Allen married Ethel Lamb in 1891 and they went on to have four children: Ethel Joyce, born in 1893, Arthur Denis Wigram in 1894, Ellice Margaret in 1896 and Marcia Maria in 1905.
Fascinated by the new inventions of the era, he became interested in photography, purchasing the latest cameras. He soon proved to be a talented amateur photographer, capturing images of his family and friends, the city and its surrounds.
Arthur died in 1941, aged 79; his photographs, taken from the 1890s through to 1934, provide a detailed photographic record of a changing society and the emergence of the great city of Sydney.
A man of extraordinary vitality, Allen was fascinated by the times in which he lived, and tried to photograph everything he saw: family and friends; visiting ships and theatrical celebrities; bush picnics; the first mixed bathing on Sydney beaches; dramatic shipwrecks; processions, pageants and mass celebrations; coal miners; domestic life and fashion; house interiors; and sporting events. These photographs, contained in 51 albums, are now held by the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, and provide a view of the dramatic changes that took place in Edwardian Sydney.
Arthur Allenís photographs span 1890 to 1934, but the Edwardian Summer exhibition and book concentrate on those depicting the Edwardian years, a brief, often-overlooked but important period in Australia's history. The photographs, most of them never published before, form an unrivalled personal pictorial record of these rapidly changing times.
The pleasures of sea-bathing had been discouraged in colonial Sydney on the grounds of both risk and indecency, and early laws prohibited bathing during daylight hours. People gradually defied the daylight bathing laws and by 1900 there were reports in the press of whole families bathing. In 1902, a male swimmer at Manly Beach entered the water at midday. Although arrested, he was not charged, and by 1903 new laws were introduced that permitted surf bathing but required neck-to-knee outfits and prohibited the sexes to mingle. Mixed bathing soon followed, but swimming attire continued to be stringently regulated for some years to come.
Sydneysiders increasingly flocked to the coast to enjoy the cooling summer breezes and the glorious ocean views. The ‘pleasure palaces’ near many beaches provided popular entertainment for all ages. For picnics, families sought out Clark Island, quiet beaches around Middle Harbour or the popular Manly Beach.
Bondi and Coogee beaches in Sydney’s east were connected to the city by public transport and provided the ideal day-trip for large crowds of visitors. With growing numbers of people taking to the surf, the dangers of beach bathing became apparent, and in 1906 the first surf lifesaving club in the world was founded at Bondi Beach.