John Wren

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
John Wren
Born Collingwood, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia[1]
Died Fitzroy, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia[2]

John Wren (3 April 1871 – 26 October 1953) was an Australian businessman and underworld figure. 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.

Early life[edit]

John Wren was born in Collingwood, Melbourne on 3 April 1871. He was the third son of Irish immigrants John Wren, labourer and Margaret, née Nester. He left school at the age of 12 and worked in a wood-yard and as a boot clicker, while supplementing his wage through various gambling activities. Losing his job in the 1890s depression, he commenced a horse racing gambling venture at his Johnston Street totalizator, which eventually earned him £20,000 per year.[3]

Power Without Glory[edit]

In 1950, the novelist and Communist Party of Australia member Frank Hardy launched 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 Bent and Prime Minister James Scullin, as well as Roman Catholic Archbishop Daniel Mannix.

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,and more factual, view of Wren's life and career.

Wren's granddaughter, Gabrielle Pizzi, also achieved renown as an art dealer credited with raising the profile of Aboriginal art. Others of his children had troubled lives. His son Anthony committed suicide after being disinherited following an argument with Wren, while his daughter-in-law Nora and grandchildren only received a meager allowance. When another of Wren's children, Susan Wardlaw, died, her two brothers had her buried her without notifying her husband Greg, who was then given 24 hours to leave the family home, while another of Wren's daughters Angela, purportedly died of malnutrition when she was 39, leaving an estate worth £97,000.[4]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ James Griffin, 'Wren, John (1871–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 9 February 2017
  4. ^ Lawrence Money 'No glory in the saga of the Wren family feud' Sydney Morning Herald 17 Feb 2010
  • Brennan, Niall. Dr Mannix. Rigby Limited Adelaide, 1964.
  • Brennan, Niall. John Wren: Gambler. Melbourne, 1971.
  • Buggy, Hugh, The Real John Wren, Melbourne, 1977.
  • Griffin, James. Wren, John (1871–1953), 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.