Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Frederick Emanuel Hall (1891–1972)

by Michael Brumby

This article was published:

George Frederick Emanuel Hall (1891-1972), engineer, was born on 19 October 1891 at Charters Towers, Queensland, third of six children of George Hall, an African West Indian from Tobago who worked on the goldfields as a carter, and his English-born wife Annie Elizabeth, née Collett. Young George attended Richmond Hill State School and received a state bursary to attend Townsville Grammar School, where he was cricket captain, senior gymnast, an outstanding footballer, shooter and swimmer and athletics champion three years in a row. He was also head prefect and the school's best scholar. When Hall was presented with the governor's cup for good service and 'honourable powers of leadership', the headmaster Percy Rowland commented, 'He has triumphed over prejudice by sheer merit; whatever will be his future, he can always look back on his years with us as years of uninterrupted success'. Hall won a bursary to the Charters Towers School of Mines but instead became North Queensland's first Rhodes scholar in 1910. A public subscription raised funds for his passage to Britain and a purse of sovereigns.

Taking up residence in Lincoln College, Oxford (B.A., 1913), to read medicine, Hall changed to engineering science and graduated with second-class honours. Finding employment with the Scottish firm of Andrew Barclay & Sons, which manufactured industrial locomotives, he remained there for most of World War I. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force on 10 May 1918. When the war ended he was at a flying training depot and was repatriated to Australia in April 1919 as a second lieutenant.

After working with the New South Wales Cement, Lime & Coal Co. at Kandos, about 1926 Hall moved to Sydney to begin a thirty-year working association with the Main Roads Board of New South Wales (Department of Main Roads). He began as an assistant engineer and was promoted acting class 2 engineer in the construction branch in 1928. In 1935-37 he worked in various country divisions before returning to Sydney to work in the design branch of the metropolitan division. In 1951 Hall was promoted supervising engineer. With six engineers under him, he was involved in main roads expenditure in thirty-one local government councils comprising metropolitan Sydney as well as the maintenance of roads directly cared for by the department.

Hall's engineering reports and exceptional command of English made colleagues believe his academic background was in letters, not engineering. His fondness for sport continued for most of his life: at the age of 40 he lined up for the professional officers' tug-of-war team at their annual picnic. At 48 he was a renowned 'demon' bowler in the Moore Park A grade cricket competition.

Yet covert racism was evident in Hall's sluggish promotion through the engineering ranks at the department, despite his colleagues believing him capable of greater things. He was a handsome man, of medium height, but he told workmates that, because his 'ancestry would be a barrier', he decided never to marry. After retiring as supervising engineer in 1957 he lived at Homebush. He died on 15 July 1972 at Parramatta District Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • A. McKay, Percy Fritz Rowland (Townsville, Qld, 1974)
  • A Register of Rhodes Scholars, 1903-1981 (Oxford, 1981)
  • K. Allen, History of the Townsville Grammar School (Townsville, Qld, 1990)
  • Evening Telegraph (Charters Towers), 5 Mar 1910, 9 July 1910, p 5
  • North Queensland Register, 8 March 1910, p 5, 11 July 1910.

Citation details

Michael Brumby, 'Hall, George Frederick Emanuel (1891–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 October, 1891
Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia


15 July, 1972 (aged 80)
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.