Walter Russell Hall: From Rebellion to Bullion

William Knox D’Arcy wasn’t the only investor in the Mt Morgan gold mine. Another investor was Walter Russell Hall.

You could call Hall a ‘journeyman’. Like D’Arcy, he didn’t like to stay still. He was born in England, in Herefordshire. He grew up in Somerset, and then moved to Sydney when he was 21. From there he travelled to the Victorian goldfields…was in Ballarat at the time of the Eureka rebellion…explored for gold in Bendigo…and worked for retailer David Jones and as an agent for Cobb & Co. coaches.

But as I say, he was a journeyman. He had itchy feet. He left Victoria and travelled to New South Wales and Queensland. It was in Queensland where he took his wealth to another level.

As the Australian Dictionary of Biography explains:

‘Hall was already wealthy when his brother Thomas, who was manager of the Rockhampton branch of the Queensland National Bank, invited him to join the syndicate formed to develop the Mount Morgan mine. The Halls and their associates resisted attempts to jump their claim, two of which reached the Privy Council. On 1 October 1886 the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Co. Ltd, with capital of £1 million, was registered in Queensland. The mine yielded gold and copper worth over £19 million and paid £8,079,166 in dividends by 1913. Hall was a major shareholder, a director of the company and chairman of the Sydney board.’

One of the comments I’ve received from people about William Knox D’Arcy is that D’Arcy didn’t do anything for Queensland or Rockhampton (aside from providing funds for a mine that created thousands of jobs over the life of the mine). They say he took his money and skipped town as soon as he could.

I guess it was his right to do that.

But according to D’Arcy’s biographer, Margaret Carnegie, Walter Russell Hall wasn’t too impressed with D’Arcy’s behaviour either:

‘Walter Russell Hall began to take a more active role at Mount Morgan after his brother Tom died, and although he disapproved of Knox’s extravagance, especially with the gold running down at the mine…he used his own money to help the mine keep going…’

William Knox D’Arcy and Walter Russell Hall were business partners. It seems clear that their relationship was purely business. That’s not how Hall felt about others. An investor who borrowed money from Hall to buy Mount Morgan shares wrote:

‘W. R. Hall agreed yesterday that my debt to Mrs T. S. Hall and the T. S. Hall estate (£13,000) is to be written off and cancelled on account of my past services to T. S. Hall.’

That brings me back to Walter Russell Hall, his wife Eliza Hall, and their good will.

The Non-Financial Benefits of Wealth

On 13 October 1911 Walter Russell Hall died. Of his nearly £3 million estate, his wife set aside one-third of it to commemorate his life and fund good causes. Mrs Hall established a trust that according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography:

‘…was to be used for the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion in accordance with the tenets of the Church of England, and for the general benefit of the community not falling under the preceding heads. As far as was practicable, one third of the income in each State
[Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland] was to be used for the benefit of women and children.’

Eliza Hall was a diabetic and died of cancer on 14 February 1916.

So it’s perhaps appropriate that the medical institute founded with money from Walter and Eliza Hall has, according to the AFR: ‘triumphed by figuring out how insulin – a hormone which has to be given to diabetics because they lack it – interacts with cells.’

The report goes on, ‘The research could help with the development of new varieties of insulin, with the possibility of an end to injections.’

So yes, William Knox D’Arcy may have been extravagant with his money. And he may not have left a lasting philanthropic legacy, but that’s not something you can say for Mount Morgan’s other major investor, Walter Russell Hall.

This shows that capitalism and entrepreneurialism can provide broader benefits to society. Not just through creating jobs and making investors wealthy, but private wealth can also be used to provide non-financial benefits…such as funding medical research institutes that go on to developing medical breakthroughs.


Kris Sayce, dubbed the ‘Jeremy Clarkson of Australian finance’, began as a London finance broker specialising in small-cap stock analysis on London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM). Kris then spent several years at one of Australia's leading wealth management firms. A fully accredited advisor in shares, options, warrants and foreign-exchange investments, Kris was instrumental in helping to establish the Australian version of the Markets and Money e-newsletter in 2005. He is the Publisher, Investment Director and Editor in Chief of Australia's most outspoken financial news service, Markets & Money.

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