John Wren (3 April 1871 – 26 October 1953) was an Australian businessman. He has become a legendary figure thanks mainly to a fictionalised account of his life in
Frank Hardy's novel " Power Without Glory", which was also made into a television series. Wren exercised considerable influence in Victorian politics and business, but he was not as powerful as subsequent legend has suggested. Wren's granddaughter, Gabrielle Pizzi, also achieved renown as an art dealer credited with raising the profile of Aboriginal art.
Wren was born in Collingwood, an inner working-class suburb of
Melbourne, the son of Irish Catholicimmigrants. In 1890, while working in a Collingwood shoe factory, he bet his entire saving on Carbine, the winner of the Melbourne Cup. In 1903 he added considerably to that sum when his own horse, Murmur, won the Caulfield Cup.
Racing and boxing activities
In 1893 Wren established an illegal
totalisator(betting shop) behind a tobacconist's shop in Johnston St, Collingwood. The shop provided entry to a spacious wood yard at the rear, which was heavily fortified preventing easy access by the authorities. The betting model he employed for delivering transparent odds to his clients was adopted from George Adams's successful Tattersallstotalisator venture. The Collingwood tote made Wren a rich man and also gave him political influence in the inner suburbs. In 1905 he inherited the running of business interests in pony and horse racing from another Collingwood identity, and later made further expansions into gambling, cinemas, goldmining, newspaper publishing, and professional cycling. He subsequently had a role in the establishment of Moonee Valley Racecoursein Melbourne, which competed with the Victoria Racing Club's course at Flemington.
Wren became best known as a
boxingpromoter and through this success he was able to establish the Stadiums Limitedorganisation, which acquired venues in most major Australian capitals, including Sydney Stadium, Festival Hall, Melbourneand Festival Hall, Brisbane.
Wren, along with promoters
Snowy Bakerand Hugh McIntosh, was accused of using his influence to prevent the great young Australian boxer Les Darcyfrom fighting in America, where he had fled at the end of 1916 to earn money to support his family (according to Darcy) before he would serve in WWI. To quote Greg Growden : "All three realised their meal ticket had dudded them... Wren telegrammed Baker stating he would make certain Darcy was blackbanned in America.". In contrast, James Griffin in " [http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A120651b.htm Australian Dictionary of Biography] " states : "Locals were discouraged from seeking world titles abroad, but Wren had no part in Les Darcy's nemesis". Griffin also points out that Darcy departed the day before the 1916 conscription referendum (which Wren supported). This illustrates the controversy surrounding John Wren's affairs.
Unlike many Australian Irish-Catholics Wren supported Australian involvement in
World War I, and although he supported conscription for the war he grew increasingly anti-British after the Easter Risingin Dublinin 1916. This made him a supporter of the powerful Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix, who became a close friend and neighbour. However, Niall Brennan tells us that Dr Mannix made a mistake with his public association with Wren as it damaged the Catholic church, and : "He (Wren) tried hard but was never successful in buying the Archbishop as he bought politicians", and describes how Mannix refused Wren's contribution of most of a £50,000 testimonial at Mannix's departure for the USA and Rome in 1920 : "It was the last effort to wrap a tentacle around the Archbishop; and it failed".
Under Mannix's influence Wren was fiercely anti-Communist, and after the war he used his wealth to support politicians who opposed Communism and defended Catholic interests. In return he expected them to protect his business interests, both legal and illegal. By the 1920s, however, Wren no longer needed to be involved in small-time activities like illegal betting, and most of his money came from legal, if not entirely respectable, businesses such as racing and boxing promotion. It was during this period that he also became an influential patron of the
Collingwood Football Club.
During the 1920s, '30s and '40s Wren controlled a political machine in Melbourne's inner suburbs, which he used mainly in the interests of moderate
CatholicLabor politicians such as James Scullin, Frank Brennanand Tom Tunnecliffe. But he was also a friend and supporter of the Country Party Premier of Victoria Albert Dunstan, and it was his influence which led state Labor leader John Cain to support Dunstan's minority Country Party government through the 1930s.
"Power Without Glory"
In 1950, the novelist and
Communist Party of Australiamember Frank Hardylaunched a savage attack on Wren in his self-published 1950 novel " Power Without Glory", in which Wren appears thinly disguised as a character called John West. The book also included characters based on other important Victorian and Australian political figures, including Victorian Premier Sir Thomas Bentand Prime Minister James Scullin, as well as Roman Catholic Archbishop Daniel Mannix. Some of the charges of illegality and corruption levelled in the novel against Wren had some foundation in fact, but most were exaggerated, and some of the political conspiracies and other actions attributed to him were completely fictional.Fact|date=September 2008 Wren was an old man in 1950 and had little real influence: Hardy's real targets were the anti-Communist Labor politicians also caricatured in the book.
Hardy was tried for
criminal libelin 1951 because of the depiction in the novel of "West's" wife having an affair, but he was acquitted on the grounds that the work was, as he said, a mixture of fact and fiction. It was the last prosecution for criminal (as opposed to civil) libel in Victoria. The case attracted enormous publicity, coinciding as it did with the anti-Communist referendum and served mainly to give the novel and the negative portrayal of Wren greater prominence. In 1976, the novel was made into an Australian Broadcasting Corporationtelevision series starring Martin Vaughanas West.
Death and posthumous reputation
Wren died in 1953, a month after suffering a heart attack while witnessing his team Collingwood win the VFL grand final.
Frank Brennan's son, the author
Niall Brennan, gave a favourable portrayal of Wren in his 1971 biography, "John Wren: Gambler". Hugh Buggy's "The Real John Wren" (1977), with a Foreword by Arthur Calwell, Federal Parliamentary Labor Party Deputy Leader, was also very favourable. A more balanced account was given by Chris McConville's article in "Labor History", "John Wren: Machine Boss" (1981). "John Wren: A Life Reconsidered" by James Griffin (2004) presented an essentially positive view of Wren's life and career.
* Brennan, Niall. "Dr Mannix". Rigby Limited Adelaide, 1964.
* Buggy, Hugh, "The Real John Wren", Melbourne, 1977.
* Griffin, James. "Wren, John (1871 - 1953)", [http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A120651b.htm "Australian Dictionary of Biography"] , Volume 12, Melbourne University Press, 1990, pp 580–83.
* Griffin, James. "John Wren: A Life Reconsidered", Scribe, Melbourne, 2004.
* Growden, Greg. "The Snowy Baker Story". Random House Australia, 2003.
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.
Look at other dictionaries:
Wren (disambiguation) — Wren may refer to:Organisms* A small bird from one of four families: ** Troglodytidae , the true wrens ** Acanthisittidae , the New Zealand wrens ** Maluridae , the Australasian wrens ** Acanthizidae subfamily Sericornithinae , the scrubwrens,… … Wikipedia
John Cain (senior) — Infobox Premier name =John Cain nationality =Australian order =34th Premier of Victoria term start =14 September 1943 term end =18 September 1943 term start2 =21 November 1945 term end2 =20 November 1947 term start3 =17 December 1952 term end3… … Wikipedia
Wren — I. /rɛn/ (say ren) noun 1. Sir Christopher, 1632–1723, English architect; famous for his replanning of London after the Great Fire of 1666; he designed St Paul s Cathedral, 50 other Churches and many secular buildings. 2. John, 1871–1953,… … Australian English dictionary
John Evelyn — (31 October 1620 – 27 February 1706) was an English writer, gardener and diarist.Evelyn s diaries are largely contemporaneous with those of the other noted diarist of the time, Samuel Pepys, and cast considerable light on the art, culture and… … Wikipedia
John Evelyn — John Evelyn, écrivain anglais du XVIIe siècle. John Evelyn (né le 31 octobre 1620 à Wotton dans le Surrey et mort le 27 février 1706 à Londres) est un écrivain, paysagiste et mémorialiste anglais qui entretint une correspondance suivie avec … Wikipédia en Français
Wren Day — also known as Wren s day, Hunt the Wren Day or The Hunting of the Wrens ( ga. Lá an Dreoilín) is celebrated on December 26, St. Stephen s Day, on the Isle of Man, Ireland and Wales. The tradition consists of hunting a fake wren, and putting it on … Wikipedia
John Higgins (gunman) — John Higgins, usually known as Pink Higgins (1848 December 18, 1914) was a little known gunman and cowboy of the Old West, despite his having killed more men in his lifetime than more notable and well known gunfighters. Early lifeBorn John… … Wikipedia
John Wallis — John Wallis. John Wallis (Ashford, 23 de noviembre de 1616 – Oxford, 28 de octubre de 1703) fue un matemático inglés a quien se atribuye en parte el desarrollo del cálculo moderno. Fue un precursor del cálculo infinitesi … Wikipedia Español
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. — John Davison Rockefeller, Jr. John D. Rockefeller Jr. Born January 29, 1874(1874 01 29) Cleveland, Ohio, U.S … Wikipedia
John Evelyn — John Evelyn. John Evelyn (* 31. Oktober 1620 in Wotton, Surrey; † 27. Februar 1706 ebenda) war ein englischer Autor, Architekt und Gartenbauer. Inhaltsverzeichnis … Deutsch Wikipedia