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History - Real life story T

he prolific writer and art expert Samuel

Carter Hall (1801-1889) was born in Geneva Barracks, Passage East, Co. Waterford. His father was Colonel Hall from Devonshire, who recruited a militia in England with the object of suppressing the 1798 Irish rebellion

and becoming rich on the spoils of war. His ruthless tactics of rape, murder and pillage were too much for his superiors who sent him to command the prison camp known as Geneva Barracks. After the barracks closed, and his investments in copper mining were lost, his wife Ann and their children were left to fend for themselves.

Mrs. Ann Hall was a qualified milliner and she had no option but to return to her trade. Sir Charles Silver Oliver set her up in premises on Patrick, St. Cork and subsequently his mistress; Mary Green, sent her three daughters there as apprentices. Doubtless, she also sent customers Ann’s way and the business prospered.

Young Samuel grew up in Cork with his siblings and the girl trainees, the latter were probably treated as part of the family, and not harshly as many were in those days. Clearly, he formed a close friendship with one of them called Mary Carroll, who later became the mother of Catherine Hayes; the famous opera star. Another apprentice was Eliza Oliver who married Ensign Gilbert and became known as the mother of the infamous courtesan ‘Lola Montez.’ However, Eliza Gilbert was not able to have children and her daughter was really one of twins born to her step-sister Mary Hayes.

Samuel Carter Hall married Anna Maria Fielding in 1824 and between them they wrote over 80 books. He became the editor of the New York Art Journal and advised Queen Victoria on her art collection. They had a child called Fanny whom Catherine Hayes enquires about in a letter to them in 1851. Fanny Hall is listed with the family on the UK census that year, but there are some questions about her birth with no certificate being found amid claims that she was adopted.

In any case, she sadly died young.

Samuel was a witness to the bigamous marriage of Catherine Hayes and William Bushnell in 1857 at St. Georges, Hanover Square, London. He and Anna Maria are credited by a reliable source with being amongst the first to encourage young Catherine to sing. Despite this, he never mentions her in his autobiography ‘Reminiscenses of a Long Life, 1883.’ In fact, it’s all about his business life, which is a disappointment. He perhaps wished to avoid having to explain his origins and his friendships with women who led questionable lives. And there was also his connection to Sir Charles Silver Oliver; a hated character in parts of Cork and Limerick and especially Kilmallock where he hanged a popular local freedom fighter. The latter’s mistress Mary Green, who lived alone on Little Island, Co. Cork, may have been killed as a reprisal for the above incident. Certainly, Sir Charles stated that she was dead when he made his will in 1815 leaving the large sum of £500 each to his four illegitimate children by her.

Despite his prestigious jobs and his books, Samuel Carter Hall found himself in poor circumstances in later life when his friends asked Queen Victoria for help and she granted him a pension of £100 per annum. His old apprentice friends had a lot more money than he did, but unfortunately they all died before him. Samuel had probably wanted to blot out the stigma of Geneva Barracks and his father’s part in the ‘98 rising, but in 1881 he finally wrote Waterford, Ireland as his birthplace on the census return, whereas previously he’d put Devon. His wife had died in 1881 prior to the census date so maybe he felt free at last to tell the truth.

© Terence Hayes 2010 5

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