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Thomas Sergeant Hall (1858–1915)

by Thomas A. Darragh

This article was published:

Thomas Sergeant Hall (1858-1915), scientist, was born on 23 December 1858 at Geelong, Victoria, son of Thomas March Hall, draper from Lincolnshire, England, and his wife Elizabeth, née Walshe, from Dublin. He was educated at Geelong Church of England Grammar School in 1867-77 where he was greatly influenced by J. L. Cuthbertson. Hall matriculated at the University of Melbourne on 11 August 1879, but taught at Wesley College and Hawthorn College before entering the university in 1883. He graduated B.A. in 1886 and was awarded the scholarship in natural science. His interest in natural history, fostered by his father, was reflected in the subjects studied for his degree: comparative anatomy, zoology, botany, geology and palaeontology, all taught by Professor Frederick McCoy. After a year teaching at Girton College, Sandhurst, Hall returned to the university (M.A. 1888). In 1889 he studied under Professor (Sir) Baldwin Spencer and passed in Spencer's new subjects of biology and systematic zoology. From 1889 Hall's excursions with the Melbourne University Science Club resulted in the first of a series of papers describing in detail the complex sequence of Tertiary rocks in central Victoria. He undertook this work with his friend and colleague G. B. Pritchard; together they published twelve papers between 1892 and 1904.

In 1890 Hall was appointed director of the Castlemaine School of Mines. Little money was available for the school, but his time at Castlemaine enabled him, with considerable encouragement from Spencer, to press on with his first papers on graptolites and Tertiary stratigraphy. More importantly, he was able to examine the Ordovician rocks of the district in considerable detail, thus furthering his interest in graptolites which had been kindled at Sandhurst and on Science Club excursions to Lancefield. His work at Castlemaine led him in 1893 to suggest a preliminary subdivision of the Lower Ordovician rocks based on the order of succession of certain graptolites which was elaborated in more detail the next year, when seven zones were proposed. In 1899 he again extended this work and attempted to correlate the Victorian Ordovician rocks with those of other parts of the world. In recognition of his achievement in this field he was awarded 'The Balance of the Murchison Fund' for 1901 by the Geological Society of London. His published work on graptolites (eighteen papers) was submitted for a doctorate of science in the University of Melbourne to which he was admitted in April 1908.

In December 1893 Hall had succeeded A. Dendy as lecturer and demonstrator in biology, and he was thus able to pursue his research interests more fully. In April 1899 he and Pritchard were appointed to carry on the work of the natural science school during Professor McCoy's illness, continuing after his death until Professor J. W. Gregory took up his position in February 1900.

In 1890 Hall was elected to the Royal Society of Victoria and in 1896 became a councillor. He served as honorary librarian in 1897-99, as secretary in 1899-1914 and as president in 1914-15. He contributed thirty-five papers to the Proceedings of the society between 1889 and 1914 on a wide range of geological and palaeontological subjects. He was also closely involved with the work of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, editing the reports of the Melbourne meetings in 1900 and 1913; he acted as local secretary in Victoria in 1907-15 and was president of the geology section in 1902. He published five papers in the reports of the association, including one with Pritchard, and contributed to the handbook for the Melbourne meetings. He was also secretary for Victoria of the zoological section of the British Association visit in 1914.

Hall was active in the Field Naturalists' Club of Victoria which he had joined in 1888. From 1895 to 1910 he was a member of the committee, serving as vice-president from 1897 to 1900 and president from 1901 to 1903. Between 1890 and 1914 he contributed forty articles on a variety of topics to the Victorian Naturalist. He was involved in the movement to secure Wilson's Promontory as a National Park and later served on the park's committee of management. His term of office as librarian to the Royal Society of Victoria led him in 1897 to compile a Catalogue of the Scientific and Technical Periodical Literature in the Libraries in Melbourne. It was published in 1899, reissued in an enlarged form in 1911 with the assistance of E. R. Pitt and was the forerunner of the modern union catalogue of scientific serials.

Hall was a well-known contributor of popular scientific articles to newspapers, in particular to the Science Notes column of the Australasian under the nom de plume 'Physicus'. His popular series of geological articles published in the Argus in 1905-06 were collected and republished with additional matter in 1909 as Victorian Hill and Dale. He also contributed the article on Victorian geography, geology and fauna in the Victorian Year Book for 1904 and subsequent years to 1915-16.

Hall was the first Australian-born palaeontologist to achieve an international reputation and is arguably the most talented palaeontologist to work in Victoria. His work on Tertiary stratigraphy but more especially on graptolites and his discovery of the key to the unravelling of the complex Ordovician sequence are his lasting achievements which form the foundations for those who follow in these fields.

Hall died of chronic nephritis at Camberwell on 21 December 1915 and was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew. He had married Eva Lucie Annie Hill on 21 December 1891 at All Saints' Church, Bendigo, and was survived by three sons and a daughter. His extensive collection of graptolites and Tertiary fossils are housed in the National Museum of Victoria. His memory is perpetuated in the annual T. S. Hall memorial lecture sponsored by the Melbourne University Science Club and in a brass tablet on the wall of the foyer of the university's zoology department building.

Select Bibliography

  • F. A. Cudmore, Author Index to the Publications of the Royal Society of Victoria … 1855-1934 (Melb, 1934)
  • J. A. Baines, The Victorian Naturalist Author Index 1884-1975 (Melb, 1976)
  • Scientific Australian, 11 (1905), no 1
  • Geological Magazine (London), 3 (1916), no 3
  • Royal Society of Victoria, Proceedings, 28 (1916), no 2
  • Victorian Naturalist, 32 (1916), no 9
  • Hall papers (Museum Victoria and State Library of Victoria)
  • George Pritchard papers (Museum Victoria).

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Citation details

Thomas A. Darragh, 'Hall, Thomas Sergeant (1858–1915)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 December, 1858
Geelong, Victoria, Australia


21 December, 1915 (aged 56)
Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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