Page 1: Biography
Hall, Thomas Aubrey Chappé
Wood carver, farmer
This biography, written by Moira White, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Thomas Aubrey Chappé Hall was born at Ruddington, Nottinghamshire, England, on 16 June 1873, the son of John Hall, a medical practitioner, and his wife, Margaret Louise Chappé de Leonval. His father was Scottish and his mother French. He attended Leamington and Tonbridge schools, and in 1892 enrolled at Brasenose College, University of Oxford. However, he left in 1895 when he was 22 and emigrated to New Zealand, where he lived in the Wanganui region working as a bushman. It was here that he learned to carve, with Hori Pukehika as an instructor. Hall helped Pukehika make a small canoe named Te Ao, which Hall often used for moving from camp to camp up the Whanganui River.
In the South African War Hall served with the 6th New Zealand Mounted Rifles in No 16 Company (Auckland Section). When he joined he was farming at Tauranga. On 5 January 1904, in Wellington, he married Ethel Marguerite Adams; they would have two daughters. Hall returned to England in 1911 when his mother was seriously ill. During the First World War he spent 15 months in 1917–18 in the New Zealand Army Service Corps at Featherston Military Camp.
By the late 1920s Hall was living on the Puhoi River, North Auckland. Around this time he met up with Gilbert Archey, ethnologist at the Auckland Institute and Museum. This led to a contract to restore the carvings and tukutuku panelling of the meeting house Hotunui when it was installed in the museum. His work was noticed by the Dunedin philanthropist Willi Fels, and Hall subsequently agreed to undertake the restoration of the carvings for the meeting house Mataatua, and its erection in the Otago Museum. A frequently noted feature of this work is a series of small interior panels beneath the window, which commemorate the winning of the Melbourne Cup by the New Zealand horse Phar Lap.
When funding became available, Hall was contracted to produce the tukutuku panels for the interior of the Mataatua house. Now in Auckland, Hall worked on the panels at the Auckland Institute and Museum where Archey made space available. They were then sent to Dunedin by rail. In the 1930s Hall worked on two other projects for the Otago Museum: he carved and fitted the side boards to a war canoe hull being prepared for display, and carved the side walls that were added to a storehouse front in the museum's collections.
As well as restoration work, Hall made many new pieces and used traditional patterns to decorate domestic items, most often in what was described as an East Coast style. During the Second World War he carved cigarette boxes that were particularly popular with American soldiers. A man of many talents, he played a banjo, wrote poetry, sailed in the Pacific, composed an alternative national anthem, and built a diesel engine yacht.
Thomas Hall ceased carving in 1951. His wife died the following year and he died in Auckland on 21 May 1958, survived by his two daughters. Hall bequeathed his carving tools to Pine Taiapa. In accepting the bequest, Pine Taiapa wrote: 'It is with deep regret to know that my friend, Apanui Ringamutu, as I fondly call him, has passed away…Maori art has lost a great Pakeha, New Zealand also, a valuable member, who has contributed to a part of that great reconstruction of the story of the Maori'.