Allen, Richard (1803–86), philanthropist and anti-slavery and temperance campaigner, was born 8 January 1803 at Harold's Cross, Dublin, into a quaker family, fourth child and second son among fifteen children of Edward Weston Allen, draper, and Ellen/Eleanor Allen (née Burton), and was educated by a tutor. In 1820 he entered his father's firm, famous for the beauty of its linens and muslins; in 1830 he established his own drapery at 25 High St. and added tailoring, aspiring to make clothes available at reasonable prices. His business nearly failed c.1844 owing to his preoccupation with philanthropic activities.
From 1828 he was a member of a group of reformers working for the alleviation of the ills of humanity; it campaigned against the opium trade, the corn laws, and capital punishment, and fought for reform in India (Allen being secretary of the British India Society). He was an early member and president of the Temperance Society of Ireland (renamed Hibernian Temperance Society, 1830) and vice-president of the Dublin Temperance Union, and contributed to the Irish Temperance and Literary Gazette. While advocating total abstinence and denouncing the evils of alcohol, he showed compassion for the poor: ‘What do we know of their temptations . . . should we wonder, if wet, cold, and weary, they run to the public house, for, fiery and poisonous as is the potation . . . it produces present relief.’
Secretary of the Hibernian Anti-Slavery Society (1837), he campaigned for the abolition of the apprenticeship system in the West Indies; he lobbied MPs and was present in the house of commons when the motion was passed (22 May 1838). On this occasion he was one of the members who presented the ‘Ladies’ petition of Ireland against slavery' to Queen Victoria. He was in touch with abolitionists throughout the world; an American journalist wrote of him that ‘though his heart is Irish it beats for all the world’, and in 1840 he was a delegate to the world anti-slavery convention in London. His abhorrence of slavery was so great, his principles so deeply held, that during the great famine he wrote (29 March 1847) to the central relief committee of the Society of Friends, arguing against accepting American aid: ‘Shall we accept the money sent by slave-holding communities, even to save our countrymen from starvation?’
In 1870 he campaigned against the contagious diseases acts (1864, 1866, 1869), which required that prostitutes be registered and made liable to arrest and compulsory examination. Allen argued that the acts indirectly sanctioned prostitution and unjustly discriminated against women who alone suffered penalties although men were equally involved. A Dublin branch of the national association for the abolition of the acts was formed, and meetings were held on Allen's premises in Sackville St. The repeal of the acts (1886) vindicated his faith: ‘I have lived long enough to see that a good cause eventually triumphs.’ He was secretary of the Hibernian Society for the Promotion of Permanent and Universal Peace. On the outbreak of the Franco–German war (1870) he travelled to Metz, France, with his niece Ellen/ Eleanor Allen (b. 7 February 1828) to nurse his nephew Henry John Allen (b. 30 November 1838), who was a commissioner of the Friends' War Victims Relief Fund and had contracted smallpox; Ellen also became infected and both died in Metz. Allen lost an eye after contracting erysipelas; he was subsequently awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honour by the French government. He died at his home, Brooklawn, Monkstown, Co. Dublin, 19 January 1886.
Allen married first (1828) Anne Webb (d. 1868); secondly (1873) Mary Ann Savage from Chelmsford, England. There were no children. Both wives were deeply involved with Allen's philanthropic activities and accompanied him on his frequent and far-flung travels, reports of which he published in the General Advertiser.