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Hall, David Robert (1874–1945)

by Bede Nairn

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

David Robert Hall (1874-1945), by T. Humphrey & Co

David Robert Hall (1874-1945), by T. Humphrey & Co

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23366383

David Robert Hall (1874-1945), lawyer and politician, was born on 5 March 1874 (and registered as Thomas) at Harrietville, Victoria, son of Thomas Hall, farmer, and his wife Marion, née Hutchinson, both Scottish born. His family moved to New South Wales in December and he went to public schools at Cooma, where his father was a road-worker, and Forest Lodge, Sydney. In the 1890s he worked in various clerical positions with Goldsbrough Mort & Co. Ltd, the Sun Insurance Co., James Sandy & Co. and Foley Bros. In 1899-1901 he was private secretary to J. H. Young and T. H. Hassall, ministers for lands. He studied law with W. A. Holman and W. M. Hughes. An unmatriculated student in 1902 at the University of Sydney, he was admitted to the Bar on 19 November next year. Dapper and enterprising, by 1900 Hall sported a flowing moustache and displayed striking buttonholes. A Freemason, he was the very model of the efficient clerk, with professional ambitions. In Sydney on 8 February 1905, with Church of Christ forms, he married Catherine Amelia Jackes.

He was attracted by the fresh radicalism of the Labor Party and joined it in the early 1890s. In 1901 he was on the executive of the party and won the State seat of Gunnedah. Hall made good use of his parliamentary experience, polishing his speaking and debating skills and observing the implications of the novel relationship between legislation and public administration, with its portents of a new role for government in the early twentieth century. In 1902 he became a justice of the peace, and was one of the first to raise doubts about the administration of the Department of Lands by W. P. Crick. His association with Holman grew into a warm friendship; but he lacked Holman's style and charisma.

Back on the party executive in 1904, Hall failed to be re-elected to parliament. He took an interest in Labor's Federal branch and in November was in touch with its caucus regarding party organization. He acted as Holman's 'junior counsel' in the famous debate on socialism with (Sir) George Reid in 1906. The same year Hall won Werriwa in the Commonwealth House of Representatives. His nationalism was strengthened but his expectations were frustrated in the Federal arena; and he resigned his seat to accept Holman's invitation in March 1912 to return to the New South Wales parliament to join the McGowen government as solicitor-general and minister of justice with a place in the Legislative Council.

Hall came into his own as the government's administration expert, helping to balance on the executive in 1913-15 the residual force of reformist socialism against the growing power of trade union, industrialist pragmatism, which was threatening Holman's position. In parliament Holman formed his first ministry in June 1913 and next year Hall relieved him as attorney-general, allowing him to move more on to the national stage. Hall won Enmore in the Legislative Assembly in November, and could then operate as the premier's trouble-shooter, especially aware of the politics of rising prices as war came next year. He administered the Necessary Commodities Control Act, 1914, with some success in price-fixing; he also organized the acquisition, as a war measure, of the State's wheat crop. With Holman he published Cost of living in 1915.

The industrialists controlled the 1916 Labor Party conference. They opposed conscription and directed the parliamentarians to do likewise. Meanwhile, Hall, stirred by the war, in 1915 had been a foundation member of the Universal Service League; early next year he was rejected for service with the Australian Imperial Force. With Holman and many others he refused to obey conference and was expelled from the party. Holman formed a National ministry with the Liberals on 15 November 1916; Hall relinquished the justice portfolio, but remained as attorney-general. He bitterly criticized Hughes's conduct of the two national referendums on conscription in 1916-17. Retaining some of his radicalism as minister for housing in 1919-20, he was also vice-president of the Executive Council in that period.

By 1920 Hall cut a fine figure; he had shaved his moustache and acquired a confident style. Sensing that the days of the National government were numbered, he obtained Holman's approval to become State agent-general in London, where he would have shone. He set out for England, but Labor won the March 1920 general election and, as memories of 1916 were sharp and bitter, Hall's appointment was cancelled. He returned to Sydney, was admitted as a solicitor on 24 February 1921 and embarked on what was to prove a successful and lucrative legal career.

Hall kept up his interests, especially in prison reform, giving many lectures and engaging in many debates in the 1920s and 1930s: in 1935 he contributed to Trends in Australian Politics. He had shared the enthusiasm of N. R. W. Nielsen, Labor minister for lands 1910-11, for the preservation of harbour foreshores, and was a vigorous and effective trustee of the Nielsen-Vaucluse Park trust in 1915-44, president four times. In the 1930s he invested with his sons in catering. He was a member of the New South Wales council of the United Australia Party in 1932-40 and ran unsuccessfully as its candidate for the Senate in 1937. He gave an eloquent and moving panegyric on Holman's death in 1934.

Hall's wife died in 1928. He was made a freeman of the City of London in 1943. He married Myra Isobel Johnstone Perkins in London on 22 March 1944, and was survived by her and two sons of his first marriage when he died in Sydney on 6 September 1945; he was cremated with Church of Christ forms. His estate was sworn for probate at £5522.

Select Bibliography

  • H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader: The Story of W.A. Holman and the Labour Movement (Syd, 1942)
  • L. F. Fitzhardinge, The Little Digger (Syd, 1979)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 5 July 1901
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 9 July 1901, 19 Oct 1915, 14 Mar, 16 Nov 1916, 21 Mar, 4 May, 9 Aug 1917, 24 Apr 1919, 16 Jan, 27 Mar 1920, 13 Apr 1922, 1 Oct 1929, 1 Apr 1931, 2 Feb 1935, 17 July 1937
  • Town and Country Journal, 30 Apr 1919
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 15 Jan 1921, 20 Sept 1924.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Bede Nairn, 'Hall, David Robert (1874–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/hall-david-robert-6524/text11201, accessed 21 November 2017.

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