Terra Nullius?????

How many documents such as this exist and are buried deep in libraries in the U.K and Australia. This letter was written by Edward Smith Hall to Sir George Murray, Secretary of State for the Colonies.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography records that Sir George Murray was “From May 1828 to November 1830 he was secretary of state for the colonies in Wellington’s administration. In his brief control at the Colonial Office, the colony of Western Australia was founded. By his lavish patronage of relations and friends in Perthshire, the Australian colonies gained some third-rate public servants and many first-rate settlers with capital.” The South Asia Register he mentions, was published by A Hall who was not related to E.S. Hall. The South Asia Register article will be published at this site.

Sydney Monitor (NSW : 1828 – 1838), Wednesday 12 May 1830, page 4


Sir, I had the honour of addressing a letter to you on the 17th instant; since which it has occurred to me, that to illustrate any remarks or suggestions by one or two facts, might be expedient, if not necessary, addressing you, as I do, at a distance of 16,000 miles. At the same time Sir, I am well aware, that with an officer of State of such high rank as yourself, brevity is an essential part of a correspondent’s discretion. I therefore will, as concisely as I am able, take the liberty of stating to you a few circumstances connected with the alienation of lands here, by his Excellency Governor Darling.

There was in Sydney a very ancient man, some eighty years of age, I believe an old, pensioned soldier, remarkable for his venerable appearance, and great stature. This man, a native of Ireland, took possession of a beautiful spot situate in one of the coves of Port Jackson, about a mile from Hyde Park, Sydney; a place much frequented and delighted in by the Sydney blacks, to a family of whom indeed it belonged. It is not commonly known, but it is a fact which my long residence in this Colony has made me acquainted with, that not only was all the Territory now possessed by us, appropriated by the tribes of aborigines (who vary in their language and customs, as their districts become separated by lesser or greater degrees of distance), but each district was divided into portions, by boundaries well known to themselves, and each family had (and in the interior still has) its own estate or patch of ground. The natives of this Country, Sir, have never been accurately, described in their intellectual character, nor yet justly described, but by one author.

The author of a periodical here, called “The South-Asian Register,” has alone given the true philosophy of their character. (I beg leave to enclose a copy of his Work No.2). They are a courteous, mild, volatile, chivalrous race of men, given to mirth, hospitality, and deed of arms. Their cruelty to their women at times, cannot be denied; but it is an exception to, rather than part of their main character. The cheerful. indifference or acquiescence with which they view the European sitting down in the midst of their possessions, at first by means of a pair of convict herdsmen, presently by an overseer and ploughman, and finally by the settler himself and his family, sufficiently displays their character. They never fight for conquest or property, always for honour, for love, for justice, or for chivalry. Their tournaments are worthy of admiration. The wager of battel is their court of equity.

Thus did old O’Donnell seat himself among these sable warriors, and divide with them the black sandy soil, composed of the shells which the natives, from time immemorial, had cast aside at their feasts and meals; shellfish being the natural produce of the beautiful sheet of water which washes the strand at Elizbeth Bay. As the old man declined in strength, he applied to sell his land to a gentleman of rank in the Administration of the inestimable Governor Macquarie, and (as I have heard) that gentleman agreed to allow old O’Donnell in annuity for his life for the land.

 At length the old man died, and the gentleman in question considered the land his, next at least to the aborigines, who still resorted there in considerable numbers. For possession by promise, either verbal or written in Governor Macquarie’s days, was considered Sir, by every colonist, as good as parchment and the seal of the Colony. Such confidence did there exist between the people in those times. Ejectment for insufficient title, was never dreamt of by any man, much less put in practice.

You perhaps, Sir, may, not be aware, that the religious and philanthropic world, ever since we took their country from the brave unoffending people of Australia, have been deeply interested in their welfare, and have desired to make them and their hapless progeny some amends, for the nameless woes which our occupation of their country has heaped upon them. Among these stood foremost Major-General Macquarie, the father of New South Wales. A name, which will be pronounced with reverence by our posterity, when that of others will be held in execration. Governor Macquarie, however, was a man of practical benevolence, rattler than sentiment and romance. Seeing that nothing equal to the expense could be done for the adult blacks, with that prudence for which he was remarkable he established a school for the instruction and the board and lodging of the children of the aborigines.  The natives were at first shy of sending their children; for you are aware Sir, that the coercion of children is unknown among savage parents of all nations. But after Macquarie had established a Christmas feast and a conference with the blacks, of proximate and distant tribes, at Parramatta, and the parents had witnessed the progress of certain of their children in reading, writing and singing hymns to the God of the Christians. they began voluntarily to place their children in the school, and it actually prospered so long as Governor Macquarie remained in the Colony. The school I believe, for the sake of a name, and because its abandonment might be considered a blot on the Government in this religious age, is still alive, and lingers but its spirit, with that of its founder, is departed.

In the meantime, Governor Macquarie built huts for the blacks at the cove or bay in question, and, as a special favour, begged the successor of poor old O’Donnell to let him have the land back again in exchange for other land he (Governor Macquarie) being earnestly desirous of trying, what could be done in the way of civilizing the adult natives who still resorted thither. The gentleman gave back the land. Besides building huts for them, the General ordered the natives a fishing boat with fishing tackle, and, as I have heard, salt and casks to salt their fish withal; and so established the cove as a native village. To the row of huts he gave the name of Elizabeth Town, in honour of his spouse, Mrs. Macquarie; who, permit me Sir to add, was truly worthy of a such a memento, Governor Brisbane, soon after his arrival, became deeply impressed with the necessity of building a lunatic asylum ; and, as the natives had gradually disappeared from Elizabeth Bay, after the departure of their patron; Gov. Macquarie, Sir Thomas Brisbane fixed on this spot as the site for a hospital of that nature: And certainly, putting the blacks and their claims aside, so eligible a spot in this Territory for the purpose could not have been found, whether the locality, the health, the fertility, or the cheerfulness of the place be respectively considered.

After the departure of Sir Thomas Brisbane, the claims of the aborigines, or of the lunatics of the Colony, were forgotten, or at least they were set aside; and Elizabeth Town, purchased from the gentleman in question expressly for Government purposes, was, in conjunction with the convicts’ garden in Hyde Park (trenched with the spade, and enclosed with a high brick wall), given to members of our two Councils, and of the Staff, to the Judges, and to the Governor’s relatives, in manner following, that is to say;…. Alexander McLeay being granted all 58 acres at Elizabeth Bay

He goes on to list all the people allocated land by Governor Darling, critical of it being given to military people and friends and family of the governor. All of Elizabeth Bay and most of Woolloomooloo and the convict gardens were given to them.


E.S. Hall

Edward Smith Hall (1786-1860), banker, newspaper editor and grazier, was born on 28 March 1786 in London, one of the six sons of Smith Hall and Jane, née Drewry. He grew up near Falkingham, Lincolnshire, where his father was the manager of a private bank. On 21 December 1810 at St Luke’s Church, London, he married Charlotte, second daughter of Hugh Victor Hall of Portsea.

Hall engaged in religious and social work and so impressed leaders in these fields that their friendships were helpful when he decided to migrate to New South Wales. His application, supported by recommendations from the philanthropist, William Wilberforce, and Sir James Shaw, sheriff of London, was successful. Hall left England in the Friends and arrived in the colony on 10 October 1811, with a letter to Governor Lachlan Macquarie from Robert Peel, then under-secretary at the Colonial Office.

Macquarie granted Hall 700 acres (283 ha), known as Coates Park, at Bringelly. This property was later increased to 1090 acres (441 ha), and he received further grants of 1000 acres (405 ha) at Lake Bathurst in 1821 and 185 acres (75 ha) near the present Moore Park in 1822. However, his hopes of supporting himself and his family as a gentleman farmer were not realized at Coates Park. Macquarie reported him as ‘a Useless and discontented Free Gentleman Settler … without making the least attempt at Industry, expressed himself Much disappointed in Not getting his Land cleared and Cultivated for him, and a House built for him at the Expense of Government’, but soon modified this opinion and appointed Hall a member of the Governor’s Court in July 1813, April 1814 and January 1816. Mrs Macquarie also wrote kindly to Hall, advising him to avoid political statements. In this period Hall traded to New Zealand in association with Simeon Lord and other merchants.

He continued religious and social work, and in 1813 with five others founded the New South Wales Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Benevolence, which added to the colony’s much needed private forms of charity; this society was discontinued in 1818 after he helped to form the Benevolent Society of New South Wales. He also was a founder in 1817 of the New South Wales auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Hall’s first notable activity in the public affairs of the colony was his association with the Bank of New South Wales. At a meeting on 5 December 1816 Hall was opening speaker in support of the arguments presented by Judge-Advocate (Sir) John Wylde for the establishment of the bank. On 15 February 1817 an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette invited applications for the situation of cashier and secretary in the new bank from ‘persons of respectable character’. Hall was appointed at a salary of £200, and had to undertake to sleep at the bank every night and never to be out of Sydney after dark. The bank’s premises in Macquarie Place were so small that he had to leave his wife and family on a farm bought at Surry Hills in 1815.

Although the bank prospered and Hall had a steady income, the separation from his family, restriction of his liberty and a clash of personalities with the bank’s active president, John Campbell, caused Hall to give notice of his resignation in March 1818. He said that he felt the directors lacked confidence in him, although in later years he was an influential speaker at proprietors’ meetings.

While working for Jones & Riley, merchants, Hall wrote to his father of many disappointments since his arrival in New South Wales, whereupon his father pressed in England for Hall to be permitted to practise as an attorney, though he had no professional qualifications. The request was refused, but in 1820 Macquarie appointed him coroner, a position which he filled most conscientiously.

In 1821 Hall resigned to go to St Heliers, his grant at Lake Bathurst. After four years he left the management to his 9-year-old son Edward and returned to Sydney, where on 19 May 1826 he and Arthur Hill published the first issue of the Monitor. Its motto was ‘nothing extenuate nor set down aught in malice’. In this newspaper Hall took up the cause of the poor whose plight he had seen in his Benevolent Society work and ‘espoused the cause of any convict, who should he be ever so vile, was punished contrary to law’. In a society where freemen increasingly out-numbered convicts, the Monitor influenced public opinion by its advocacy of a representative assembly and trial by common jury, though he was opposed to emancipists in the jury box. It was also vigorous in condemning Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling for oppressive rule. When Hill left the partnership in 1827, Hall continued the paper’s critical policy, which goaded the governor into describing Hall as ‘a fellow without principles, an apostate missionary’.

Darling punished Hall indirectly by withdrawing his right to graze stock on waste land adjacent to St Heliers. He also attempted to restrain Hall and other attackers by following his instructions from the Colonial Office and introducing bills for the licensing of newspapers and imposing a stamp duty of 4d. a copy. The second bill was enacted but soon suspended and later disallowed by the British government. Chief Justice (Sir) Francis Forbes refused to certify the licensing clauses in the first bill, but the remainder became law as the Newspaper Regulating Act. Undeterred, Hall continued his fierce criticisms, sometimes resorting to statements that were factually inaccurate, with the result that he was seven times prosecuted for criminal libel. In 1828, after publishing an attack on Archdeacon Thomas Scott, who had evicted him from a pew in St James’s Church, Hall became the first in the colony to be convicted of the criminal libel of a public official. The judges commented severely on his offensive editorials in defiance of the law, although he was fined only £1 and required to enter into a £500 recognizance to be of good behaviour.

In 1829 Hall was convicted of libel on two or more counts and sentenced to fifteen months in gaol, whence he continued to conduct the Monitor and prepare further libels. For these he was convicted, forfeited his recognizance and had his sentence extended to not less than three years. In 1830 Darling made a further attempt to silence his critics by amending the Newspaper Regulating Act so that it became mandatory for anyone convicted twice of blasphemous or seditious libel to be punished by banishment. From gaol, Hall and the editor of the Australian, A. E. Hayes, Hall’s comrade in the struggle for freedom of the press, sent a petition in protest to the Colonial Office, but Howick had already disapproved the amending Act and it was disallowed by the British government. While in gaol, Hall appeared in court as plaintiff in five actions for damages against his critics and won four of them. He then sued Archdeacon Scott for having evicted him from his pew and won £25 damages. Darling’s final attempt to silence Hall was an unsuccessful prosecution for failure to satisfy a statutory requirement of newspaper proprietors that they lodge copies of their publication with an official.

On 6 November 1830, in honour of the accession of William IV, Hall was released from prison, probably Darling’s one magnanimous act in his six years term. Instead of acknowledging this clemency, Hall continued to criticize the administration. On 1 October 1831 in the Monitor he had the satisfaction of announcing that the governor was to be relieved of his command. Darling blamed Hall for his removal and Hall’s claim that it was a personal victory found support from Joseph Hume who made much use in the House of Commons of Hall’s specific charges against Darling. However, the Colonial Office flatly denied that ‘any observations contained in an intemperate newspaper’ had influenced the government’s decision.

After Darling departed Hall’s life became less turbulent. In 1838 he sold the Monitor, which foundered four years later without ‘the master hand’. Until 1848 he conducted the Australian, after which he formed an association with (Sir) Henry Parkes‘s Empire. Financial losses resulted in Hall’s obtaining an appointment in the colonial secretary’s office, which he held from 1857 to his death on 18 September 1860.

Hall’s last years as a public servant did not obscure his reputation as a strenuous advocate of a free press, representative government and trial by common jury. Perhaps a greater claim to respectful notice was the passion for nascent nationalism that surged through his writings as he championed the colonial born, ‘who owed their prosperity to themselves’, and exhorted them to fight for ‘Liberal Principles and Free Institutions, Rational Liberty and Equal Justice’.

Hall’s first wife died on 20 August 1826, having borne him two sons and seven daughters. On 3 August 1831 at St Andrew’s, Sydney, he married Sarah Holmes, by whom he had one son and one daughter. Sarah died on 14 May 1838, and on 3 March 1842 Hall married Emily Tandy; they had one son. A portrait of Hall is in the Mitchell Library.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 7-8, 10, 12-18
  • B. Fitzpatrick, The Australian People 1788-1945 (Melb, 1946)
  • M. H. Ellis, Lachlan Macquarie (Syd, 1952)
  • J. A. Ferguson, ‘Edward Smith Hall and the “Monitor”’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 17, part 3, 1931, pp 163-200
  • C. H. Currey, ‘The Foundation of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales on May 6, 1818’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 48, part 1, 1962-63, pp 1-17
  • P. Quinn, ‘Australia’s First Banker’, Etruscan, vol 13, no 1, 1964, pp 2-4
  • Truth (Sydney), Feb-Mar 1927.
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