HALL, EDWARD SMITH (1786-1860)
Edward Smith Hall arrived in Sydney as a free settler in 1811. He attempted various careers, including farming, merchant, bank cashier and coroner. He was a prominent member of society, leading calls for the introduction of trial by jury, representative government and a House of Assembly. A deeply religious man from an Evangelical background, he was a founder of the NSW Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence, which later became the Benevolent Society of New South Wales, and involved himself in humanitarian and charity work. He had an unflinching belief in the application of the rights of Englishmen to all deserving individuals, whatever their status.
These beliefs and principles were behind his founding of the colony’s third newspaper, the Monitor, in 1826. In its first issue, he outlined his intention of focusing on the cause of ‘the injured and oppressed, high or low, bond or free’. To achieve this, Hall intended to keep aclose eye on the activities of those in authority.
This quickly brought him into conflict with Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling, who had arrived in the colony in 1825 with orders to improve convict discipline. Soon he was fielding criticisms from Hall regarding mistreatment of convicts and other perceived injustices. Unused to such attacks, Darling sought to stifle press freedom by imposing a tax on newspapers. This was strenuously opposed by Hall, and ultimately disallowed by London, further increasing the enmity between the men. Darling then strengthened libel laws, leading to Hall’s imprisonment in 1829, but he continued to write from his cell.
Hall edited the Monitor for 14 years, the only person at the time to remain in such a position for so long, meaning that his published views provide a valuable insight into a continuous stream of thinking regarding not only convicts but all aspects of colonial society.
After leaving the Monitor in 1840, Hall briefly edited the Australian, and reportedly was involved with (Sir) Henry Parkes’ Empire in the 1850s. He never entered politics or any other form of official public life, and therefore his importance has often been overlooked. Despite this, in 1891 Parkes declared that ‘all Australia can never adequately thank that singular pioneer in the cause of civil liberty, Mr. Edward Smith Hall’.
REF: E. Ihde, A Manifesto for New South Wales (2004).