Basil Hall

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Basil Hall
Basil Hall.jpg
Born 31 December 1788
Edinburgh, Scotland
Died 11 September 1844(1844-09-11) (aged 55)
Royal Hospital Haslar, Portsmouth
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Naval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
Years of service 1802 to 1823
Rank Royal Navy Captain

Basil Hall, FRS (31 December 1788 – 11 September 1844) was a British naval officer from Scotland, a traveller, and an author. He was the second son of Sir James Hall, 4th Baronet, an eminent man of science.


Although his family home was at Dunglass, Haddingtonshire (now East Lothian), Basil Hall was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. He was educated at the Royal High School and joined the Royal Navy in 1802, being commissioned a Lieutenant in 1808, and later rising to the rank of Captain.

Hall commanded many vessels involved in exploration and scientific and diplomatic missions. While serving aboard HMS Endymion, Hall witnessed Sir John Moore being carried dying from the Battle of Corunna. It was also aboard the Endymion that Hall met William Howe De Lancey, who later married Hall's sister Magdalene. De Lancey was struck by a cannonball at the Battle of Waterloo, and it was for her brother that Magdalene wrote A Week at Waterloo in 1815, a poignant narrative describing how she nursed him in his final days.[1]

Basil Hall landing on Rockall in 1811

In 1810 he voyaged to Rockall aboard the Endymion and in 1811 was part of the first landing party there. His hazardous exploits in returning with this party were described in Fragments of Voyages and Travels.[2]

Hall explored Java in 1813 and as a part of a diplomatic mission to China under Lord Amherst in 1816 undertook surveys of the west coast of Korea and the outlying Ryukyu Islands of Japan. In 1817 he also took the opportunity to interview Napoleon (who had been an acquaintance of his father) on St. Helena.

From the beginning of his naval career he had been encouraged by his father to keep a journal, which later became the source for a series of books and publications describing his travels. These included Account of a Voyage of Discovery to the West Coast of Corea and the Great Loo-Choo Island in the Japan Sea (1818), which was one of the first descriptions of Korea by a European, and Extracts from a Journal Written on the Coasts of Chile, Peru and Mexico (1823).

Hall's journals also provide one of the few accounts of the wreck of the Arniston in 1815, which gave its name to the seaside town of Arniston, South Africa. As a captain, he was very critical of the fact that this ship did not have a marine chronometer with which to calculate longitude, and attributed the great loss of life directly to this false economy.[3]

Following his retirement from the navy in 1823, Hall was married on 1 March 1825 to Margaret Congalton (d. 1876), the youngest daughter of Sir John Hunter, Consul-General in Spain by his spouse Elizabeth Barbara, sister to Sir William Arbuthnot, 1st Baronet.

In 1826, when Sir Walter Scott was sunk in depression following his wife's death and financial ruin, it was Hall who organised a trip to Naples for Scott, managing to persuade the government to place a ship at his disposal. In 1828 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Honorary Academician.

In 1829 Hall published Travels in North America, which caused some offence due to his criticisms of American society. His best-known work was The Fragments of Voyages and Travels (9 volumes, 1831–1840),[4] originally released as three yearly series of eight volumes each.[5] He also contributed to the Encyclopædia Britannica and wrote scientific papers on subjects as varied as trade winds, the geology of Table Mountain and a comet he observed in Chile.

Suffering from mental illness, Hall was detained in the Royal Hospital Haslar at Portsmouth (England), where he died.

In addition to a son, their daughter Eliza married Admiral William Charles Chamberlain.



  1. ^ A Week at Waterloo in 1815: Lady De Lancey's Narrative, ed. Major B. R. Ward (1906), available at the Internet Archive
  2. ^ Hall, Basil (1831). Fragments of Voyages and Travels. London. 
  3. ^ Hall, Basil (1862). "Chapter XIV. Doubling the cape.". The Lieutenant and Commander. London: Bell and Daldy (via OCLC 9305276. Retrieved 2007-11-09.  Chapter reprinted from his Fragments of Voyages and Travels. 3rd series. 1833. 
  4. ^ WorldCat (2007 online). "Editions of Fragments of voyages and travels".
  5. ^ ES 2006.
  6. ^ "Review of Fragments of Voyages and Travels, including Anecdotes of a Naval Life by Captan Basil Hall. 3 vols. 1831". The Quarterly Review. 45: 145–167. April 1831. 


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