Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wallace, Robert (1773-1855)

WALLACE, ROBERT (1773–1855), postal reformer, born in 1773, was the second son of John Wallace (1712–1805) of Cessnock and Kelly in Ayrshire, by his third wife, Janet, third daughter of Robert Colquhoun of the island of St. Christopher. His father was a West India merchant in Glasgow, who amassed a large fortune and became proprietor of several important estates. The eldest son was Sir James Maxwell Wallace [see Wallace, Grace, Lady Wallace]. By the father's will Robert Wallace received the estate of Kelly and part of the West Indian property, and was known by the designation of Wallace of Kelly. He was a devoted whig, and, as he was a vigorous orator, his services were often in demand during the reform agitation before 1832. After the passing of the Reform Bill he was the first member of parliament for Greenock under the act, and held that seat continuously till 1846. In parliament his chief efforts were directed towards law reform, especially in the direction of having cheaper and simpler methods for the transfer of heritable property; and, though he did not carry through any measure specially for this purpose, he gave an impetus to reforms of this kind, and suggested plans which have since been adopted. His name is most intimately associated with the reform of the postal service, and with the introduction of the penny post. After repeated applications to parliament he succeeded in having a royal commission appointed in 1836 to report on the state of the posting department. The numerous reports made by the commission fully supported the charges brought against this department, and prepared the way for many reforms. Wallace was chairman of the committee charged with the examination of Rowland Hill's penny postage scheme; and it was by his casting vote that it was decided to recommend this scheme to parliament. He took an active interest in the realisation of cheap postage. In 1846 he became embarrassed financially through the depreciation in value of some of his West Indian estates, and deemed it prudent to resign his seat in parliament. The estate of Kelly was sold, and Wallace lived in retirement at Seafield Cottage, Greenock. After his resignation a liberal public subscription was made for him, which enabled him to spend his later years in comfort. He died at Seafield on 1 April 1855. He married Margaret, daughter of Sir William Forbes of Craigievar, but left no issue. His sister, Anne Wallace, died unmarried in 1873 in her hundred and second year.

[Millar's Castles and Mansions of Ayrshire; Foster's Members of Parliament of Scotland; Glasgow Herald, 2 April 1855; Loyal Reformer's Gazette, 1832; Transactions of Glasgow Archæological Soc. new ser. i. 112.]

A. H. M.