HALL, Edward Smith (1786-1860)

HALL, Edward Smith (1786-1860)
political reformer
son of Smith Hall, bank manager, and his wife, Jane Drewry, was born in London on 28 March 1786. He was well educated and as a young man was interested in social and religious work, which probably brought him under the notice of William Wilberforce. He arrived at Sydney on 10 October 1811 with a letter from Robert Peel, under-secretary of state, which asked that assistance in settling should be given Hall, and stated that he had been strongly recommended by Wilberforce and others. He was given a grant of land, but in October 1814 Macquarie mentioned that he had "commenced merchant at Sydney", and he was associated in this year with S. Lord (q.v.) and others in the promotion of the New Zealand Trading Company. He had additional grants of land made to him in 1815, 1817, 1821 and 1822, but it would appear that in the early years at least, Hall was making little profit from them. In 1818 an application had been made in England that he should be permitted to practise as an attorney, which was not granted. It was probably as a result of this application that Hall was appointed coroner of the territory in February 1820, but he did not hold this position for long, and in 1821 went with 10 assigned servants to the land granted him near Lake Bathurst. In 1826 he was back in Sydney, and on 19 May of that year published the first number of the Monitor, at first a weekly but afterwards published twice a week. It exercised a strong influence on public opinion in connexion with the existing form of government. It stood for trial by jury and a popular legislature, and it condemned in unmeasured terms the oppression of convicts, public immorality on the part of officers, and even the conduct of the governor himself. Actions for libel were brought against Hall, and, having been tried by a jury of military men nominated by the crown, he was convicted, imprisoned and fined. He had to defend seven separate actions, the fines amounted to several hundred pounds, and his terms of imprisonment totalled over three years. However, on 6 November 1830, on the occasion of the accession of William IV, Governor Darling (q.v.) issued a free pardon to Hall. But some six months before, Hall had written to Sir George Murray a letter in which he made 14 specific charges against Darling, and he had succeeded in enlisting the aid of Joseph Hume, who took up his cause in the house of commons. On 1 October 1831 Hall stated in the Monitor that Hume had informed him that Darling was to be recalled. The governor himself considered his recall was due to Hall's efforts, as he immediately wrote to Lord Goderich that anyone reading the Monitor would see that Hall's "triumph is complete". Goderich, writing to Governor Bourke (q.v.) on 24 March 1832, denied that Hall's representations had affected the question of the recall of Darling, but there can be little doubt that it had a strong influence on it. Hall continued to conduct his paper now called the Sydney Monitor until 1838, when he transferred to the Australian, which stopped appearing in 1848. He was subsequently connected with Parkes's (q.v.) Empire and towards the end of his life was given a position in the colonial secretary's office, Sydney. which he held until his death on 18 September 1860. Hall had other interests besides those mentioned. He was one of the founders of the New South Wales Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence, which started in May 1813, and was its first secretary; he was also secretary and a leading member of the Australian Patriotic Association. He married (1) Charlotte, daughter of Hugh Victor Hall and (2) Miss Holmes. There were two sons and six daughters by the first marriage, and a son and a daughter by the second.
To Darling, Hall was merely a dangerous agitator whose actions must be stopped for the good of the state. No doubt a case could be made for Darling's conduct, but on one occasion at least it was of a kind that cannot be defended. Hall applied to be allowed to rent land adjoining his own, and his application was refused, not on any legal ground, but because he was the editor of the Monitor. Hall fought throughout with great ability, possibly not always wisely, considering that he had a young family to care for; but as he said himself afterwards "I was young, generous and disinterested, but imprudent. I am now a wiser man, but not a better one". In August 1891 Sir Henry Parkes speaking of the early friends of freedom in Australia said: "The name I mentioned first Edward Smith Hall belonged to a man of singularly pure and heroic disposition . . . he met the greatest form of aggressive power we ever experienced in this country, and he paid the price of resistance to it by all that kind of punishmerit which follows a man who tries to preserve the public spirit and awaken a love of liberty in a community." In spite of Parkes's eulogy, Hall's name fell into obscurity, until the publication of an article on him in the Australian Encyclopaedia, which was followed by Mr Justice Ferguson's more complete account read before the Royal Australian Historical Society.
J. A. Ferguson, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. XVII, pp. 163-200; Historical Records of Australia, ser I, vols. VII, VIII, X, XII to XVIII; G. B. Barton, Literature in New South Wales.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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