Lives of the fellows

Marshall Hall

b.18 February 1790 d.11 May 1857
MD Edin FRS Edin FRCP(1841) FRS

Born at Basford near Nottingham, Marshall Hall was the fourth son of Robert Hall, the first cotton manufacturer to use chlorine for bleaching on an extensive scale, and the brother of Samuel Hall, the inventor. His introduction to science took place through his apprenticeship to a Newark chemist at the age of fourteen. At Edinburgh University, which he entered in 1809, he distinguished himself by becoming senior president of the Royal Medical Society; as a student, he showed a penetrating curiosity in matters outside his syllabus — particularly in the laws governing chemical affinities. The Edinburgh Royal Infirmary gave him the coveted post of resident house physician when he qualified in 1812. A year later, he delivered a course of lectures on diagnosis, which formed the framework of his publication on this subject in 1817. On leaving Edinburgh in 1814, he spent a year in visits to Continental medical schools, including Paris, Göttingen and Berlin.

Hall’s first experience of general practice was at Bridgwater. In 1817, however, he returned to his native town, Nottingham. There he built up both a fine reputation and a large practice on the success resulting from his disapproval of general blood-letting. His conclusions, set forth in The Effects of Loss of Blood (1824), were influential in revolutionising the professional attitude to blood-letting. In 1825 Hall was appointed physician to the Nottingham General Hospital. But in the year following his removal to London brought another change of scene. London, too, afforded him an excellent practice. But it was in the field of research that Hall achieved world-wide fame. Further papers on blood-letting and a work on The Diseases of Females appeared before 1830. In 1832, observation of the muscular movements of a dead newt led him to a discovery of the first magnitude — that of reflex action. His expositions on this subject roused much controversy: the Royal Society refused to publish two of his papers and no London hospital would give him a physician’s appointment. Indeed, for some years, he was more highly regarded abroad than in his own country, and his books, which included Principles and Practice of Medicine (1837) and Practical Observations in Medicine (1845-46) were widely translated. After his belated election as F.R.C.P, however, he became Goulstonian Lecturer (1842) and Croonian Lecturer (1850-52) and, from 1842 to 1846, lectured at St. Thomas’s Hospital. Incessantly active and versatile, Hall devised a method of artificial respiration, campaigned against slavery, the flogging of soldiers and open railway carriages, and acquired a knowledge of Hebrew. Though a stout fighter for his views, he was a man of great simplicity of character and genuine humility. He married Charlotte, daughter of Valentine Green of Normanton-le-Heath, Leicestershire, by whom he had one son. He died at Brighton.

G H Brown

[Lancet, 1857; D.N.B., xxiv, 80; Medical Times and Gazette, 1857]

(Volume IV, page 27)

<< Back to List