HALL, Hon. Sir John, K.C.M.G.
Premier of New Zealand.
A new biography of Hall, John appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
John Hall was born on 18 December 1824 at Hull, the third son of Captain George Hall, of Elloughton, Yorkshire, a master mariner, shipowner, and Elder Brother of Trinity House, Hull; and of Grace, née Williams. Captain Hall commanded a merchantman during the Napoleonic Wars and had been captured by a French privateer and interned in France. His experiences there, prior to his escape, so convinced him of the value of a knowledge of foreign languages that he determined his sons should receive a continental education. Thus until John Hall was 10 years of age he attended school in Hull and, from then until he was 16, was educated at schools in Germany, France, and Switzerland. He returned to England in 1840 where his knowledge of French and German secured him employment in a London merchant's office. In 1843 he was appointed to the Secretary's Department of the London General Post Office and, shortly afterwards, became private secretary to his departmental head. While in this position, Hall was chosen (1845) to investigate a proposed overland mail route from Trieste, across Germany, to replace the existing route from Marseilles. His adverse report led to this scheme being dropped. He was later selected to be Chief Postmaster at Brighton, at a salary of £600 a year – however, Queen Victoria intervened on behalf of a protég and Hall was passed over. During the Chartist riots in 1848 Hall served as a special constable attached to Clerkenwell Police Court, and for many years his long constable's truncheon remained his most treasured souvenir. Hall was a member of the Honourable Artillery Company and won a special medal for shooting.
At this time Hall became interested in the London activities of the Canterbury Association and, partly for reasons of health, he decided to emigrate to New Zealand. He sailed on the Samarang, one of the last ships sent out by the Association, and arrived at Lyttelton on 31 July 1852. Disappointed in his immediate attempt to secure a run in Canterbury, Hall visited the Ahuriri, Wairarapa, and Rangitikei districts, but deeming Canterbury a better proposition for settlement, he decided to take up land south of the Rakaia River where the only settlers at that time were the Rhodes Brothers. Hall acquired a large canoe to ferry his stock and goods across the Rakaia but the first crossing proved so difficult that he abandoned this scheme, and settled on the north bank, buying Stoddart's run and stock.
In August 1853 Hall, with some diffidence, offered himself as a candidate for the first Provincial Council elections and was elected on 10 September 1853 to represent the Christchurch Country District. From then until the abolition of the provinces, except when absent from the colony (1860–62), Hall remained a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council. He sponsored the ordinance constituting the Church of England trustees, and also helped to pass the controversial Scab Ordinance. He served as Provincial Secretary under FitzGerald from October 1854 to May 1855, under Bealey from March 1864 to March 1866 and, again, under Rolleston from October 1870 to August 1871. In Bealey's administration, together with Cass and Dobson, he was responsible for opening direct land communication between Christchurch and the recently discovered Westland goldfields.
On 11 May 1854 Hall was appointed a Justice of the Peace for Canterbury – a post he retained after the Commission was revised in December 1856. On 28 October 1856 FitzGerald offered him the Resident Magistracy at Lyttelton as Tancred, the incumbent, was about to retire. This position combined the Commissionership of Police and the office of Sheriff, and required its holder to reside in Lyttelton. At first Hall determined to refuse the appointment on the grounds that a lawyer should hold the position; however, he accepted and in December 1858 transferred to a similar position in Christchurch where he remained until he visited England in 1860.
When the Christchurch Town Council was called into being in February 1862, Hall presided at the meeting of burgesses and headed the poll in the election for the council. A few weeks later he became chairman. On the proclamation of a new municipal ordinance in 1863, Hall was elected first Mayor of Christchurch, but he resigned in June of the same year in order to give more time to his other public duties.
On 20 December 1855 the Christchurch Country District returned Hall to the House of Representatives. From then until his retirement from politics in November 1893, with but two intervals (1860–62 and 1883–87), he remained in Parliament either in the House of Representatives or in the Council. He served as Colonial Secretary in the Fox Ministry (1856), and it was only because he had misgivings about the “peace at any price” policy that he stood aloof from Fox's second Ministry in 1861–62. As Postmaster-General in Stafford's Ministry (1866–69), Hall attended the Ocean Postal Communications Conference at Melbourne in October 1867. His health, however, prevented him from joining the Fox-Vogel Ministry until 1872 when he undertook to guide Government business through the Legislative Council. Hall was Colonial Secretary under Waterhouse (1872–73), and it was his retirement for health reasons which gave the Premier an excuse to follow suit. In 1876 Hall served without portfolio in the Atkinson Ministry, but agreed to stand down when it was found that Atkinson had infringed the Disqualification Act of 1870.
When Sir George Grey obtained a dissolution, after his defeat in the House in 1879, Fox induced Hall to resign from the Legislative Council to lead the Opposition in the House of Representatives. On 3 October 1879 the Grey Ministry was again defeated by 43 votes to 41. The Governor, Sir Hercules Robinson, scorning his retiring Premier's advice, sent for Hall who formed a ministry on 10 October 1879 with Whitaker, Rolleston, Atkinson, Bryce, Oliver, and Tomoana. Besides the Premiership, Hall took the portfolios of Colonial Secretary, Post and Telegraphs, and Customs. In view of the Ministry's initial slender majority, Macandrew tabled a want of confidence, but Hall, a past master of parliamentary tactics, refused to interrupt Government business for three weeks, during which he negotiated with four Auckland members (soon known as the “Auckland Rats”) to cross the floor to support his Government.
Hall inherited several far-reaching Bills drafted by his predecessor. His Government adopted and passed Grey's Triennial Parliaments Act (1879), and an Electoral Act which conceded universal manhood suffrage. He also had to face an explosive Maori situation – a legacy from the Whitaker-Fox Ministry's (1863–64) policy of confiscating rebels' lands. Te Whiti, the prophet of Parihaka, issued a fiat that all surveys in the disputed territories were to cease. Hall attempted negotiation, but ultimately had to admit that Bryce's “show of force” policy was more likely to be successful. In November 1881 colonial troops invaded Parihaka, arrested Te Whiti, and held him in gaol for some time without pretence of a trial. The Government had to defend its scarcely legal act, but a general election later in the year confirmed Hall's slender majority in the House. In April 1882 a severe illness obliged Hall to resign the Premiership in favour of Whitaker. He left New Zealand politics and went to England. A month after his resignation he was created K.C.M.G.
In September 1887, with no further desire for office, Hall returned to the House of Representatives. He interested himself in the women's suffrage movement and, after many false starts, he piloted through the House in 1893 the Bill giving effect to this. This was his last public act and he retired from politics at the close of the session. His remaining years were spent at Hororata or in Christchurch. As he had been the first Mayor of Christchurch, he was asked, as an honour, to assume the mayoralty during the exhibition year (1906). Failing health, however, prevented his completing this assignment. He died at his home in Park Terrace, Christchurch, on 25 June 1907.
An active adherent of the Church of England all his life, Hall in 1857 attended the General Synod at which the Church Constitution was drafted. He served on the Christchurch Diocesan Synod, and many ecclesiastical institutions in Canterbury benefited from his unfailing generosity. Bishop Harper appointed him lay reader for the church at Hororata on 15 January 1877.
Immensely successful as a farmer (his Hororata property was assessed at over £90,000 in 1883), Hall left bequests amounting to £55,000. These included £30,000 to establish a general charitable trust in Canterbury, £10,000 to build a church and vicarage at Hororata, and £10,000 to establish the Gordon Hall in Christchurch.
Despite his modesty and his eternal willingness to efface himself if he felt that public affairs so required it, Sir John Hall left an enviable record of over 50 years of service in many important public offices. His ability to “get along” with people and his unremitting efforts on their behalf probably account for the enormous popularity he enjoyed throughout his lifetime. In politics, he belonged to the moderates – that all too rare race of politician who carefully consider the many facets of every problem before taking action. But his great strength was in his administrative ability which was challenged by the chaos in the public service left by the Grey Ministry. To the public in general, Hall's name was synonymous with efficiency and economy in the Government service. It is here that his English training stood him in good stead and he deserves credit for introducing business methods into those Departments for which he was directly responsible.
Throughout his life Sir John Hall carefully preserved his personal correspondence and official papers. These (over 100 boxes, diaries, and letter books covering the years 1830 to 1907) are now deposited in the General Assembly Library, Wellington. They provide a valuable and fascinating commentary upon the political and social history of the period, and also give us remarkable insight into Hall's interests and character.
In 1861, at Hull, Yorkshire, Hall married Rose Anne (died 1900), daughter of William Dryden, of Kingston-upon-Hull, and by her he had four sons and two daughters.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Hall Papers (MSS), General Assembly Library, Wellington
- Hall Letters (MSS), General Assembly Library, Wellington
- Press (Christchurch), 26 Jun 1907 (Obit).