Frederick George Hall-Jones was born on 4 July 1891 at Scarborough, near Timaru, one of six children of William Hall-Jones and his second wife, Rosalind Lucy Purss. His father, a former builder who had been elected to Parliament the previous year, was to serve briefly as prime minister of New Zealand in 1906 and then as high commissioner for New Zealand in the United Kingdom; he was knighted in 1910.
Fred was educated at Timaru South School and Timaru Boys’ High School (1904–8), where he was dux, captain of the cricket First XI and placed first in New Zealand in the junior civil service examination. He completed a BA at Victoria College, Wellington, in 1912. He then worked for an Auckland solicitor, but on the outbreak of war in 1914 he enlisted in the Auckland Battalion and left with the main body for Egypt, and then Gallipoli. He was with the first New Zealand troops to land at Anzac Cove and later fought at Cape Helles, attaining the rank of sergeant major. He was severely wounded at Quinn’s Post and invalided home in 1916. The following year he graduated LLB and acquired a legal practice in Invercargill. There, on 11 April 1919, he married Marjorie Carno Thomson Bush; they were to have four sons. In 1925 he purchased, as their family residence, the historic house Lennel, former home of his wife’s grandfather, the surveyor John Turnbull Thomson.
For many years Hall-Jones was engaged in general law work in Invercargill, but he later confined himself to commercial law and conveyancing, in partnership with two of his sons. Much of his private time was spent collecting historical records of Southland and he is best known for his eight books, which he largely published himself. His first book, King of the Bluff (1943), was followed by Kelly of Inverkelly (1944), Historical Southland (1945), Invercargill pioneers (1946) and Early Timaru (1956). A meticulous, if somewhat conservative historian, he wrote two histories of Rotary in New Zealand (1955 and 1971), and a major biography of his father (1969). He also published a number of pamphlets, including short biographies of J. T. Thomson (1963) and Paul Harris, the American founder of Rotary (1964).
Hall-Jones promoted the idea that a separate centenary should be held in 1956 for Southland (as distinct from Otago’s celebrations in 1948) and established a centennial committee. He was also chairman of the Southland Historical Committee, and was responsible for erecting a number of historical plaques in Invercargill and Southland, mostly at his own expense.
A leading member of the Rotary Club of Invercargill, he was district governor for New Zealand in 1937–38, and was later asked to serve a second term (1942–43). During the Second World War, despite the difficulties of travel, Hall-Jones covered most of the country in his gas-powered car, promoting the movement and forming new clubs. He became known affectionately as the grand old man of Rotary in New Zealand, and in 1972 was awarded the first Paul Harris fellowship in the South Island. He is commemorated by the annual presentation of the Fred Hall-Jones Cup at Rotary district conferences.
Hall-Jones was also an early president of the Invercargill RSA and was deeply involved in local affairs, serving on the Invercargill Borough (later City) Council from 1929 to 1931. He was governor of Southland Technical College, Southland commissioner for the Boy Scouts’ Association and chairman of the Southland branch of the cancer campaign society.
Growing daffodils for show competition and tree-planting were other interests. He helped form Invercargill’s Beautifying Society and spent many weekends planting trees along the roadsides of Southland; in 1966 he published a pamphlet on the region’s roadside flora. He also developed an interest in painting and raised funds to add an art gallery to the Southland Museum in 1961. With the assistance of relatives and friends he acquired a number of valuable paintings for the gallery. In 1999 the Southland Museum and Art Gallery Trust Board formally dedicated the gallery to the memory of Hall-Jones.
In 1958 Fred Hall-Jones was made an OBE for his services to the history of Southland and his other community activities. He died in Invercargill on 28 January 1982, aged 90. His ashes were interred at St John’s cemetery, beside those of his wife, who had died in 1967. He was survived by three sons: his eldest, a flying officer in the Royal New Zealand Air Force, had been killed in England in 1941.