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Charles William Wren (1856–1934)

by T. J. Hart

This article was published:

Charles William Wren (1856-1934), banker, was born on 15 November 1856 in North Adelaide, son of William John Wren, articled clerk, and his wife Mary Brodie, née Spence. Charles joined the English, Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank as exchange clerk in Adelaide in January 1872, rising rapidly to the joint position of accountant and branch inspector for South Australia in 1881. He moved to Melbourne in 1888 as inspector's accountant and on 6 March 1889 married Eleanor Dora Hall at St Stephen's Anglican Church, Elsternwick. Appointed resident inspector in New South Wales in 1901, Wren became the bank's Australasian general manager on 1 July 1909.

Three mergers with other banks during Wren's managership doubled business and branch numbers, and significantly improved the E.S.& A.'s position in relation to other trading banks. Wren was three times chairman of the Associated Banks of Victoria. He refused the first governorship of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia when it was offered to him by Prime Minister Andrew Fisher in 1912; Wren recommended (Sir) Denison Miller in his stead. Wren had an intimate knowledge of the E.S.&A. bank's affairs and served it with dedication and selflessness: on occasion, he would return to assist junior officers in balancing the ledgers. He was a 'valuable but over-constant letter writer' whose crabbed hand reflected his speed of thought. The London board came to know him well through his correspondence and through four visits he made while general manager. Its directors held him in high regard, but he strongly resented any interference by them in his management.

Wren's advancing age, coupled with its desire to retain his experience, caused the board to appoint E. E. L. O'Sullivan as a joint general manager in January 1928. While he did not favour a shared administration, O'Sullivan regarded Wren as the 'master' and as a 'valuable, close and personal friend'. In 1932 Wren's contract was extended by one year; he retired on 31 December 1933 after sixty-two years service, still 'remarkably well-preserved'.

A warm, affectionate and generous friend, but a stern master, Wren was feared by customers and thought by some to be tactless and inclined to gossip. He dressed for dinner each night. Deeply interested in the theatre, he sometimes attended up to four performances a week. He was a passionate croquet player who was variously committeeman, patron, referee and umpire of the Victorian Croquet Association. Though a member of the Australian Club, Wren had been excluded from the Melbourne Club by the intervention of his predecessor Alexander Urquhart who had allegedly 'queered his pitch' there. On his retirement, Wren left for London by way of Europe. While in Italy an aneurysm necessitated the emergency amputation of his leg; he died on 19 April 1934 at the Clinica Bastianelli and was buried in Rome. His wife and daughter survived him. His estate was sworn for probate at some £58,000.

Select Bibliography

  • D. T. Merrett, ANZ Bank (Syd, 1985)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 21 Nov 1933, 21 May 1934
  • Australian and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd Archives, Melbourne.

Citation details

T. J. Hart, 'Wren, Charles William (1856–1934)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 13 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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