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Edward Smith Hall (1786–1860)

by M. J. B. Kenny

This article was published:

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Edward Smith Hall (1786-1860), attributed to Augustus Earle, c1820

Edward Smith Hall (1786-1860), attributed to Augustus Earle, c1820

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2310341

Edward Smith Hall (1786-1860), banker, newspaper editor and grazier, was born on 28 March 1786 in London, one of the six sons of Smith Hall and Jane, née Drewry. He grew up near Falkingham, Lincolnshire, where his father was the manager of a private bank. On 21 December 1810 at St Luke's Church, London, he married Charlotte, second daughter of Hugh Victor Hall of Portsea.

Hall engaged in religious and social work and so impressed leaders in these fields that their friendships were helpful when he decided to migrate to New South Wales. His application, supported by recommendations from the philanthropist, William Wilberforce, and Sir James Shaw, sheriff of London, was successful. Hall left England in the Friends and arrived in the colony on 10 October 1811, with a letter to Governor Lachlan Macquarie from Robert Peel, then under-secretary at the Colonial Office.

Macquarie granted Hall 700 acres (283 ha), known as Coates Park, at Bringelly. This property was later increased to 1090 acres (441 ha), and he received further grants of 1000 acres (405 ha) at Lake Bathurst in 1821 and 185 acres (75 ha) near the present Moore Park in 1822. However, his hopes of supporting himself and his family as a gentleman farmer were not realized at Coates Park. Macquarie reported him as 'a Useless and discontented Free Gentleman Settler … without making the least attempt at Industry, expressed himself Much disappointed in Not getting his Land cleared and Cultivated for him, and a House built for him at the Expense of Government', but soon modified this opinion and appointed Hall a member of the Governor's Court in July 1813, April 1814 and January 1816. Mrs Macquarie also wrote kindly to Hall, advising him to avoid political statements. In this period Hall traded to New Zealand in association with Simeon Lord and other merchants.

He continued religious and social work, and in 1813 with five others founded the New South Wales Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence, which added to the colony's much needed private forms of charity; this society was discontinued in 1818 after he helped to form the Benevolent Society of New South Wales. He also was a founder in 1817 of the New South Wales auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Hall's first notable activity in the public affairs of the colony was his association with the Bank of New South Wales. At a meeting on 5 December 1816 Hall was opening speaker in support of the arguments presented by Judge-Advocate (Sir) John Wylde for the establishment of the bank. On 15 February 1817 an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette invited applications for the situation of cashier and secretary in the new bank from 'persons of respectable character'. Hall was appointed at a salary of £200, and had to undertake to sleep at the bank every night and never to be out of Sydney after dark. The bank's premises in Macquarie Place were so small that he had to leave his wife and family on a farm bought at Surry Hills in 1815.

Although the bank prospered and Hall had a steady income, the separation from his family, restriction of his liberty and a clash of personalities with the bank's active president, John Campbell, caused Hall to give notice of his resignation in March 1818. He said that he felt the directors lacked confidence in him, although in later years he was an influential speaker at proprietors' meetings.

While working for Jones & Riley, merchants, Hall wrote to his father of many disappointments since his arrival in New South Wales, whereupon his father pressed in England for Hall to be permitted to practise as an attorney, though he had no professional qualifications. The request was refused, but in 1820 Macquarie appointed him coroner, a position which he filled most conscientiously.

In 1821 Hall resigned to go to St Heliers, his grant at Lake Bathurst. After four years he left the management to his 9-year-old son Edward and returned to Sydney, where on 19 May 1826 he and Arthur Hill published the first issue of the Monitor. Its motto was 'nothing extenuate nor set down aught in malice'. In this newspaper Hall took up the cause of the poor whose plight he had seen in his Benevolent Society work and 'espoused the cause of any convict, who should he be ever so vile, was punished contrary to law'. In a society where freemen increasingly out-numbered convicts, the Monitor influenced public opinion by its advocacy of a representative assembly and trial by common jury, though he was opposed to emancipists in the jury box. It was also vigorous in condemning Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling for oppressive rule. When Hill left the partnership in 1827, Hall continued the paper's critical policy, which goaded the governor into describing Hall as 'a fellow without principles, an apostate missionary'.

Darling punished Hall indirectly by withdrawing his right to graze stock on waste land adjacent to St Heliers. He also attempted to restrain Hall and other attackers by following his instructions from the Colonial Office and introducing bills for the licensing of newspapers and imposing a stamp duty of 4d. a copy. The second bill was enacted but soon suspended and later disallowed by the British government. Chief Justice (Sir) Francis Forbes refused to certify the licensing clauses in the first bill, but the remainder became law as the Newspaper Regulating Act. Undeterred, Hall continued his fierce criticisms, sometimes resorting to statements that were factually inaccurate, with the result that he was seven times prosecuted for criminal libel. In 1828, after publishing an attack on Archdeacon Thomas Scott, who had evicted him from a pew in St James's Church, Hall became the first in the colony to be convicted of the criminal libel of a public official. The judges commented severely on his offensive editorials in defiance of the law, although he was fined only £1 and required to enter into a £500 recognizance to be of good behaviour.

In 1829 Hall was convicted of libel on two or more counts and sentenced to fifteen months in gaol, whence he continued to conduct the Monitor and prepare further libels. For these he was convicted, forfeited his recognizance and had his sentence extended to not less than three years. In 1830 Darling made a further attempt to silence his critics by amending the Newspaper Regulating Act so that it became mandatory for anyone convicted twice of blasphemous or seditious libel to be punished by banishment. From gaol, Hall and the editor of the Australian, A. E. Hayes, Hall's comrade in the struggle for freedom of the press, sent a petition in protest to the Colonial Office, but Howick had already disapproved the amending Act and it was disallowed by the British government. While in gaol, Hall appeared in court as plaintiff in five actions for damages against his critics and won four of them. He then sued Archdeacon Scott for having evicted him from his pew and won £25 damages. Darling's final attempt to silence Hall was an unsuccessful prosecution for failure to satisfy a statutory requirement of newspaper proprietors that they lodge copies of their publication with an official.

On 6 November 1830, in honour of the accession of William IV, Hall was released from prison, probably Darling's one magnanimous act in his six years term. Instead of acknowledging this clemency, Hall continued to criticize the administration. On 1 October 1831 in the Monitor he had the satisfaction of announcing that the governor was to be relieved of his command. Darling blamed Hall for his removal and Hall's claim that it was a personal victory found support from Joseph Hume who made much use in the House of Commons of Hall's specific charges against Darling. However, the Colonial Office flatly denied that 'any observations contained in an intemperate newspaper' had influenced the government's decision.

After Darling departed Hall's life became less turbulent. In 1838 he sold the Monitor, which foundered four years later without 'the master hand'. Until 1848 he conducted the Australian, after which he formed an association with (Sir) Henry Parkes's Empire. Financial losses resulted in Hall's obtaining an appointment in the colonial secretary's office, which he held from 1857 to his death on 18 September 1860.

Hall's last years as a public servant did not obscure his reputation as a strenuous advocate of a free press, representative government and trial by common jury. Perhaps a greater claim to respectful notice was the passion for nascent nationalism that surged through his writings as he championed the colonial born, 'who owed their prosperity to themselves', and exhorted them to fight for 'Liberal Principles and Free Institutions, Rational Liberty and Equal Justice'.

Hall's first wife died on 20 August 1826, having borne him two sons and seven daughters. On 3 August 1831 at St Andrew's, Sydney, he married Sarah Holmes, by whom he had one son and one daughter. Sarah died on 14 May 1838, and on 3 March 1842 Hall married Emily Tandy; they had one son. A portrait of Hall is in the Mitchell Library.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 7-8, 10, 12-18
  • B. Fitzpatrick, The Australian People 1788-1945 (Melb, 1946)
  • M. H. Ellis, Lachlan Macquarie (Syd, 1952)
  • J. A. Ferguson, ‘Edward Smith Hall and the "Monitor"’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 17, part 3, 1931, pp 163-200
  • C. H. Currey, ‘The Foundation of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales on May 6, 1818’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 48, part 1, 1962-63, pp 1-17
  • P. Quinn, ‘Australia's First Banker’, Etruscan, vol 13, no 1, 1964, pp 2-4
  • Truth (Sydney), Feb-Mar 1927.

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

M. J. B. Kenny, 'Hall, Edward Smith (1786–1860)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Edward Smith Hall (1786-1860), attributed to Augustus Earle, c1820

Edward Smith Hall (1786-1860), attributed to Augustus Earle, c1820

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an2310341

Life Summary [details]


28 March, 1786
London, Middlesex, England


18 September, 1860 (aged 74)
New South Wales, Australia

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