Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wallen, Robert Elias (1831–1893)

by A. R. Hall

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

Robert Elias Wallen (1831-1893), stockbroker and journalist, was born on 5 June 1831 at Port of Spain, Trinidad, West Indies, son of Francis Robertson Wallen, of Donegal, Ireland, and his wife Catherine, née Hobson. He was educated at Foyle College, Londonderry, Ireland, and in 1848 joined a firm of American merchants in Liverpool, England.

On news of gold discoveries in Victoria, the Wallen family decided to migrate. Robert arrived in Melbourne in 1852 in the Rip Van Winkle, the cargo of which was consigned to him, while the rest of the family came in the Great Britain. He set up in business for a few years with his father and brother, trading as F. R. Wallen and Sons, merchants, but by 1860 he had joined William Clarke and Sons, gold-dealers and brokers. In 1860-61 he edited a stock and share journal, which was published by major stockbroking firms in Melbourne to give a record of share prices and to provide informed comment for investors. In 1861 he was secretary and member of the short-lived Stock Exchange. William Clarke and Sons was dissolved in May 1867 and Wallen became a partner with Alfred, one of the sons, in the firm of Clarke & Co. (which still survives). Wallen was the first secretary and later several times chairman of the Melbourne Stock Exchange set up in 1865. On the formation of the new Stock Exchange in 1884 he became its first chairman for two years; later a committee-man, he was a member of a subcommittee in 1889 which initiated the first major redrafting of the rules. Over thirty years he thus played a leading part in stock exchange affairs.

For many years Wallen was also a part-time journalist. Working from 7 or 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. most evenings, he contributed to the Age, the Leader and the Argus; and in 1870-87 as 'Aegles' wrote the shrewd and genial column 'Talk on Change' for the Australasian. He later claimed that his writing had earned him some 12,000 guineas. As well, he edited the Australasian Insurance and Banking Record from its first issue in 1877 until its one-hundredth in mid-1885 when he resigned because of expanding business. His wide financial knowledge and experience, his undoubted journalistic ability and his careful handling of statistics established the Record as a financial journal of the highest quality. In recognition of his standing among professional statisticians and bankers, he was elected a fellow of the Institute of Bankers, London, and of the (Royal) Statistical Society of London.

Wallen was active in civic affairs and in 1877-83 was a member of the Hawthorn Borough (later Municipal) Council and mayor in 1878 and 1879. Keenly interested in art, he was president in 1882 of the Art Union of Victoria and for some ten years thereafter held the posts of president or vice-president. In 1889-93 he was a trustee of the National Gallery, Museums, and Public Library of Victoria. Described as 'Full of tact, considerate in his views, urbane in his manner', Wallen was an active layman of St Columb's Church of England, Hawthorn.

On 21 May 1863 Wallen had married Marian May Pitman (d.1887), the 17-year-old daughter of a solicitor; they had eight daughters and three sons. From about 1892 his health was impaired by his anxiety over the prevailing financial crisis. He embarked on a long sea voyage in 1893, but on 1 October, just out of Auckland, New Zealand, he died of a paralytic seizure. His body was brought back for burial in the Boroondara cemetery. He was survived by seven daughters and three sons of whom Frank (b.1870) joined Clarke & Co. in 1890, purchased his father's seat on the Stock Exchange of Melbourne in 1895 and was a member until 1929.

Select Bibliography

  • James Smith (ed), Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol 1 (Melb, 1903)
  • A. R. Hall, The Stock Exchange of Melbourne and the Victorian Economy 1852-1900 (Canb, 1968)
  • Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 14 July 1885, 19 Oct 1893
  • Australasian, 19 Feb 1887
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4 Oct 1893
  • records (Stock Exchange of Melbourne).

Citation details

A. R. Hall, 'Wallen, Robert Elias (1831–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/wallen-robert-elias-4793/text7983, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 21 November 2017.

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

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