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Edward Swarbreck Hall (1805–1881)

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Edward Swarbreck Hall (1805-1881), medical practitioner, came of English North Country stock. About 1824 he lost the heirship to a cotton plantation in Georgia, United States, because he promised to free his slaves, so he studied medicine in Dublin and London and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. He then practised in Liverpool, acting also as honorary surgeon to a large children's charity. On 8 June 1831 he married Mary (1807-1887), eldest daughter of Dr Latham of Lancashire.

Hall's hearing was impaired by injuries when he was robbed by highwaymen. His wife also found Liverpool unhealthy, so they decided to emigrate to a more favourable climate. In November 1832 they arrived at Hobart Town. There Hall took up duty as medical officer, but within a year moved to Brighton. Although he applied without success for a vacancy in the medical department at New Norfolk in 1838, he was appointed next year to Spring Bay. He could not find a suitable house there and was sent to Bothwell as assistant district surgeon. His zealous discharge of duties at the convict station led to complaints that he was neglecting private patients, and his election as librarian led to a sectarian rumpus that involved him with a Protestant clergyman and the local police magistrate. In June 1843 twenty Bothwell families petitioned for Hall's removal. Next year he was appointed to the Westbury district and later to midland towns, where he was better appreciated, especially by the Irish exiles he befriended. One regular visitor to his home was 'Saint' K. I. O'Dogherty, who helped him to build a Roman Catholic church at Oatlands. Another was Thomas Meagher, who at Ross on 22 February 1851 married Catherine Bennett, the governess of Hall's children.

Early in 1853 Hall was appointed to the Hobart Hospital as house surgeon at 10s. a day with annual allowances of £140. Although his duties were heavy, he found time to make severe criticisms in the press of the heavy infant mortality at the Cascades female prison. His charges led to beneficial reform, but they caused much official heart-burning and he was ordered to Norfolk Island in 1855. He promptly resigned.

With a pension of £58 he resumed private practice and had a hard struggle until he was given government and municipal appointments. His first position was medical officer to the Hobart police station at £50 a year. In 1861 he became chairman of the executive committee of the new Benevolent Society and in the next years won grudging government support for deserted families, indigent nursing mothers and orphan children. In the press he published long articles on such subjects as snakebites, but his great concern was 'the unprotected state of the great majority of the inhabitants of Tasmania against the possible invasion of smallpox'. In 1863 he was appointed superintendent of vaccination for the colony and public vaccinator for Hobart at £150. The offices were abolished in 1866 because his annual demands for compulsive legislation on public health and sanitation aroused indignant opposition. In 1875 the press became alarmed by the growing number of diphtheria cases and next year Hall was appointed municipal officer of health for Hobart. His outspoken annual reports stressed the danger of polluted streams supplying water to the villages north and east of Hobart, but no compulsive sanitation was attempted until diphtheria spread to schools at Sorell and Bellerive.

Hall's last public office was the dispersal of charitable aid in March 1880. Two months later when he visited the family of a workman killed by a landslip on Mount Wellington, he was thrown from his dogcart and lost the use of his right arm. Sympathetic friends subscribed a purse of £139 and an illuminated address, which were presented to him at the Hobart Town Hall on his golden wedding. Seven weeks later, on 30 July 1881 he died at his home in Campbell Street, aged 76, and was buried from St Joseph's Church. He was survived by his wife, one son and six daughters, one of whom was a Sister of Charity and lived to the age of 100.

Hall's many enthusiasms were not dimmed by his deafness or by age. In 1878 he installed a telephone from his home to a colleague across the street, shortly after Bell's discovery. As a prominent Catholic layman, he helped to build many churches and 'regularly walked to Mass at the head of his numerous family'. He was a scriptural scholar and no Protestant Bible movement was started in the colony without Hall joining issue 'with the spirit of a Templar', not only in public meetings, but also in the press and in his pamphlet Who Translated the Bible? (Hobart, 1875). He loved to fight, but his untiring advocacy of public health reforms was chiefly aimed at assisting helpless children, and he was largely responsible for the compulsory Vaccination Act that was being rushed through parliament at his death.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Cullen, Young Ireland in Exile (Dublin, 1928)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 9 June 1881
  • correspondence file under E. S. Hall (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

'Hall, Edward Swarbreck (1805–1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 26 May 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

Life Summary [details]




30 July, 1881 (aged ~ 76)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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