Catherine Bent, my great great grandmother, was the second surviving child of Andrew and Mary Bent. The story of her life with her husband Thomas Sydney Hall highlights the power in a long marriage to sustain the vicissitudes of fortunes won, lost and regained and of frequent moves within and between colonies trying for better luck. Together the daughter of two convicts and the great grandson of a baronet forged a future together in the melting pot that was colonial Australia.
Hobart Town 1820-1839
Catherine was born on 11 August 1820 in Collins Street, when her sister Elizabeth was two. She was baptised by Rev. Knopwood on 8 October. We know little of her early life although it seems Bent taught all his older children, girls as well as boys, the use of a composing stick. Early in 1838 a short-lived supplement to Bent’s News was printed by young Andrew and Robert Bent with the assistance of their two older sisters. Andrew and Mary made strenuous efforts to give their children a good education and to develop ladylike accomplishments in the girls. They had a piano, although it eventually had to be sold, and Catherine doubtless learned to play it. She probably assisted in the grocery shop her father opened in 1834, and helped look after her younger siblings. When the family left for Sydney Gilbert Robertson opined that ‘there is not in either colony more respectable or more praiseworthy young women than Mr. Bent’s daughters.’
The Bents arrived in Sydney on 2 March 1839. Bent set up his printing office in rented premises in Pitt Street and relaunched Bent’s News. In June some advertisements began appearing from a Sydney dentist, Mr. Thomas Hall, of Cecil House, King Street. Perhaps he met Catherine when he called at the printing office. After what must have been a whirlwind courtship, they were married on 18 July at St. James’ Church.
Catherine, not quite 19, needed her father’s permission. This was doubtless readily forthcoming given the match was a good one for Catherine, and the bride’s mother Mary was pregnant yet again. Catherine’s sister Elizabeth was a witness and the ceremony was performed by the Rev. George Napoleon Wood, a family connection of the bridegroom. It was proudly announced in no less than three Sydney newspapers.
On Thursday, July 18, by special License, at St James’ church, by the Rev. Mr. Wood, Mr. T. S. Hall, surgeon-dentist of King Street Sydney, to Catherine, second daughter of Mr. Andrew Bent, printer, of Pitt street. (Sydney Herald 19 July 1839)
The Bents, long since free, and making a fresh start in Sydney, were probably not in a rush to enlighten Thomas about their convict past. The bridegroom, who was eleven years older than Catherine, declared himself a bachelor. Did his new young bride know that Thomas already had two daughters and had been accompanied to Australia by a ‘Mrs. Hall’?
Thomas Sydney Hall
Thomas, who seems to have only adopted his middle name a few years after arriving in Australia, was born in London on 7 June 1809. His parents were Thomas Hall (1773-1822) and Louisa Choppin (1783-1862). Thomas was their first son and the fourth of seven children. He was no mere brutish puller of teeth, but a professional gentleman following a ‘genteel and lucrative’ calling. He trained as apprentice to a Mr. Coleman, surgeon in Wolverhampton, and received additional surgical training (walking the wards and probably attending lectures) at Guy’s Hospital in London from 1826 to 1828. He had also been, he said later, a pupil of the celebrated Dr. Thomas Bell, of Broad Street. Bell lectured at Guy’s and in 1829 published a textbook on the anatomy, physiology, and diseases of the teeth. By 1833 Hall was in practice as surgeon dentist at 8 Store Street, Bedford Square, in Bloomsbury, and was recorded at that address in Robson’s London directory and in its court guide to the nobility and gentry. He appears to have had a sideline as a chemist. For a while he shared these premises with dentist James Robinson, later notable as a pioneer of surgery under anaesthesia.
On his mother’s side Thomas was the great grandson of Sir Cecil Bishopp, the seventh of the Bishopp baronets, whose father regarded him as a bit of a scapegrace. Sir Cecil’s daughter had married Frederick Choppin, a well-to-do Mayfair horse dealer. The Halls, who originated in Yorkshire, were upwardly mobile middle class. They ran businesses, mostly to do with horses, in the fashionable West End, and had acquired serious wealth largely through the astute business sense and wise property investments of Thomas’s grandfather John Hall, and his uncle of the same name, both livery stable keepers. Hall’s father Thomas was a carpenter and builder and had, shortly before the birth of his first son, moved into premises in Chapel Street on the new Grosvenor Estate, now part of Belgravia. He was probably involved in the early development of that street and of Halkin Street just around the corner where his brother John erected four adjoining houses (still standing today as numbers 1-4) and extensive stables. By 1820, after the deaths of John Hall and his younger brother Christopher, the Hall money (Christopher’s estate being worth something over £80,000) had come under the administration of the Court of Chancery.
Thomas Hall senior died suddenly in 1822, at the Chateau d’Eterville near Caen in France. It is not clear why the family was living there but it seems his widow Louisa and the children remained for a few years afterwards.
Several of Hall’s siblings also left England – for Jamaica, Ceylon, South Africa and Australia – but Thomas was the first to go. It is not clear what motivated him to emigrate or whether he may have left under some sort of a cloud. Nor is it clear why in 1847 his wealthy bachelor uncle Robert Hall included Thomas and his siblings Harriet and Frederick among a handful of nieces and nephews who were specifically NOT to benefit from his will.
The mysterious Mrs. Hall
Hall arrived in Sydney on the Margaret early in 1835. The passenger list also records a ‘Mrs. Hall’ and two children as cabin passengers although Hall’s death certificate (1885) lists only one marriage (to Catherine) and the children they had together. So who were these people, what happened to them and did Catherine know about them? Mrs. Hall could have been Hall’s mother Louisa (if so she went back to England) or a sister in law, but the the most likely explanation is that she was the wife or partner of Thomas and that the children were his. I have found no prior marriage in England, but baptisms for a Louisa Coombs Hall (St. Giles in the Fields, 1832) and Maria Sydey [sic] Hall (St. Anne Soho, 1834) look fairly convincing. Thomas Hall, the father, was recorded in one register as a surgeon and in the other as a chemist. The mother’s name was Sarah. I have so far been unable to trace ‘Mrs. Hall’ after her arrival in Sydney, nor do I know where the girls were until the early 1850s when they turn up in Melbourne and marry – Louisa to David Bertram in 1852 and Maria to John Campbell in 1853. Thomas Hall himself was a witness at Maria’s marriage and recorded her mother’s name as Catherine. The death certificates for both women name the father as either Thomas Hall, or unknown Hall, dentist, and their birthplace as London, but provide no information about their mother. Descendants of both these women share DNA with me and with other descendants of T. S. Hall and his sisters.
Soon after arrival in Sydney, Hall advertised his services as ‘dentist and cupper’. He later described himself as ‘surgeon dentist’ and ‘surgical and mechanical dentist’. In January 1839 he took on an assistant and later that year advertised for an apprentice. There is no indication that he was not prospering, despite confining his activities to the gentlemanly hours of eleven til four, but he moved premises several times and may have been accumulating debts, especially for copious newspaper advertising. These advertisements give some interesting insights into the practice of dentistry in the early nineteenth century. While not the first professionally trained dentist in Sydney (being preceded by Ambrose Foss in 1827 and Henry Jeanneret in 1829) he is listed in a History of Dentistry in New South Wales 1788 to 1945 among the founders of dentistry in that state and one of the ‘outstanding men’ who commenced practice before 1900.
Hall obviously lived in considerable comfort with Catherine in their rented but ‘spacious and desirable’ and ‘genteely furnished’ apartment in Cecil House, King Street, over the Union Bank. This advertisement for the sale of their furniture appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald 30 June 1840
… Drawing and dining-room furniture Rosewood loo tables Secretaire Sofas Chairs Dining tables Cheffoniers Bookcases, &c., &c. The above articles are of the best workmanship. ALSO, A grand square pianoforte, by Collard and Co., London; a very powerful tone and in excellent order.
In November 1839 the apartment was advertised to let, perhaps indicating Hall already had plans to leave Sydney. Another advertisement in February 1840 said possession could be had on 1 April. By this stage Andrew Bent was out of a job, having had an acrimonious parting of the ways with the shareholders of the Australasian Chronicle newspaper which he had been printing. It is not clear which one of them came up with the idea, but Bent and Hall embarked together in a business speculation, shipping a cargo of mixed merchandise to Port Macquarie for sale. Bent invested his little all in this venture and was later inclined to blame Hall’s lack of business experience for the fact that it failed and that he lost about £500. Hall stopped advertising his dental practice in late April, and by August it been taken over by Hall’s assistant Francis Fuller in partnership with George Burton Phillipson. The latter was Hall’s brother in law and had recently arrived in Sydney with his wife Harriet, probably fleeing creditors.
Thomas and Catherine spent the next five years in the very new settlement of Kempsey. The Bent family moved up there too in December 1840. Hall threw himself into frontier life, running a general store, post office and blacksmith’s shop and commencing construction of a punt. He speculated in maize and cedar although both were to prove losing concerns. In December 1840 he purchased a block of land from Enoch Rudder, selling it a few months later to another well-known pioneer of Kempsey and Port Macquarie, Dr. Charles Fattorini. Hall was also a publican. In November 1840 while running the Bush Inn (probably without a licence) he was fined for allowing tippling during the hours of divine service and supplying alcohol to a crown prisoner. The cedar cutters were a pretty rough lot, and the Australian, reporting on a police crackdown in the district, alluded to ‘disgraceful scenes of drunkenness’ and disorder. In the latter part of 1840 Hall acquired a licence for the ‘commodious’ Victoria Inn, transferred from Benjamin Sullivan, and in 1841 transferred again to Andrew Bent. In March 1841, when the census was taken, Hall was obviously living at the Victoria Inn, which like nearly every building in the little township, was made from local timber. There was no sign of his two daughters in the census or in the shipping news when Thomas and Catherine later returned to Sydney.
The cedar began to give out and Kempsey entered a decline. By mid-1841 Hall was exploring the Bellingen River thirty miles to the north in search of new stands of timber. In October 1842 (by which stage the Victoria Inn and his furniture inside it had gone up in flames) and with a general depression affecting the whole colony, he filed a petition for insolvency. His debts, some of which dated from his Sydney days, were £1,548.15.10. Assets were only £18, which with money owing to him of some £476 left a deficiency of over £1,000. He owed Dr. Fattorini about £1,000. The insolvency file gives his address in 1842 as Klybucca, McLeay River, not Kempsey.
In September 1845 Thomas and Catherine returned to Sydney with two little boys born at Kempsey – Frederick Bishoppe (1841) and Thomas Sydney (1844). Hall resumed his dental practice, once more in a succession of rented premises. Phillipson, also a victim of the times, had, like his brother in law, become insolvent in 1842, and shortly afterwards decamped to Hobart. His insolvency file lists tools of trade which were probably acquired from Hall – a mahogany operating chair, a spitoon (mahogany and marble) and basin, four cases of dental instruments, a mahogany glazed show case and nine specimen sets of false teeth. In May 1846 the newspapers announced that Hall had been granted a certificate of discharge, but there is no record of it in his insolvency file.
Four more children were born in Sydney: Alfred Joseph (1846) Catherine Alice (1848) George Robert (1850) and Louisa Mary (1854).
Hall appears to have learned little from his time as a publican at Kempsey. In October 1848 he obtained a license for the South Head Hotel, on the South Head Road near the lighthouse. He promoted it as a resort for invalids and hosted pigeon shooting parties for day trippers from Sydney, but once again ended up in financial trouble and was forced to sequester for a second time. Some of his furniture was sold by the sheriff.
Salvation seemingly came with the discovery of gold. By 10 July 1851 Hall was at Summer Hill Creek. He signed a miners’ petition on that date. In October ‘Hall the dentist’ was sighted at the Turon diggings. Catherine and the children most probably stayed in Sydney and Catherine was probably without her husband’s support when her father died in August.
It is not clear where Hall was for the next couple of years, or whether he had much success as a digger. He was obviously back in Sydney by 1853, given Louisa’s birth date of 21 January 1854. During 1853 a number of meetings of creditors were held and he was discharged with a settlement of sixpence in the pound. In 1854 he became a partner in a firm of wholesale grocers and wine and spirit merchants styled Hall, Austin and Langridge. His usual bad luck in business continued and by the end of the year the firm was in receivership.
Tasmania and Victoria 1855-1902
Continuing the pattern of frequent moves, but wisely resolving to return to his profession, in June 1855 Hall relocated to Hobart, perhaps sensing an opening because Phillipson was by that stage pretty obviously on his last legs. Hall now had two sisters in Hobart, Harriet Phillipson having been joined by their widowed sister Louisa in 1847. In 1849 she married Samuel Prout Hill. Catherine appears to have been liked and respected by her sisters in law. Louisa Hill, who died in 1871, left her £100.
While in Hobart Catherine bore four more children: Grace Eva (1856) Alexander (1858) Henry Horatio (1860) and Charles Meredith (1862). Among the seven Hall sons the name Andrew remained conspicuous by its absence.
The Halls then moved to Launceston (1862-1866) Ballarat (1866-1869) and finally to Melbourne. Fred stayed in Tasmania working as a shepherd and later acquired a farm of his own. Thomas Sydney junior became a draftsman. He was a talented amateur artist and spent some years in New Zealand where his aunt Elizabeth Warner lived. The other four sons all became dentists, Alfred Joseph practicing in Launceston, Henry in Bendigo, George with his father in Melbourne and Charles Meredith eventually in Seymour. The business, now the longest established dental firm in the Australian colonies, became known as Hall and Sons, and the family entered a period of relative prosperity.
Catherine obviously remained in touch with her sister Elizabeth in Auckland. It is not clear how much contact she had with her sister Mary Steele (who died in Melbourne in 1879) or her brothers in Geelong. Did she know that her sister Hannah was in the Newcastle Asylum for the Insane? Or experience a pang of guilt at not having taken her to Tasmania with them in 1855? And was there any contact with her husband’s OTHER family? Both Louisa Bertram and Maria Campbell lived in Melbourne with their large families – they had 22 children between them. Both predeceased their father.
Catherine, recorded on her tombstone as a perfect wife and loving mother, is, like so many colonial women, virtually invisible apart from the births of her children. One exception occurred in 1874. Having become aware that the Cornwall Chronicle had referred to Henry Melville as ‘Father of the Tasmanian press’, Kate Hall of Melbourne wrote in high dudgeon to the Launceston newspapers pointing out that the honour rightfully belonged to her father, Andrew Bent. Read letter
On 8 March 1885 T. S. Hall died at his residence, 149 Collins Street from ‘senile degeneration’. He had been in good health until a few months beforehand. Obituaries (partially correct) appeared in a number of newspapers. I have found no will.
Catherine lived until the ripe old age of 82, living in quiet gentility with her three spinster daughters and her sons Thomas and George. Thomas died in 1891, and George, by his own hand, in 1901. In her will Catherine bequeathed everything to her oldest daughter Catherine Alice. There was no real estate but personal estate of £624.
HALL. -At her residence, Collins Place, Melbourne, on September 1, Catherine, wife of the late Dr. Thos. Sidney Hall, of Collins street, Sydney, and Hobart, last surviving daughter of the late Andrew Bent, Esq., father of the Tasmanian press, and mother of Alfred J. Hall, Launceston, and Fred. B. Hall, Oatlands aged 82 years. — The Mercury 15 Sept 1902
Although, interestingly, six of Catherine’s children did not marry there are numerous descendants in Tasmania through Frederick Bishoppe Hall and his wife Elizabeth Quick and others through Charles Meredith Hall in Victoria. Alfred Joseph had three daughters but two died unmarried and the third I have been unable to trace.
As a small girl growing up in Hobart Town in the 1820s, Catherine could hardly have imagined her long and winding journey to the Melbourne General Cemetery – in a colony not yet founded – in 1902.