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Laurence Hynes Halloran (1765–1831)

by A. G. Austin

This article was published:

Laurence Halloran, attributed to Augustus Earle, c.1825-27

Laurence Halloran, attributed to Augustus Earle, c.1825-27

State Library of New South Wales, 52142

Laurence Hynes Halloran (1765-1831), bogus clergyman, schoolmaster and journalist, was born on 29 December 1765 in County Meath, Ireland. Orphaned at an early age he was placed in the care of his uncle, Judge William Gregory, and educated at Christ's Hospital. He entered the navy in 1781 but was gaoled in 1783 for stabbing and killing a fellow midshipman. Acquitted in 1784, he married Mary Boutcher and ran a school at Exeter until 1788 and then an academy at Alphington until he became insolvent in 1796. He was also charged with immorality. A professed Roman Catholic, he recanted in 1792 but never won the Anglican ordination he wanted. In 1797-98 he was in the navy posing as a chaplain. In 1800 he was awarded a doctorate in divinity at King's College, Aberdeen. After service at sea he was posted as chaplain to the naval and military forces at the Cape of Good Hope in 1807.

Here his affairs prospered as he combined the rectorship of a public grammar school with his chaplaincy, but in 1810 he incurred the wrath of the commander of the forces, General H. G. Grey, by defending two officers charged with duelling and by subsequently disobeying an order to proceed as chaplain to the outpost at Simonstown. In June 1810 Halloran resigned his commission and published in verse the first of the many libels which were to be his ruination. At General Grey's insistence the governor prosecuted Halloran, who was found guilty of defamatory libel, had costs charged against him, was heavily fined, and banished from the Cape. He returned to England in the prize frigate La Manche in 1811. He was 46, ruined financially and professionally, and separated from his wife and family. These disasters appear to have disturbed his mind and induced in him a sense of persecution and a passion for litigation. Between 1812 and 1818 he drifted impecuniously from county to county endeavouring, sometimes successfully, to find employment as a curate by the use of forged letters. In 1818 he was indicted on a charge of counterfeiting a tenpenny frank in the name of Sir William Garrow, M.P., allegedly for the purpose of accrediting himself as a curate; when he was found guilty he was sentenced to transportation for seven years.

When he arrived in Sydney in June 1819 Halloran was immediately granted a ticket-of-leave by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. He was befriended by Simeon Lord and John Macarthur, who helped him to establish a private school, 'Dr Halloran's establishment for liberal education' (also known as the Sydney Grammar School), which opened in January 1820 and quickly secured the support of the leading emancipists in Sydney. Despite his eccentricities Halloran was a very gifted teacher; even John Thomas Bigge had to admit that the standard of his school 'added one more to the many proofs that have been exhibited, of Halloran's skill in the art of instruction', though he deplored the employment of such a man.

In 1822 Halloran was reunited with his second family and their unmarried mother, Lydia Anne (Anna) Halloran, who may have been his own niece. He should have been able to contemplate a useful and comfortable life in the colony, but his obsessive sense of persecution and his fatal flair for the writing of defamatory doggerel kept him constantly engaged in litigation and impoverished him. From year to year he was forced to move his school to escape his creditors, and a series of libel suits and several periods of imprisonment for debt reduced him to beggary. To supplement his income Halloran tried various expedients, now advertising books he intended to write, now advertising lectures on ethics, theology, history or astronomy he proposed to give.

In September 1825 Halloran proposed the establishment of a public grammar school under the patronage of the governor and the management of thirty trustees, each of whom, by subscribing £50, would be entitled to nominate one pupil. A land grant and payments from the police fund were suggested as sources of income and the headmaster was to have the right to take twenty pupils on his own terms; every three years the government was to send two outstanding graduates to Oxford or Cambridge, after which they were to take holy orders before returning to minister to the needs of the colony.

In November 1825 this new institution, the Sydney Free Public Grammar School, opened in temporary quarters with Halloran as its headmaster and his son as undermaster; within a month the trustees had to reprimand the father for his litigious behaviour and within four months to investigate complaints of unseemly behaviour which had been made against the son. The Colonial Office advised Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling of Halloran's shady career and rejected his appeal for a land grant for his establishment. In October 1826 the trustees resolved to suspend the operation of the school at the end of the year, giving as their reason the need to apply their limited funds to the erection of a suitable building, but Halloran's unsatisfactory behaviour, which culminated in his being imprisoned for debt in November, must have contributed to the trustees' decision to make a fresh start.

Left without employment Halloran reopened his private school in January 1827 and on 5 April published the first issue of the Gleaner, an enterprise for which he was totally unfitted by experience or temperament; he admitted to his readers that he was 'compelled to write for bread'. Although the Gleaner is rightly regarded as an organ of the emancipist press, its tone was very different from that of its contemporaries, the Australian and the Monitor; it was moderate in its criticism of Governor Darling and frequently came to the defence of Archdeacon Thomas Scott and his Church and School Corporation when they were under attack. But Darling's newspaper regulations of May 1827 and Halloran's ineptitude as a businessman ensured its failure; the last few issues consisted of little more than advertisements for their editor's business enterprises and reports of his libel suits, and on 29 September 1827 it ceased publication.

In 1828 Darling took pity on him and appointed him coroner for Sydney, but soon had to dismiss him when he threatened to publish a defamation of Archdeacon Scott with whom he had fallen out. In 1830 Halloran tried his hand at drawing up memorials for persons with grievances. He died in Sydney on 8 March 1831.

Anna died in October 1823, after the birth of her twelfth child, and in August 1824 he married Elizabeth Turnbull, aged 17, who bore him several children. A son, Henry (1811-1893), was employed in the public service, and established among his contemporaries a reputation as a minor poet.

Laurence Halloran's publications, some of which were written over the pseudonym Philo-nauticus, were: Odes, Poems and Translations (1790), Poems on Various Occasions (Exeter, 1791), Lachrymae Hibernicae; or, The Genius of Erin's Complaint, a Ballad (1801), The Female Volunteer; or, the Dawning of Peace; a Drama (London, 1801), The Battle of Trafalgar, a Poem, to Which is Added a Selection of Fugitive Pieces (London, 1806), Stanzas of Affectionate Regard to the Memory of Captain Dawson of the Piedmontaise (1812), Newgate, or Desultory Sketches in a Prison, a Poem (1819?), On the Observance of the Sabbath, a Sermon (Wisbech, 1800) and A Sermon … for a General Thanksgiving … for the … Victories Obtained … in Three … Naval Engagements (London, 1797).

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 10-15
  • Proceedings … in a Criminal Process for a Libel Instituted … Against Laurence Halloran D.D. (Lond, 1811)
  • L. H. Halloran, Proposals for the Foundation and Support of a Public Free Grammar School (Syd, 1825)
  • K. Grose, ‘Dr. Halloran: Pioneer Convict Schoolmaster in New South Wales: A Study of His Background’, Australian Journal of Education, vol 14, no 3, Oct 1970, pp 303-24
  • Sydney Gazette, 3 July 1819, 30 Dec 1820, 22 July 1824, 17 Mar, 27 Oct, 12 Dec 1825, 13, 27 May, 18 Nov 1826, 8 Sept 1828, 18 Sept, 7 Oct 1830
  • Australian, 11 Mar 1831.

Citation details

A. G. Austin, 'Halloran, Laurence Hynes (1765–1831)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 June 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

Laurence Halloran, attributed to Augustus Earle, c.1825-27

Laurence Halloran, attributed to Augustus Earle, c.1825-27

State Library of New South Wales, 52142

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Philo-nauticus

29 December, 1765
Meath, Ireland


8 March, 1831 (aged 65)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: forgery
Sentence: 7 years