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Jonathan Binns Were (1809–1885)

by Weston Bate

This article was published:

Jonathan Binns Were (1809-1885), stockbroker, was born on 25 April 1809 at Wellington, Somerset, England, the third son of Nicholas Were and his wife Frances, née Binns. In 1829 he joined the firm of Collins & Co., colonial merchants and bankers, of Plymouth. In 1833 he married Sophia Mullet Dunsford (1811-1881), a Quaker. They had twelve children, three of whom died in infancy. In 1882 he married Elizabeth, daughter of Donald Gordon McArthur of Melbourne.

Were emigrated in 1839 and settled in Melbourne. He brought a prefabricated house and merchandise worth about £1500. He traded at first under his own name, then with his brother George and with other partners until 1861, when the title J. B. Were & Son was adopted. Were's were importers, exporters, and agents for shipping, land, cattle, sheep and wool. In 1851 they became brokers and buyers of gold, and in 1853 began to deal in shares.

In February 1841 Were had become an agent for Henry Dendy. Were's subsequent business failure and bankruptcy in 1843 forced Dendy into insolvency; both their interests in the Brighton Estate were acquired eventually by Were's eldest brother Nicholas who lived in England. In 1857, after his second bankruptcy, the firm's share dealings rapidly took precedence over its commerce. In 1859 Were was both chairman and secretary of a regular stock exchange and in 1860 began to operate 'solely as Broker and Agent'. He successfully challenged stock jobbing by campaigning for an exchange on which brokers could not be principals and in 1865 was elected first chairman of 'The Stock Exchange of Melbourne'. He was a leading broker until his death, taking into partnership at various times his sons, Jonathan Henry, Francis Wellington and Arthur Bonville, and his son-in-law Sherbourne Sheppard.

In the 1840s Were was prominent in communal and business activities. He was first president of the Chamber of Commerce, one of three on the standing committee for separation, president of the Bible Society, a member of the Melbourne Hospital Committee, the Immigration Board and other institutions, and a director of many companies. He was the first justice of the peace appointed for Port Phillip, was a leading Church of England layman, and helped to run the 1881 Melbourne Exhibition, after which he was appointed C.M.G. In 1856 he was elected for Brighton to the Legislative Assembly, but his second bankruptcy soon caused his retirement. Contemporaries considered him most notable for the extraordinary number of his consular posts. He was knighted by the kings of Sweden and Denmark.

Were was a strange mixture of worldly ambition and idealism, of breadth of vision and rashness. His life seems to divide naturally into two periods at about 1857. Most of his public service took place in the 1840s and it was then that he lived in some style; 'all was English' at Moorabbin House in Brighton. He died on 6 December 1885.

Portraits are in the possession of J. B. Were & Son, Dr Stuart Were of Balwyn, and the Brighton City Council.

Select Bibliography

  • T. W. H. Leavitt and W. D. Lilburn (eds), The Jubilee History of Victoria and Melbourne, vol 1 (Melb, 1888)
  • The House of Were 1839-1954 (Melb, 1954)
  • W. Bate, A History of Brighton (Melb, 1962)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 7 Dec 1885.

Citation details

Weston Bate, 'Were, Jonathan Binns (1809–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 April, 1809
Wellington, Somerset, England


6 December, 1885 (aged 76)
Victoria, Australia

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