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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Reid, Walter Ballantyne (1834–1911)

by Lorna L. McDonald

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

Walter Ballantyne Reid (1834-1911), merchant, was born on 26 July 1834 at Wilton near Hawick, Roxburghshire, Scotland, son of Walter Reid, mason, and his wife Elizabeth, née Ballantyne. Educated at the village school, he worked in Hawick's leading drapery store and, perhaps drawn by the goldfields, migrated to Melbourne, arriving in the Hibernia in October 1852.

Employed at Buckley and Nunn's store, Reid left Melbourne in 1862 attracted by gold finds near Rockhampton, Queensland. By March 1864 he had established his own retail business in East Street, but moved to larger premises in Quay Street in 1868, with wholesale trade in wine, spirits, and general merchandise to supply increasing hotel and station demand. Having consolidated his firm in the conservative British tradition he entered shipping in 1878 by running lighters down the Fitzroy River to unload overseas ships at Port Alma.

Reid's character typified the Scottish virtues: a dutiful justice of the peace, industrious and methodical and generous to the needy. Despite a suggestion of aloofness, until 1883 he remained a fashionably dressed bachelor, attractive to the ladies. While visiting Britain he married on 5 February, in a Roman Catholic church, Janie Evangeline Stewart; they returned to Australia in 1884. He had sold out to McIlwraith, McEacharn & Co. in 1881 for £60,000; the original name was retained and within twenty years the business had become a limited liability company with an annual turnover exceeding £500,000. Ironically, this was the situation when Reid returned to Rockhampton in January 1898 to set up a new business in a futile attempt to recover losses incurred during the economic depression of the 1890s.

While Walter Reid & Co. Ltd entered the twentieth century on a wave of expansion which was to make it one of Australia's leading wholesalers, Reid quietly left Rockhampton, broken in health and spirit, to spend the last three years of his life in the Hospital for the Insane, Gladesville, Sydney. He died on 12 January 1911 and was buried in the Anglican section of Waverley cemetery, survived by two of his four children. A portrait is in the firm's boardroom at Rockhampton.

Select Bibliography

  • Alcazar Press, Queensland, 1900 (Brisb, nd)
  • J. T. S. Bird, The Early History of Rockhampton (Rockhampton, 1904)
  • J. G. Pattison, ‘Battler's’ Tales of Early Rockhampton (Melb, 1939)
  • Centenary Review of Walter Reid & Company Limited (Rockhampton, 1962).

Citation details

Lorna L. McDonald, 'Reid, Walter Ballantyne (1834–1911)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 12 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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