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William Shakespeare Hall (1825–1895)

by H. Margaret Wilson

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William Shakespeare Hall (1825-1895), J.P., explorer, pastoralist and pearler, was born on 25 December 1825 in London and baptized at St Mary's Church of England, Lambeth, on 6 May 1827, the second son of Henry Edward Hall (1790-1859), squire of Shakerstone Manor, Leicestershire, and his wife Sarah Theodosia (1793-1858), née Branson. His parents' families both claimed connexions with the poet. He sailed for Western Australia with his parents, two brothers and three sisters in the Protector, chartered by his father and another settler, and reached Fremantle in February 1830. They safely landed many livestock, farming equipment, a 25-ton sloop and a jolly-boat, necessities and luxuries, and ten servants and apprentices. The value of this cargo entitled his father to a land grant of some 16,594 acres (6716 ha) which was taken up at Mandurah. Unfortunately the land proved unsuitable. After several years of hardship in which their first house and all its contents were destroyed by fire and their sloop was wrecked on Hall's Bank, the family moved to Perth and later bought a partly-improved property at Wongong near Armadale. The Mandurah suburb of Halls Head, on Hall senior’s original grant, was officially gazetted in 1970.

Educated chiefly by Rev. John Wittenoom, Shakespeare Hall farmed at Wongong until 1852 when he went to the Victorian goldfields. After eight unsuccessful years he returned to Western Australia and joined the expedition under Francis Gregory which in 1861 explored the north-west. In 1863 for John Wellard, Hall took up the first sheep station, Andover, in the Roebourne district. His early diary gives much insight into the toil and difficulty of pioneering. At that time the only communication with the south was by occasional sailing boats and the second settlers in the district were the Withnell family who arrived in April 1864. Like his father, Hall was short in stature but had prodigious strength. By the end of his second year much of the station's development had been achieved and he turned to pearling with Malay and Aboriginal divers and later to business pursuits in Roebourne and Cossack where for some years he was chairman of the municipality.

In 1868 Hall was among a group of settlers sworn in as special constables by the government resident, Robert John Sholl, to hunt down the killers of a policeman named William Griffis, two white pearlers, and an Aboriginal tracker.  Many Yaburara Aboriginal people were killed around Murujuga/the Burrup Peninsula in what became known as the Flying Foam massacre. Evidence later emerged that the original killings were in retaliation for the alleged rape by Griffis of several Aboriginal women.

On a hot summer night on 11 February 1895 Hall had a heart attack while swimming in Cossack Creek and was drowned. An obituarist described him as 'one of the most brilliant, upright, honest and valued lives that has ever lived amongst us'. A wrought iron screen in the Roebourne Anglican Church and a tombstone at his grave in Cossack were erected 'as a mark of appreciation and respect by the North West Pioneers'.

On 2 November 1868 he had married Hannah Boyd (1849-1911), daughter of George Lazenby, architect, and his wife Mary Ann, née Wells. Three of their children survived infancy: Henry Ernest (1869-1941), Hannah Joy (1876-1960) and Harold Aubrey (1871-1963) who like his father and grandfather was highly knowledgeable of the Aboriginal people of the region, their customs and language, and was singularly successful in his relations with them.

Select Bibliography

  • A. R. Richardson, Early Memories of the Great Nor'-west (Perth, 1909)
  • W. S. Smart, Mandurah and Pinjarrah (Perth, 1956)
  • A. Hasluck, Thomas Peel of Swan River (Melb, 1965)
  • P. Hasluck, ‘The First Year in the North-West’, Journal and Proceedings (Western Australian Historical Society), vol 1, part 4, 1929, pp 1-16
  • H. A. Hall, A Partial Vocabulary of the Ngäloomä Aboriginal Tribe (University of New South Wales and University of Western Australia)
  • W. S. Hall papers (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

H. Margaret Wilson, 'Hall, William Shakespeare (1825–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 December, 1825
London, Middlesex, England


11 February, 1895 (aged 69)
Cossack, Western Australia, Australia

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