Edward Smith Hall

1786-1860    |    NSW

Hall was one of Australia’s first and most vigorous fighters for press freedom and social justice. He established Sydney’s third newspaper, The Monitor, in 1826 and as editor for the next 14 years campaigned for trial by jury and a popularly-elected legislature while fighting the oppression of convicts, public immorality by public officers and the conduct of Governor Darling himself. Hall was the first Australian to be jailed for criminal libel and Darling tried to impose licensing of newspapers to silence him and other critics. Darling later blamed Hall for his recall to London after Hall petitioned decision-makers in Britain.

Hall was a champion of the underdog. An outsider who kept at it for so many years... He didn't win all the time but he made it necessary for officials to ensure they were doing things by the book.

Erin Ihde,  A Manifesto for New South Wales: Edward Smith Hall and the Sydney Monitor 18261840


Edward Smith Hall 


After a religious upbringing in Lincolnshire as one of six sons of a banker who championed social and charitable causes, Edward Smith Hall was labelled a failed gentleman farmer when he settled in NSW in 1811.

But he went on to launch a campaigning newspaper and used his influence to stand up for the underdog, challenge officialdom and shape the future of the colony.

Along the way he helped create the Bank of NSW, later Westpac, served as the coroner, and founded the organisation that would become the Benevolent Society.

He also played a significant role in the eventual removal of the unpopular Governor Darling through editorials in his Monitor newspaper, which also advocated for trial by jury, representative government and a house of assembly.

Hall's persistent criticism in the Monitor of Darling and other officials including a church archdeacon, led to seven prosecutions for criminal libel.

In 1828 Hall was the first person in the new colony to be convicted of the offence after publishing an attack on Archdeacon Thomas Scott who had evicted him from a pew in St James' Church.

This first offence resulted in a one-pound fine and a 500-pound good behaviour bond. Hall later recorded another first when he was jailed for libel and continued to write for the Monitor from prison.

When King William IV was crowned in 1830, Darling released Hall from prison in a rare magnanimous gesture. But instead of kowtowing, Hall continued his fight for press freedom with ongoing criticism of Darling and other officials.

His efforts to get Darling removed included writing to British Secretary of State for the Colonies Sir George Murray, making 14 charges against the Governor. He also enlisted the aid of the high-profile British MP Joseph Hume, who took up the cause against Darling in the House of Commons.

Describing Hall as "a fellow without principles", Darling tried to restrain him by withdrawing some of his grazing rights. He also introduced bills to license newspapers and impose a sales stamp duty to try to shut down Hall and others including Robert Wardell, who was editing The Australian.

All of Darling's efforts failed and when he was relieved as governor in 1831, he blamed Hall and other critics for his removal.

It was one of Darling's predecessors as Governor, Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, who dubbed Hall "a useless and discontented Free Gentleman Settler" after arriving in the colony in October 1811.

Hall had been disappointed to find on arriving in NSW that he did not get his land cleared and cultivated at the expense of the government.

Macquarie changed his opinion shortly afterwards and appointed him to the Governor's Court in 1813 as Hall and five others founded the NSW Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence, a society which morphed into the now two-century old Benevolent Society.

Hall spoke in favour of establishing a bank in the colony in December 1816 and two months later was appointed cashier and secretary of the new Bank of NSW, a role that required him to sleep at the vault every night.

The separation from his wife and family who remained on a family property at Surry Hills resulted in him leaving the bank after 12 months to work as a merchant trader and then coroner for a year, before returning to his farming grant at Lake Bathurst near Goulburn.

By 1826 Hall was back in Sydney and published the first edition of The Monitor on May 19. It was the third publication servicing the colony after the government-controlled Gazette and The Australian. The Monitor immediately took up the cause of the underdog and growing number of poor.

At first a weekly and then a twice-weekly newspaper that published for 15 years, Hall edited what became The Sydney Monitor until 1840, despite selling it in 1938. The Monitor closed in late 1841 without Hall at the helm.

Hall then moved to the Australian and was editor from 1846-1847, although it too folded in 1848. In the early 1850s Hall wrote for the Empire, run by the future "father of Federation" Sir Henry Parkes.

The Empire eventually went bankrupt as well, and Hall's final three years were spent working in the Colonial Secretary's office until his death on September 18, 1860 aged 74.

Erin Ihde, a lecturer in Australian history at the University of New England wrote in "A Manifesto for New South Wales: Edward Smith Hall and the Sydney Monitor 1826-1840" that Hall's longevity in the media was exceptional for the era.

"As an editor for 14 years we see his constant views and attempts to influence things in the colony and no-one else comes close to that," Ihde says.

The Monitor took the side of the convicts and emancipists against officials, and championed their rights. He believed as Englishmen, convict or not, they had the same rights as all Englishmen. This put him at odds with Darling and officialdom and this was a huge thing in the colony at the time."

In August 1891 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 ... (who tried) to preserve the public spirit and awaken a love of liberty in a community."

Hall married three times. First to Charlotte Hall in December 1810 in London. The union produced two sons and six daughters before Charlotte died in August 1826. He then married Sarah Holmes in August 1831 in Sydney and they had a son and a daughter before she died in 1838.

His final marriage in March 1842 in Sydney was to Emily Tandy and that union produced one son. In spite of Parkes's eulogy and his large family Hall's name disappeared into obscurity for many years. Ihde believes this was because he did not hold any government role or work in an official capacity in the colony.

"Hall was a champion of the underdog. An outsider who kept at it for so many years," Ihde says."He didn't win all the time but he made it necessary for officials to ensure they were doing things by the book."

Mike Osborne has been the editor of the national news agency Australian Associated Press since 2008.

Edward Smith Hall, by Charles RodiusEdward Smith Hall, by Charles Rodius, 1852. Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales.


Edward Smith HallEdward Smith Hall, painting by Augustus Earle, 1820. Courtesy of National Library of Australia.




Further reading


'Hall, Edward Smith (1786-1860)', M.J.B. Kenny, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian National University, 1966.


A Manifesto for New South Wales, Edward Smith Hall and the Sydney Monitor 1826-1840, Erin Ihde, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2004.