Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Gall (1867–1938)

by Paul D. Wilson

This article was published:

William Gall (1867-1938), public servant, was born on 13 May 1867 at Ipswich, Queensland, son of William Davidson Gall, builder and contractor, and his wife Isabella, née Stewart. Educated at West Ipswich Primary School, he won a scholarship to Ipswich Grammar School. Despite winning a trustee's scholarship in 1883, he left school and joined the public service as clerk in the Colonial Secretary's Department on 27 February 1885. He married Louise Wohlgemuth at Rosewood on 24 May 1893.

He transferred to the Audit Office in October 1894 after keeping accounts of government operations in the 1891 shearers' strike, and in 1899 became an inspector. Responsible from July 1901 for all South African War accounting, he became accountant in the Home Secretary's Department on 13 January 1903 and chief clerk and accountant in July 1904. After successfully centralizing the department's financial procedures, he was in charge of pension administration in 1908-10.

On 26 November 1913 Gall was appointed under-secretary for home affairs and protector of Aborigines. An unsuccessful candidate in 1915 for the position of auditor-general, he was acting comptroller-general of prisons from June 1926. Despite his expressed wish to complete fifty years in the public service, he was retired on 31 December 1934. State parliamentary redistribution commissioner in 1910 and 1931 (chairman), and a Commonwealth commissioner in 1911, he was State returning officer in the 1917 referendum for the abolition of the Legislative Council. In 1903-15 he was a trustee for the Queensland Patriotic Fund. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1930.

Fair-haired, handsome and efficient, Gall was a success in the Home Secretary's Department under the Denham Liberal government. Under the Ryan Labor ministry in 1915, he felt strongly that his job was at stake. Accused by the premier in September 1917 of antagonism to the government, he won some friends by his unswerving support of his ministerial head, the ailing David Bowman; Gall survived the hostility of John Fihelly whom he saw as his worst enemy. Although he lost responsibility for electoral administration and was attacked in 1920 by William Riordan, 'the reputed Tory under secretary' had witnessed the signature of his departmental head John Huxham on the Labor Party pledge in 1918. By the time Gall retired, he had become a trusted confidant of his minister Edward Hanlon.

Gall particularly enjoyed working, and was regarded as a skilled negotiator, in the area of local government. He was less happy as protector of Aborigines, and was involved in a number of controversies about reserves; he supported John Bleakley in his policies of regulation and control. Pressed by James Stopford into accepting oversight of prisons in 1926, he had to cope with a prisoners' mutiny at Brisbane (Boggo Road) prison shortly after his appointment; he supported a prison farm system for first offenders, and played a considerable part in the opening of Palen Creek Prison Farm.

Despite his high government office, Gall was an enthusiastic if mostly unsuccessful speculative investor. He was a director of the Holbourne Island Syndicate formed in 1917 to exploit guano deposits off Bowen. With Stopford and Spencer Browne, he bought forty acres of land at Keperra near Brisbane as a development speculation; this later became the Keperra Country Golf Club. With police commissioner W. H. Ryan, he held joint shares in Bowen Salt Ltd and, by accepting a parcel of shares in Yellow Cabs Queensland Pty Ltd, again with Ryan, he risked serious complaint—the shares were accompanied by a note thanking the two men 'for what you have done on our behalf'. After retirement Gall served as a company director. He concentrated on gold exploration but had other interests ranging from the Australian Patent Potato Farmer Pty Ltd to the Queensland Electric Coursing Association Ltd.

Intensely interested in Queensland history and toponymy, Gall served on the Oxley Memorial Library Committee in 1936-38 and on the quasi-official Queensland Place Names Committee. A block of State archives, borrowed by him in pursuing his private interests, was only returned to official custody in 1969. A keen shooter and fisherman, he collected Australian literature and was an enthusiastic gardener.

Gall died on 14 May 1938 and was cremated after a Presbyterian service. His estate, valued for probate at £7074 in Queensland and £328 in New South Wales, was left to his wife and their three surviving children.

Select Bibliography

  • Daily Mail (Brisbane), 3 June 1930
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 16 May 1938
  • Queenslander, 18 May 1938
  • Gall papers (University of Queensland)
  • Ecclesiastical file 831/1938 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Paul D. Wilson, 'Gall, William (1867–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 May, 1867
Ipswich, Queensland, Australia


14 May, 1938 (aged 71)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.