Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William James Hall (1877–1951)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

William James Hall (1877-1951), photographer, was born on 11 May 1877 at Woolloomooloo, Sydney, son of William Frederick Hall, a butcher from England, and native-born Caroline Asimus whom he married in 1883. William senior, who was also a fingerprint expert at Long Bay gaol, set up a photographic studio in Phillip Street, Sydney, in 1890; he moved the business to Hunter Street in 1893 and to Castlereagh Street in 1898. After being schooled locally, young William joined his father to learn the lucrative art and took over the business about 1902. He set up Hall & Co. at 44 Hunter Street in 1904. On 14 August 1901 he had married Alice Rosina Hopson at the Anglican Church of St Simon and St Jude, Bowral.

Hall developed a keen interest in sailing and in sailing craft, and between the late 1890s and early 1930s compiled one of the most valuable marine photographic collections in Australia. The 3000 glass plates, now in the archives of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, give a fascinating picture of competitive and recreational sailing on Sydney Harbour, as well as of the associated social activities. The backgrounds, too, showing old 'ironside' warships and windjammers are of as much interest as the rigs and dress of the boats' crews. These photographs reveal that Hall was both an artistic cameraman and an excellent technician—especially given the limitations of his equipment. Each Monday morning in his shop window he displayed the photographs he had taken of weekend races, much to the delight of yachting enthusiasts.

Quiet and retiring, Hall was perhaps better known as a photographer of livestock. In commercial photographic circles he was generally considered to have pioneered the art in Australia, and to have set a particularly high standard. Some of his best work appeared in a four-volume record of pastoral life, The Pastoral Homes of Australia (1910-14). He was a familiar figure at the leading agricultural shows, and in demand with livestock breeders and exhibitors at the Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne shows. His work was widely published in stud stock advertisements in major pastoral journals, including the Pastoral Review (and Graziers' Record). From July 1928 to December 1929 he made an extended tour of South Africa to photograph merino studs.

Hall's and his firm's interests were not confined to marine and animal subjects; they extended to landscape photography, portraiture, city and rural life, as well as aerial and military work. A widower, he married Edith Hannah Gilkes on 7 December 1940 at St Aidan's Church, Longueville. They lived in nearby Mary Street, overlooking the Lane Cove River. Survived by his wife, he died on 26 August 1951 at St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was cremated. The son of his first marriage predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Toghill, Sydney Harbour of Yesteryear (Syd, 1982)
  • A. Davies and P. Stanbury, The Mechanical Eye in Australia (Melb, 1985)
  • Pastoral Review, 15 Sept 1951
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 July 1928, 21 Dec 1929, 3 Sept 1947, 29 Aug 1951.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Hall, William James (1877–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 May, 1877
Woolloomooloo, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


26 August, 1951 (aged 74)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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