To Bank or Not to Bank: Edward Smith Hall on Free Trade and the Commodification of Money in Early New South Wales (1)

By Ihde, Erin | Journal of Australian Studies, September 2004 | Go to article overview

To Bank or Not to Bank: Edward Smith Hall on Free Trade and the Commodification of Money in Early New South Wales (1)


Ihde, Erin, Journal of Australian Studies


The establishment of a uniform and widely accepted currency in New South Wales took many years and many attempts. From the infamous use of rum as currency, to the introduction of the famous 'holey' dollar and the widespread use of promissory notes, the topic of money caused much controversy and much conversation in the new colony. This article examines the issue through the eyes of Edward Smith Hall, a man who had much to say about many aspects of life in New South Wales and who published his thoughts regularly in the Sydney Monitor, a newspaper he edited from 1826 until 1840. In the case of the currency debates, Hall spoke from personal experience, as he had a background in accountancy and banking. His ruminations on the subject reveal a man caught between wishing to uphold the traditional, paternal ways of old England but also wanting to adopt the new doctrines of political economy and laissez-faire. On the one hand, Hall can be seen as still subscribing to the notion of moral economy, the system of mutual obligation by which both the 'common people' and their 'masters' recognised that direct dealings between them involved adherence by both parties to long-established customs and traditions. On the other hand, Hall also accepted the rise of the 'middle-men' (traders, merchants and the like) who came between the two groups and, he believed, contributed to the healthy functioning of the natural regulatory forces of the marketplace, the central tenet of political economy. (2) The ways in which Hall embraced both of these concepts often led him to adopt confusing and at times contradictory stances on all manner of points, money included. As will be seen, Hall's comments regarding usury and paper money seem to be at odds with his involvement in banking; however, they are consistent with the outlook of a man concerned with the rights of the poor and oppressed.

Hall's strictures provide a valuable insight into intellectual thought in the colony in the first half of the nineteenth century. Newspapers were a vital source of information in New South Wales in an era when books were quite scarce. Apart from disseminating everyday news items, newspapers were also an important conduit for ideas and opinions. Although the colony was well served with newspapers from the mid-1820s onward, many papers were short-lived and others changed owners and editors regularly. Hall was the only man to remain at the helm of one paper for a considerable period--fourteen years. It is therefore possible to establish a continuous picture of one man's efforts to set his thoughts before the population of New South Wales as well as readers back in England. Hall believed in the value of newspapers as a guide, watchdog and record of events for current readers, as well as future generations, to consult. To him, his role was of great importance, and he undertook it with such zeal that he soon earned the ire of Governor Darling, among others, who regarded Hall as a meddler who was interfering in matters that should not concern him. Hall believed that he was exposing abuses of power and helping the underdog--those who had no other avenue of support. (3) The issues discussed in this article are one example of many where he sought to provide such support through the pages of the Sydney Monitor.

Edward Smith Hall was born into a London banking family in 1786, being one of six sons of a private bank manager. He was raised near Falkingham, South Lincolnshire. Little is known of his early life, although he appears to have been well educated and may have been earmarked by his father as a successor in the banking business, as he also seems to have received a thorough training in accountancy. However, Hall's interests lay elsewhere, and he became involved in religious and social work. He was associated with William Wilberforce and the Evangelical movement. Hall was encouraged to emigrate to the colony to help with the work of improving its moral and religious tone. …

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