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Robert Lowe Hall (1901–1988)

by Craig Munro

This article was published:

Robert Lowe Hall, Baron Roberthall of Silverspur, Queensland, and Trenance, Cornwall (1901-1988), economist, was born on 6 March 1901 at Tenterfield, New South Wales, third of five surviving children of Edgar Hall, an English-born metallurgist, and his Australian-born wife Rose Helen, née Cullen. Robert grew up at Silverspur, near Texas, Queensland, where his father was mine-manager, attending the local state school and enjoying the adventures of a bush boyhood. After the mine failed in 1912 the family experienced financial hardship. A scholarship enabled Robert to board at Ipswich Grammar School and in 1916 he was awarded the T. J. Byrnes medal for the best pass in the State in the junior public examination. He was a prefect and head boy, a member of the magazine committee and a champion runner. At IGS he formed his closest and longest friendship, with Joe Burton, then known as `Jersey’. His own nickname was `Hoss’. In the senior public examination in 1918 he was ranked seventh in the State, earning an open scholarship that enabled him to study engineering at the University of Queensland (BE, 1923).

At university Hall won half-Blues in the mile and half-mile events, played Rugby Union football and took up rowing. Secretary of the University of Queensland Union in 1920-22, he helped to draw up a new constitution. He was also active in the dramatic and debating societies. A resident at St John’s College, he worked on the college magazine and became friends with the mercurial Percy Stephensen, who encouraged him to apply for a Rhodes scholarship. Successful in 1923, he gained a first in `modern greats’—philosophy, politics and economics—at Magdalen College, Oxford (BA, 1926; MA, 1929).

Hall hoped ultimately to enter public life in Australia but instead made his career in Britain. A fellow (1927-50) of Trinity College, Oxford, he lectured in economics. He was college dean in 1927-38 and estates bursar (1938-39). On 7 December 1932 at the register office, Oxford, he married Laura Margaret Linfoot, an Oxford graduate and later a fellow at Somerville College. Applied economics and political economy became his specialty and, after 1930, J. M. (Lord) Keynes’s work (notably A Treatise on Money) formed the core of his teaching. In 1935 he was a founder of the Oxford Economists’ Research Group and in 1937 he published The Economic System in a Socialist State. He was also a fellow of Nuffield College in 1939-47.

Although Hall classed himself as a socialist, he was not a political activist. In 1939-45 he was seconded to the raw materials department of the new Ministry of Supply, at Whitehall. His wife and their two daughters spent the early war years with his relations at Toowoomba, Queensland. In 1942-44 he was based in Washington; his wife joined him there but he was not to see his daughters again until 1945. From 1943 his work largely involved postwar economic planning.

Resuming teaching at Oxford in September 1945, Hall commuted to London to work part time as an adviser to the Board of Trade. In 1947-61 he was director of the economic section, first with the Cabinet Office and then with the Treasury, advising a succession of governments and eight chancellors of the exchequer. He was appointed CB in 1950 and KCMG in 1954. The University of Queensland conferred an honorary D.Sc. on him in 1960. He was president (1958-60) of the Royal Economic Society, chairman (1962-70) of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, and president (1968-73) of the Society of Business Economists. In 1964-67 he was principal of Hertford College, Oxford.

Divorced in 1968, on 16 August that year at the register office, Westminster, he married Perilla Thyme Nowell-Smith, née Southwell, a divorcee. In 1969, on being made a life peer, he changed his name by deed poll to Robert Lowe Roberthall. He then divided his time between his wife’s cottage at Trenance, Cornwall, where he developed an extensive garden, and a `bedsit’ in London. He spoke in most of the economics debates in the House of Lords. In 1981 he joined the new Social Democratic Party, and in 1986 made his last contribution to the Lords.

A good-looking and rather dapper man, Hall was widely admired, not only for his integrity and intelligent grasp of complex economic issues, but also for his good humour and modesty. As an outsider with a `faint Australian accent’ he was trusted and valued by those with the difficult task of rebuilding Britain after the war. Survived by his wife and daughters, Lord Roberthall died on 17 September 1988 at Trenance.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Munro, Wild Man of Letters (1984)
  • A. Cairncross (ed), The Robert Hall Diaries 1947-1953 (1989)
  • K. Jones, An Economist Among Mandarins (1994)
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
  • Times (London), 19 Sept 1988, p 18.

Citation details

Craig Munro, 'Hall, Robert Lowe (1901–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Baron Roberthall of Silverspur, Queensland, and Trenance, Cornwall
  • Roberthall, Robert

6 March, 1901
Tenterfield, New South Wales, Australia


17 September, 1988 (aged 87)
Trenance, Cornwall, England

Cultural Heritage

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