Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Hall (1784–1869)

by Charles Bateson

This article was published:

James Hall, naval surgeon, was born on 17 September 1784 at New Inn Yard, Shoreditch, London, son of Joseph Hall and his wife, Mary Shaw. James was a second surgeon at the naval hospital at Corfu, Greece, in 1807. At the risk of his life he warned a British sloop that the French had occupied Corfu, thus saving her from seizure, and gave the commander of H.M.S. Weazle information which enabled him to sink three privateers and capture a gunboat with eight transports under convoy, loaded with French troops bound for Corfu. He was appointed an assistant surgeon in the navy in August 1809 and surgeon in September 1817. In 1820 he was surgeon-superintendent of the convict transport Agamemnon which reached Sydney in September, and in 1822 of the Mary Ann, which landed prisoners at Hobart Town and Sydney.

After his arrival at Sydney in 1822, actuated by some obscure motive which he claimed was honourable and disinterested, Hall took a leading part in a bitter political faction fight. In a letter to Rev. Samuel Marsden and later in an affidavit sworn before the judge-advocate, Hall alleged that Ann Rumsby, a youthful prisoner from the Mary Ann, had made charges of impropriety against her master, Dr Henry Grattan Douglass. Ann Rumsby denied Hall's story, and was convicted of perjury and sentenced to the penal settlement of Port Macquarie by the Parramatta magisterial bench. These proceedings were quashed by Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane. Hall's involvement in this affair is difficult to explain, but he may have been merely a tool cleverly used by those opposed to Brisbane, who had befriended Douglass. The governor's supporters sought to portray Hall as litigious and meddlesome. He was stated to have challenged the colonial secretary, Frederick Goulburn, to a duel, which Hall denied, and he was suspected of having sent 'false and slanderous reports' to England of the improper treatment of, and prostitution among, women prisoners at Emu Plains. Douglass sued Hall seeking £5000 damages for libel, but was awarded only 40s. damages and costs. Brisbane reported adversely on Hall to the British government, but the Colonial Office did not pass on the reports to the Admiralty and Hall continued in the convict service.

On his next voyage he arrived at Hobart in the Brothers in April 1824. On the voyage he had earned the enmity of some of the crew and of the women convicts by his efforts to stamp out prostitution, and at Hobart he laid charges of piracy and attempted murder. He claimed to have been assaulted by some of the women and alleged that the chief mate, James Thompson Meach, had been the instigator. The attorney-general, considering the case 'one only of aggravated assault and conspiracy, not mutiny or attempted murder', refused to institute proceedings; Hall brought a civil action against Meach but lost. As a result of this incident a new report was sent to England, and in it Hall's activities in Sydney in 1822 were recalled. On 24 November 1826 the Colonial Office reported to the Navy Board on Hall's 'very improper conduct' in New South Wales and suggested that he was 'undeserving any further advancement in his profession'.

In the previous year Hall had been appointed dispenser at the naval hospital at Bermuda, West Indies; when he reached England on leave in June 1827 he heard of the adverse report. The Admiralty, having obtained all the papers, decided that an investigation was unnecessary and expressed a wish 'to consider the matter as dropped'. Hall and his two children returned to Bermuda. In 1829 he was transferred to England with an acknowledgment that his services in Bermuda had been entirely satisfactory. He was appointed surgeon of the Ordinary at Sheerness in 1830 and in 1832 became surgeon-superintendent of the convict ship Georgiana. On his return to England he obtained an appointment in the Andromache, from which he was invalided in November 1835. On 29 March 1836, in consequence of a permanent liver complaint, he was retired and allowed a pension. He died on 30 March 1869 at Gladstone House, Southsea, England.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 10-11
  • C. Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868 (Glasgow, 1959)
  • Adm 101/4 (National Archives of the United Kingdom)
  • CO 201/146.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Charles Bateson, 'Hall, James (1784–1869)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 April 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]


17 September, 1784
London, Middlesex, England


30 March, 1869 (aged 84)
Portsmouth, Hampshire, England

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