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William Hall (1807–1866)

by John H. Cullen

This article was published:

William Hall (1807-1866), Catholic priest, was born in London. At 17 he decided to begin studies for the priesthood. This took him to Paris where, towards the end of his theological course, political turmoil reigned: religious houses were destroyed, seminaries had to close, and foreigners were forced to leave the country. The College of St Edmund, Old Hall Green, received the returned exile. Ordained priest by the vicar-apostolic, Dr Griffiths, he did pastoral duties at Moorfields and Islington for about twelve years. Then the newly-consecrated bishop of Hobart, Dr Robert Willson, came to London appealing for volunteer missionaries, and Hall promptly offered his services. With the bishop's party he reached Hobart Town in May 1844. Until the cessation of transportation nine years later Dr Willson devoted most of his attention to the cause of reform among prisoners of the Crown and the mentally ill; he therefore made Hall his vicar-general. With control of diocesan administration, the vicar had wide powers which he knew how to use.

When Hall entered office Father John Joseph Therry had been supreme ruler of the Church in Van Diemen's Land for six years. Now Therry was called upon to resign with a consequent loss of status and government salary. He had, moreover, contracted debts which neither the bishop nor Hall regarded as their responsibility. A dispute arose which created divisions and controversies. The vicar was by nature reserved, stern, and unyielding. He despised all compromise even where differences were understandable. Therry, on the other hand, found intense joy in bargaining. This unpleasant situation dragged on for fourteen years. A more magnanimous attitude towards an old and popular missionary might have brought early peace to the church in Hobart.

Although the austere vicar-general made few intimate friends among his flock, he was never idle, for he attempted too much by himself. His administration for twenty-two years was very efficient. A scrupulous sense of personal responsibility was his guiding principle. Sermons, addresses, instructions and retreats for the clergy engrossed his attention. He formed a body of active young men into zealous apostles, laboured for temperance day and night, and gave advice and spiritual guidance to numerous clubs, sodalities and religious associations. In liturgical rites and approved devotions his reverence and unfailing regularity edified and transformed the people. As the years rolled by a steady growth of affection and appreciation effaced the memory of uneasy beginnings until all Catholics, devout and lax, learned and unlettered, looked to Father Hall for advice and comfort. To the whole flock he became a father and a trusted friend. He died on 17 July 1866, unaware that Bishop Willson had gone to rest seventeen days before. Memorial windows in St Mary's Cathedral and St Joseph's Church, Hobart, and a brass tablet in the cathedral record the services of Hall and his bishop to the church in Hobart.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Kelsh, ‘Personal Recollections’ of … Robert William Willson (Hob, 1882)
  • Hobarton Guardian, 22 Feb, 9, 16 Mar 1850, 19 Nov 1851
  • Mercury (Hobart), 18 July 1866
  • Church archives (Hobart).

Citation details

John H. Cullen, 'Hall, William (1807–1866)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 25 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

William Hall (1807-1866), by Alfred Bock, 1860s

William Hall (1807-1866), by Alfred Bock, 1860s

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001124071101

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


17 July, 1866 (aged ~ 59)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

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