S. Staffordshire.

Physical Description

1 folder

Scrapbook, 1907-1935. 1 folder.
Scope and Contents

The second scrapbook, dating from 1907 to 1935, contains materials which document the lives of William Henry and Anne Allen, their daughter, Barbara, her husband, George Cecil Brooke, and the Brooke family. This volume consists of photographs, family letters, ephemera and newspaper clippings of social events (balls, sporting events, concerts, etc.), and post cards from Rangoon, Maymyo, and Ireland.

In 1907, the Allen family appears to have visited the Burma sights, particularly Rangoon and Maymyo, with their friends, the Graham family and the Woods family. Soon after, the Allens appear to have visited Ireland. This beginning portion of the scrapbook is almost entirely filled with postcards and photographs, mostly labeled, but frequently in an illegible hand. During their travels, they sailed on the R.I.M.S. Minto and Dufferin.

George Cecil Brooke, the future husband of Barbara Allen, first appears in the scrapbook in 1907, when Barbara was 18. Barbara appears to have been socially active, attending, with her parents, the opening of the New Port Works at Rangoon on December 22, 1907, fancy dress balls, races, the 250th Anniversary of the Royal Scots Fusiliers Regiment, regattas, tennis tournaments, and concerts. The Allen family attended memorial services at the time of the death of Edward VII, and celebrated the coronation of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. Also, in 1911, the Allens attended events surrounding the Centenary of the Battle of Arroyo dos Molinos which took place on October 28, 1811 during the Napoleonic Wars.

Both manuscript and newspaper descriptions of Barbara's wedding to George Cecil Brooke on May 23, 1912 can be found in the scrapbook. The Brookes traveled to the British Isles in early 1913 and they visited Buckingham Palace and Hampton Court Palace. Their son was born in 1913, documented by letters from Barbara to her mother, Anne, and from Anne to her own mother, Mary Smyth Allen. The start of World War I is documented largely by newspaper clippings, but there are also photographs of a company of soldiers. It is unclear if these soldiers were part of Brooke's company before or after the start of the War. Very little documentation exists in the scrapbook regarding the deaths of Barbara's father Captain William Henry Allen or her husband George Cecil Brooke, both in 1915.

The final portion of the scrapbook consists of fifteen pages newspaper clippings regarding extended family and friends. These clippings are sometimes biographical or topical, but largely consist of engagement and marriage announcements, death and funeral announcements, and military appointments. There are only a few invitations and items of event ephemera. However, there are a significant number of articles regarding Hampton Court Palace, where Barbara Rayner Allen lived after the death of her husband, and a dispute regarding the Thomas Gainsborough portrait of Lady Anne Ponsonby.

Physical Description

1 folder

Scrapbook (Loose Material Originally Located in Volume), Newspaper Clippings regarding Centenary of Battle of Arroyo-dos-Molinos, 1911. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Scrapbook (Loose Material Originally Located in Volume), Newspaper Clippings of Death and Funeral Notices, Engagement and Wedding Announcements, and Military Appointments, 1914-1933. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Scrapbook (Loose Material Originally Located in Volume), Photographs of an Unidentified Home, 1930. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

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