The Hall Family, Trinity House, a New Zealand Prime Minister and Women’s Suffrage

George Hall was born in 1782, the eleventh child of John and Eleanor Hall. John Hall was evidently a sea captain and John followed him into a seagoing career, becoming a cabin boy at the age of thirteen. George had apparently had no more than a very basic education as a child but as a youth and young man he made up for this by studying during his hard won leisure time at sea. His early seagoing career coincided with the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and he was detained by the French on at least two occasions. When his first ship was captured he was just a cabin boy but he slipped away and eventually got back to Hull by way of a circuitous voyage and by pretending to be an American crew member on a couple of United States ships. On one of the American ships he joined in France at this time he claims to have seen the famous English radical, Tom Paine, who was looking for a berth on a ship voyaging to America. In 1805 he was on another ship taken by the French; this time he was held for almost six years. George managed to escape in 1810 but was soon recaptured but later that year he managed to get away once more. After walking across France to the English Channel coast, he obtained passage to England from smugglers, being landed near Rye on New Years Day 1811.

Sir John Hall, Prime Minister of New Zealand
Prime Minister of New Zealand

George returned to Hull and rose through the ranks to become a captain, marrying Grace Williamson, the daughter of a prosperous local merchant family, at Holy Trinity Church in October 1817. The couple had five children, George, Ann, Thomas, John and Grace all of who were baptised at All Saints Church (St. Mary), Sculcoates. The family lived for some time at Moira Buildings down Prospect Street, then an attractive residential district close to the outskirts of town, but their eldest daughter Ann died in 1826 and her mother, Grace, passed away the following year. By 1840 George senior seems to have acquired a property down Brook Street and the family were afterwards looked after by their aunt, who instilled the children with strong Christian values. Their father, conscious of his own limited formal schooling, placed a considerable value on a good education and his boys attended school not only in Britain but also Europe and were encouraged to become proficient in foreign languages.

George senior had become a comparatively wealthy shipowner and he also purchased a family house, Rose Cottage, at Elloughton. He became an Elder Brethren of Hull’s Trinity House and was elected Warden in 1841.In the meantime, his two eldest sons, George junior and Thomas, followed their father to sea and both subsequently rose to the rank of Captain. Meanwhile, John, the youngest son, took a position in the office of a German merchant in London and moved on in 1845 to become a junior officer in the General Post Office. A natural conservative, he enrolled as a Government special constable at the time of the great unrest surrounding the delivery of the third Chartist petition in 1848 and the mass meeting on Kennington Common. However, John felt he had been thwarted in his career when he was passed over for the appointment of Chief Postmaster of Brighton in favour of a rival who had secured Royal Patronage. He decided to look in a completely different direction after reading a book on sheep farming and was attracted by the Canterbury Association colonising scheme which had been launched in the late 1840s. In 1852 John and his elder brothers decided to emigrate to New Zealand. A devout churchman, John was attracted by the sheep farming opportunities that the country offered but also by the Anglican ideals of the new settlement at Canterbury.

John sailed first, arriving at Lyttleton aboard the Samarang at the end of July 1852. Thomas and George followed shortly afterwards. The ship on which Thomas was travelling caught fire when in Australian waters and he was later commended for rescuing some of the passengers. John had decided to settle in the Canterbury region along with his brothers and they initially acquired runs of land in the area where they could keep sheep. The land they acquired had not been farmed before and the brothers had to start from scratch buying stock, fencing as well as constructing all the buildings needed on a farm. Over the following years they bought and sold various properties and proved themselves to be wealthy and astute farmers and businessmen. By 1891, John was the sole owner of the original runs, his brothers having acquired property elsewhere, and his 29,763 acre property was then valued at £9,265.

By 1855 John, already on the way to making a success of his farming ventures, became involved in Canterbury politics. He was a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council for most of his life. He was elected to the Second New Zealand Parliament in December 1856 but returned to England and Hull for a couple of years in March 1860. Whilst back in Hull, he married his brother George’s sister in law, Rose Anne Dryden, of Park House in Cottingham. Rose was the daughter of the Hull attorney, William Dryden, and the couple wed at Holy Trinity Church, Hull on the 3rd April 1861. Rose accompanied John when he returned to New Zealand. His aged father George, who had remarried late in life, lived on for a few more years, eventually dying at Elloughton in 1865 aged 83. His grave stands close to the door of St Mary’s Church in Elloughton.

In 1863, about a year after John Hall had returned to New Zealand with his wife, he was elected Mayor of Christchurch. However, he resigned within a few months because of national public commitments. He became an MP once more and moved swiftly through the political ranks to become the Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1879, a post he held until 1882. He was knighted that year. John then retired from politics in 1883 and made an extended visit to England once more but after returning in 1887 he stood for parliament again and was re-elected.

For much of the nineteenth century women in all countries were denied the right to vote in elections. In Britain it was not until 1918 that some women were granted the right to vote and not until 1928 that they achieved electoral equality with men. Votes for women had been a growing issue in New Zealand from at least the late 1860s and Sir John Hall came to believe that women should have the right to vote. A natural conservative, he believed that giving women the vote would reduce the radical edge found in New Zealand politics. In the 1890s, after approaches from leaders of the female suffrage movement, he assumed the parliamentary leadership of the women’s suffrage campaign. One of his last substantial political achievements was ensuring the passage of the Electoral Act in September 1893 which gave all New Zealand women the right to vote. The subsequent Act was of international significance as New Zealand became the first country to give the vote to women. All other democracies eventually followed in the wake of New Zealand and Sir John Hall’s parliamentary leadership on this issue. Sir John Hall was also opposed to federation with Australia and is now generally regarded by many as New Zealand’s leading nineteenth century politician.

The Hall brothers from Hull played a significant role in the opening up and development of New Zealand. Thomas Hall died at the aged 76 in Ivercargill in December 1895 and his elder brother, George, died the following February in Lyttleton at the age of 77. Sir John devoted much of the remainder of his life to the Anglican Church. He became Mayor of Christchurch in 1906, its exhibition year, and died the following year.

George Hall’s grave in Elloughton Churchyard near Hull

Select Bibliography

Tom Brooking, A History of New Zealand (New Zealand: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004)

George Hall, My Life (Hull: 1864)

Alexander A. McClintock, An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (New Zealand, R.E. Owen, 1996)

Frank Parsons, Charles Fremont Taylor, The Story of New Zealand (New Zealand: C.F. Taylor 1904)

Jean Garner, By His Own Merits: Sir John Hall, Pioneer, Pastoralist and Premier (New Zealand: Dryden Press,1995)

On-line References

Prime Ministers of New Zealand

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Sir John Hall

Hall Brothers of the MacKenzie, , South Canterbury, New Zealand