John William Hall was born in Peatling Magna, Leicestershire, UK on 26th January 1830. He was educated in his profession as a pharmacist in England, by the common means of that time - paying a premium (£95) to secure an apprenticeship (Frost 2004). He emigrated to NZ, arriving in Auckland in the ship 'Egmont' in 1858. He engaged in farming at Otahuhu until the opening of the Thames goldfields in 1867, shortly after which he established his pharmacy in that town, trading under the name 'J.W. Hall Chemist'. Hall lived the rest of his life in Thames and died there on 24th May 1915 (Frost 2004 , Unknown author 1902).
It was for his love of amateur botany and work as a pioneer conservationist that he was best known, however, rather than his pharmacist profession. In Thames, he established one of the first botanical arboretums in NZ, had a species named after him (Podocarpus Hallii - Hall's Totara) and was an early advocate of biological conservation: unusual in colonial times, when the national focus was very much on exploiting resources for economic gain.
On arrival in NZ, he apparently tried farming (as did many immigrants): the Daily Southern Cross of 7 Feb 1860 published a Jury List which showed Hall, John William, Mungari [Mangere], farmer. (At that time, Otahuhu was a separate settlement, well away from Auckland, and Mangere was regarded as part of it.) Whilst living at Otahuhu, Hall married Mary Pack, a fellow-migrant, from Woolsthorpe, England. The marriage took place at St Paul’s Church, Symonds St, Auckland, on 21st January 1860.
The officiating minister, who signed the register 'GA N. Zealand', was almost certainly Bishop George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of NZ 1842-1868; a prominent NZ historical figure of the 1850s and 60s.
According to his obituary in the Pharmacy Journal (quoted in Frost 2004), Hall served in the home defence militia during the NZ Wars of the early 1860s. In 1860, Hall obtained a grant of Maori land at Mangatawhiri:
'All that Parcel of Land, in the Province of Auckland in our Colony of New Zealand, containing by admeasurement One hundred and sixty Acres more or less, situated in the Parish of Mangatawhiri in the County of Eden and being Allotment No. Sixty five. Bounded ... on the South by the Waikato River ...' (Turton 1860)
An enclosure to the document showed the acquisition of another two blocks in the same area: 66 (225 acres) and 69 (59 acres). These allotments may have been as a result of Hall's military service, but that is considered to be unlikely, as the 1860 gazettal date would have preceded the Waikato campaign. In 1862, he sold the three allotments to the Crown:
'John William Hall of Mangarei near Auckland in the Province of Auckland Farmer send Greeting: Mangatawhiri. Whereas I am seized of or well and sufficiently entitled to the inheritance in fee simple Allotments 65, 66, 69 ... I have contracted for the absolute sale of the said allotments or parcels of land to Her Majesty Queen Victoria her Heirs and Successors for Receipt for ... the price or sum of Five hundred and ninety two pounds and five shillings ...' From Maori Deeds of Land Purchases in the North Island. Volume One.
The purpose of these land transactions is not readily apparent, and may have been pure land speculation, as was fairly common at that stage of the colony's history. Another possibility is that Hall sold the land to the Crown as part of preparations for the British invasion of the Waikato, as the Pokeno - Waikato River - Mangatawhiri Stream area was the scene of these activities. However, the three lots appear to have been located on the north bank of the Waikato River, about equidistant between the modern towns of Tuakau and Mercer, and there appears to be no Waikato War infrastructure associated with the immediate area.
When the Thames goldfield was proclaimed open on 1st August 1867, Hall decided to revert to his original profession of pharmacist, and moved to Thames to open a shop there. According to Frost (2004): 'Hall formed a partnership with a mechanic named Thomas Spencer; a man of means who knew little about pharmacy'. They opened a business named Spencer and Co, Chemist, on 21st December 1867 in premises situated in Willoughby St. Various other premises and business partnerships followed - see Frost (2004) for details. It should be noted that a key function of a pharmacy situated on a goldfield was to provide assay services for the various mines and prospectors, and Hall's pharmacy fulfilled this function; at least while the field was still profitable (i.e. until about 1875).
John and Mary Hall had five children: three sons and two daughters. Hall had close ties with another prominent Thames man - James Adams. Adams was appointed as the first principal of Thames High School in 1880, and was also a keen amateur biologist (Adams 1954, reprinted 1994). These ties were reflected in the fact that Adams' son, Ernest Feltus, married Hannah, youngest daughter of John and Mary Hall, in 1892. They had three children, before Hannah died in 1912 aged 45. Ernest (widely known as 'E.F.' Adams, who became a prominent mining engineer and, later, Thames Borough Engineer) then married Hannah's sister Ellen (who had also lost her original spouse at a young age) in 1914.
William and Christopher Hall also became pharmacists; however, on the death of their father, the Thames business was managed by Cyril Delaney, then sold to William Townson in 1919 (Frost 2004). Ernest and Hannah Adams had three children; one of whom was Leslie Roland Adams, born in 1909. "L.R." Adams also became a pharmacist and was later to establish a chemist shop in Thames, which was still trading in the 1960s, when the author was growing up in Thames.
One interesting and rather unusual episode involving John Hall was the murder of his sister's son, William Thompson, in Oratia, Auckland, in 1892. William Thompson was apparently gradually poisoned over a period of time, by a neighbour, Alexander Scott, who had become infatuated with Thompson's wife Alice. While Alice was pregnant with her third child, she spent some time staying with her husband's uncle (John Hall) in Thames, and it is during this absence that the poisoning incident took place. Scott was tried for murder, found guilty and eventually hanged in May 1893 (Melling 2002).
It was, however, his interests in botany and conservation for which John Hall was to become best known. According to Frost (2004):
'All chemists were required to have a knowledge of botany, and sometimes developed a personal interest in the subject resulting in a study of plants and trees in their area. John Hall began to note the rate of deforestation in the Thames area, especially the large-scale removal of the Kauri and the general removal of trees for farming purposes [mining was another catalyst for large-scale destruction of vegetation]. He began to collect seeds of plants, trees and ferns to send overseas to collections in England ...'
What was likely to have commenced as a professional interest in plants for medicinal purposes expanded into a life-long passion; especially in a new country with a vast range of botanical specimens, quite unlike those he would have been used to in the UK. Just when, or over what period, this interest developed is not documented, but the arrival of James Adams in Thames, to take up the position of Headmaster of Thames High School in 1880, appears to have had at least some influence on Hall. Adams was Headmaster of the Church of England Grammar School in Auckland during the period 1872-80. During this time, he established a close connection with Thomas F. Cheeseman, noted NZ botanist and curator of the Auckland Museum:
'It was at this time [1872-80] that he [Adams] formed a long and close friendship with T.F. Cheeseman and during the next thirty years they made many botanical excursions together. In 1879 Mr. Cheeseman was visiting master at the grammar school, teaching botany and zoology, and taking the boys to Hobson Bay or the domain ponds became part of the school curriculum. James Adams became a member of the Auckland Institute and entered into various controversies, some involving the theories of Darwin and Huxley. He considered taking holy orders, probably for financial reasons, but was persuaded to give up the idea and in 1880 moved to the Thames goldfields where he established the Thames High School, a school that at once became co-educational with the introduction of his own daughters to the sixth form.' (Adams 1972)
The extensive botanical exploits of James Adams are well outlined by Nancy Adams (1972) and his son Ernest (1954 (reprinted 1994)). What is important, regarding the Hall story, is his apparent influence on a Thames chemist with a developing interest in botany. The influence, and the ties that developed between the two families are evidenced by the inter-marriages that later occurred: 'It gave him [Adams] great pleasure when his eldest son, E. F. Adams, married the daughter of his friend, J. W. Hall, an early resident of the Thames ...' (Adams 1972).
The relationship between Adams and Cheeseman eventually led to a relationship between Cheeseman and Hall. This is evidenced by the extensive correspondence which developed between the latter two men - the earliest-known example of which was in 1887. (Coincidentally, this was a letter by Hall requesting Cheeseman to allow his relative William Thompson to visit the museum - the same William Thompson who was murdered in 1892.) The latest known letter between the two was written in 1913, two years before Hall's death.
The correspondence with Cheeseman covered a wide variety of topics relating to biology and conservation, not just botany. A typical example is a letter from Hall dated 4th August 1890:
'Dear Mr. Cheeseman,
Your letter of July 29th was not a duplicate reply to mine of the 8th. I have seen Price about the Thinornis, but he does not seem sanguine about obtaining specimens as he does not often go out with a gun now. He will however bear your request in mind. The police are rather actively looking after the unlawful selling of nature game, and such like matters and he does not want to get into hot water. He would be glad to know from you how far he would be exempt from any infringement of the Native Bird Protection Act, while collecting for “scientific purposes” - that able excuse for exterminating rare species. Some bushmen have been telling Mr. Price that there is to be seen at the Table Mountain a largish bird with a long bill, which is probably the saddleback, but which they profess to identify from Bullers’ small manual as the Huia !! ... "
The first publicly documented indication of Hall's developing interests in botany and conservation is a letter he wrote to the Editor of the Thames Star in 1883.
Thames Star, Volume XIV, Issue 4406, 16 February 1883, Page 3:
POPLARS AND WILLOWS. (To the Editor of the Evening Star.) Sir, —It seems the Borough Council are at length becoming aware of the damage these trees are doing, end have authorised the Foreman of Works to cut the roots that are injuring the water tables in Mackay and Mary streets. I fear this is an experiment of doubtful utility, as, besides the possibility of the tree toppling over if the roots are cut on one side, every root so severed will send up one or more suckers, and increase rather than diminish the evil. Nor do I know what better remedy to suggest, unless it be to remove the trees altogether; though even then the roots would be left to fill the streets and drains with an army of suckers. ... All things considered, these poplars and willows are a nuisance, and should never have been planted. How best to get rid of them is a problem I must leave to wiser heads than mine to solve. l am, &ct Jno. W. Hall.
One of Hall's key initiatives, and one for which he will probably be best remembered, is the establishment of an arboretum between what is now Mountsea Road and Brunton Cresent, in the foothills to the south east of Thames. This has been cleared and restored by the local Forest and Bird chapter, and with interpretation and publicity by the local Council, it is now an important tourist attraction. The title of Hall's presentation to the Auckland Institute (Hall 1901) implies that this work commenced in 1873. However, the early phase of the venture is not documented further (copies of his diaries now held commence in 1890). Despite this gap in the literature, the innovative and pioneering nature of the work is well portrayed in later references:
'Early advocates of native plants.
Between 1850 and 1900, [NZ] public gardens were dominated by exotic plants such as oaks, elms and roses. The first major collection of living native plants was started in the 1870s by John Armstrong, in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. William Hall started a native arboretum (a collection of living trees) at Thames in Coromandel around the same time. The pioneer ecologist Leonard Cockayne championed the use of native plants in gardens and in 1924 wrote a popular guide to growing them. Later he was involved in setting up the Otari Open-Air Native Plant Museum at Wilton, Wellington.'
The arboretum contains an interesting mix of exotic and native trees, indicating Hall probably had no strong preferences of one type over the other. Examples of exotics in the reserve include Norfolk pine, eucalypts, English oak and macrocarpa. Examples of natives include kauri, totara, kahikatea, puriri and miro.
An item of particular interest is that Hall reported he had been able to propagate native trees by means of cuttings, as well as the usual method of germinating seeds:
'It may not be generally known that the puriri and totara; and doubtless many others, can be grown from cuttings. Surrounding part of my plantation is a well established totara fence grown exclusively from cuttings.' (Hall 1901)
Hall also corresponded with like-minded individuals in the UK (Godley 1991). Carolyn Melling recalls (2002):
'His letters describe a friendship with Captain Dorien Smith from Tresco Abbey in Scilly Islands, Cornwall, UK. Early NZ natives grow in this garden which would undoubtedly have come from Hall and some of the exotics in Hall's Reserve would have come from Tresco. My first introduction to Hall's Reserve was a conducted tour by DOC (Department of Conservation). They wanted the public opinion on what to do with the exotics in the reserve, possibly removing them. This was the time we discovered the letters. So timely! Imagine if Tresco Abbey thought the removal of 100 year old NZ natives was a good idea!'
Another matter for which Hall has become well-known was his discovery of a variety of totara, which was subsequently named Podocarpus Hallii (Hall's Totara). This name was first publicised by Thomas Kirk, in his seminal work The Forest Flora of New Zealand (Kirk 1889). Gardner (undated) provides a background to the naming and significance of P. Halli:
'Podocarpus hallii is thought to be a high altitude species rarely found north of Auckland. In fact it is locally frequent here [North Auckland] especially above 300m altitude where P. totara is likely to be absent and it extends in distribution right up to the North Cape forest remnant at Te Paki trig.
Kirk (1889) named P. hallii after a Mr J.W. Hall of Thames who grew young plants presumably from the Coromandel Ranges in his garden. These impressed Kirk as being quite different from young P. totara in their stiff branching and very large leaves arranged more or less in two rows.'
According to Godley (1991), writing in the NZ Botanical Society Newsletter:
'Hall's hobby was arboriculture ... as well as promoting the cultivation of our indigenous trees and shrubs, Hall was probably the first in New Zealand to undertake experimental taxonomy. That there were two kinds of totara had long been suspected, and by 1889 Thomas Kirk could write:
'But, in order to determine the question, Mr J.W. Hall obtained a few plants of each form from the ranges, and cultivated them in his shrubbery: neither species has produced flowers, but owing to the peculiar habit of the larger leaves, the present species presents a very different appearance from the true Podocarpus totara. Mr Hall has contended for its specific distinction for the last ten or twelve years, and as the characters derived from the fruit support his contention, I have great pleasure in attaching his name to the species.'
Hence Podocarpus hallii.'
However, modern botanical literature lists an alternative name - Podocarpus cunninghami - for Hall's totara. The reason that there are alternative names is that, apparently, the same species was named by different botanists at around the same time - Colenso (in 1884) and Kirk (in 1889).
'The debate hinges on the question of whether a narrative account of the species written by William Colenso in 1884 should be taken as a description of the species. Colenso wrote 'I should not omit to mention, that on my way down the mountain (Ruahine Range) from the summit, I discovered a plant which I believed to be a new species of Podocarpus and therefore named it P. Cunninghamii (after my dear old friend and early Botanist in N.Z. Allan Cunningham. (Colenso, In Memoriam 1884, Paper II, 58).' - Quoted in (Earle Undated).
Dawson and Lucas (2011) infer that P. cunninhamii is now the preferred name:
'Podocarpus cunninghamii (previously P. halli) is similar to lowland totara (P. totara) but smaller, up to 20 m tall, with a trunk up to 1.25 m in diameter. The most notable difference between them is the bark, which is thin and papery in mountain totara but thick and stringy in lowland totara.'
Hall's self-taught expertise in botany was recognised, and resulted in an invitation to present a paper to the Auckland Institute (a forerunner to the Royal Society of NZ). In this, he summarised the rationale for, and success of, his experimental work (Hall 1901):
'It is much to be regretted that a well-organized arboretum for indigenous trees and shrubs has not been established in each of the great centres of population. The extensive, and frequently wanton, destruction of the native bush has been going on at such a pace that it will soon be difficult, if not impossible, to get sight of some of the rarer species. And, unfortunately, the planting of our beautiful New Zealand trees has not generally been adopted, perhaps from the mistaken idea that they are difficult of culture. Partly to disprove this, but principally because I had a great liking for the occupation, I some thirty years ago, began a plantation on a piece of land at Parawai, Thames. ... One object in making these plantations was to induce the visits of our rapidly disappearing native birds. The frequent visits of' the riro-riro, the piwakawaka, and the kotare, with occasional incursions of the ruru, the tui, and the pipiwharauroa, and still more rare appearance of the kaka, kukupa, kohoperoa, weka, and miromiro, have amply repaid my expectations. In conclusion, let me express a hope that these few cursory remarks may induce others to attempt the cultivation of our indigenous flora.'
Yet another notable feature of Hall's life is his role as a pioneer conservationist: in a colony and at a time when exploiting resources to gain economic advantage was considered to be of paramount importance. In fact, that was the fundamental reason for European nations to seek remote colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries - to harvest resources for the Industrial Age, which was then well under way. For an individual to advocate restraint, and protection of endangered species, was somewhat akin to heresy. However, that didn't seem to bother Hall. His Letter to the Editor of the Thames Star in 1883 (extract above) was the first of many.
The concept of Arbor Day - a holiday dedicated to the planting of trees - originated in the USA. The first was held in Nebraska City in April 1872. The first Arbor Day in New Zealand was held in Greytown in July 1890. The first Arbor Day in Thames was planned for August 1892, and the event was obviously anticipated with some relish. Prominent local businessman William Wood wrote to the Thames Advertiser, on 1st August 1892, as follows:
Arbor Day. (To the Editor) Sir,—Those interesting themselves in the movement for the planting of trees at all suitable spots on either side of the Thames-Tapu road from Tararu on past Rocky Point, to be commenced on Thursday next, Arbor Day, are meeting with every encouragement and sympathy from all quarters, and have received the approval of both Borough and County Councils, There is now, therefore, every prospect of the under- taking being pushed to a successful issue. Thursday next has been set .apart throughout the colony by the Government as Arbor Day, and will be proclaimed here by the Borough Council a public holiday and should the weather prove favourable we fully expect to see a good muster of tree planters and others at Rocky Point [north of Tararu]. ... Trusting to see many more letters upon the subject before the day of planting, and thanking you in anticipation for the insertion of this rather long communication. W.Wood.
This would be expected to be an issue dear to John Hall's heart, and he certainly responded to Mr Wood's invitation (Thames Star 3rd August 1892):
(To the Editor, of the Evening Star.) Sir,—ln the attempt to inaugurate tree-planting on the approaching Arbor Day, it behoves us not to allow enthusiasm to outrun discretion, and not to propagate obnoxious kinds that will ultimately become an annoyance and expense to get rid of. Let us seek to avoid planting either undesirable trees, or even useful trees, in unsuitable localities. We have had a practical lesson in this direction in the poplars and willows with which an active but unwise enthusiasm filled our streets, to the detriment of our drains, injury of our gardens, and expense of the ratepayers. ... Apart from the question of ownership, would it be well to plant blue gums, willows, or poplars on the Tararu cliffs? Can we not do much better? A little fostering care might reinstate and extend those grand and beautiful pohutukawas, which, in spite of firewood men and other barbarians, are still a charm and a glory at Christmas, and indeed all through the year. ... On this topic I may have something further to say in future; my epistle is already too long.—l am, &c, Jno. W. Hall.
This obviously hit a raw nerve, and Mr Wood replied as follows (Thames Star 4th August 1892):
P.S. -In glancing through the letter signed by Mr Hall in your issue of yesterday, I noticed he deprecates the enthusiasm that is being displayed, over the planting business, and considers that much discretion is required in the selection of proper trees. In my humble opinion too much enthusiasm cannot be thrown into such a movement. The great trouble is to get people to take sufficient interest in any such work—not much fear of overdoing it. And as for the selection of proper trees, the willow cannot well be surpassed for the purpose for which the planting is to be done in this instance on the coast, viz to provide shade for travellers that frequent those parts during the hot weather. They should thrive well on the road side; in some of those damp spots they grow quick, have a good spread and beautiful appearance. We shall also put in some sycamore, ash, and macrocarpa. W.W.
Newspaper reports of the actual Arbor Day activities, held on 4th August, describe in some detail who attended, who donated seedlings and other materials (such as for fencing the young trees):
Amongst those who took part in the planting were His Worship the Mayor (Mr Renshaw), Rev. J Olphert, Mrs Wood, Messrs Wood, J. Nodder, J. E Hansen, J. Cocks, W. Causley, Cyrus Brown, B. Smith, Downes. J. Laing, F. Mills, R. Morgan, and F. Bennet and Son.
Trees were kindly given by Messrs J. E. Hansen, Causley, Forrest, and John Wilson; wood for fencing by Mr H. O. Gillespie, manager of the Kauri Timber Co., Mr John Read, and Lamb Bros. and nails and barbed wire by Mr Renshaw; whilst in the event of money being required, several have promised to contribute. (Thames Evening Star 4th August 1892).
John Hall's name is conspicuous by its absence. As it would have been an issue in which he would be expected to have a very strong interest, it is considered probable that local politics caused him to boycott the event.
However, Hall continued to be a vocal supporter of conservation. A typical example of his advocacy is as follows:
Thames Star, Volume XLIV, Issue 10531, 2 May 1907, Page 2
(To the Editor.)
Sir, — A week or two ago in remarking on the increase of ducks, and the probability of good sport in the coming season, you mentioned in the next paragraph that bitterns also were increasing. Lest this should lead to the misconception that bitterns may be shot will you please draw attention to the fact that they are included in the list of protected birds. — l am etc.,
JNO. W. HALL.
P.S. — From a long list published last year, I select those interesting, to sportsmen. and which are absolutely protected: Avocet, bitterns, blue duck, white herons, blue herons, crested grebe, dotterel, knot, oyster catcher, plover, stilt plover, rail, sand piper, snipe, turnstone.
It wasn't all plain sailing, however. He did have occasional setbacks and problems:
Thames Star, Volume XLVII, Issue 14613, 1 September 1913, Page 1
NOTICE Whereas some thoughtless or dishonest persons are in the habit of removing young trees, plants, seedlings, ferns and flowers from my plantations at Parawai, notice is hereby given that all perpetrators of such depredations will henceforth be prosecuted. JNO. W. HALL.
John William Hall passed away on 24th May 1915. The Thames Star of 11th June 1915 announced that:
'The Chemist’s and Druggist's Business of the late Mr J. W. Hall is being carried on under the management of Mr Cyril Delaney, member of the Pharmaceutical Society of New Zealand. The Thames public generally and the old friends and clients of the late Mr Hall are thanked for past favours and .are respectfully invited to continue their support of this old established business.'
The Thames Star of 21st June 1915 announced for sale by auction his '... furniture and effects', including '... a large variety of rare and valuable books, which can be inspected on the morning of the sale.'
Hall was a noted amateur botanist, pioneer conservationist, pharmacist and family man. His environment was a challenging one, being an early settler in a gold mining community at a time when conservation of natural resources was an almost unheard-of concept. The final sentence of the epitaph seems fitting for a man of the foresight, innovation and energy of John William Hall:
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do
Do it with all thy might