Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hall, Basil

HALL, BASIL (1788–1844), captain in the navy and author, second son of Sir James Hall, bart. (1761–1832) [q. v.], of Dunglass, Haddingtonshire, was born on 31 Dec. 1788. He was educated at the high school of Edinburgh, and entered the navy in May 1802, on board the Leander of 50 guns, then fitting for the flag of Sir Andrew Mitchell as commander!n-chief on the North American station. In the Leander he continued till the admiral's death in the spring of 1806, and in her was present at the capture of the Ville de Milan on 23 Feb. 1805 [see Talbot, Sir John]. Sir George Berkeley, who succeeded to the command, shortly afterwards transferred his flag to the Leopard, taking Hall and other officers with him. In March 1808 the Leopard returned to England, and Hall, after passing his examination, was promoted on 10 June to be lieutenant of the Invincible, from which he was very shortly moved at his own request into the Endymion, 'one of the finest, if not the very finest frigates then in his majesty's service,' under the command of the Hon. Thomas Bladen Capel, which in October was sent to Corunna, convoying reinforcements for Sir John Moore. She was afterwards ordered back to assist in re-embarking the troops, and Hall being on shore saw the battle on 16 Jan. 1809. The Endymion was afterwards employed in co-operating with the Spaniards of Galicia, and in independent cruising on the coast of Ireland, and as far south as Madeira, the incidents of which Hall has graphically described in his 'Fragments of Voyages and Travels' (1st ser. vol. iii., and 2nd ser. vol. i.)

In March 1812 he was appointed to the Volage frigate, and in her went out to the East Indies, where he was moved into the Illustrious, flagship of Sir Samuel Hood (1762–1814) [q. v.], to whom he had been recommended. On 22 Feb. 1814 he was promoted to the command of the Victor sloop, then building at Bombay, which he took to England in the following year. He was then appointed to the 10-gun brig Lyra, ordered to China in company with the Alceste frigate and Lord Amherst's embassy [see Maxwell, Sir Murray]. Of the incidents of the commission, including his explorations in the then little known Eastern seas, his visit to Canton, and his interview with Napoleon, who had known his father, Sir James Hall, when a boy at school at Brienne, Hall has himself given a very detailed description in his 'Account of a Voyage of Discovery to the West Coast of Corea and the Great Loo-Choo Islands' (4to, 1818), which afterwards passed through several editions, to the later of which many of the more interesting and personal parts of the narrative were added. The Lyra reached England in October 1817, and on 5 Nov. Hall was posted to the rank of captain. He seems to have employed the next two years in travelling on the continent, and in May 1820 was appointed to the Conway, a 26-gun frigate, for service on the South American station. He sailed from England in August, and on joining the Commodore, Sir Thomas Hardy, 'in the Plate, was at once sent round to Valparaiso. For the next two years he continued on the west coast of America, his voyage ranging as far north as San Blas, where, as previously at Rio and at the Galapagos, he carried out a series of pendulum observations, the account of which was published in the 'Philosophical Transactions' (1823, pp. 211-88). He had already, while in China, been elected a fellow of the Royal Society (28 March 1816). He sailed from San Blas in June 1822, and after touching at Rio de Janeiro returned to England, and paid off in the spring of 1823. His 'Extracts from a Journal written on the Coasts of Chili, Peru, and Mexico in the years 18201821-2,' published in 2 vols. 8vo shortly after his return, had a remarkable success, and ran rapidly through several editions.

Hall had no further service in the navy, but having married in 1825 Margaret, daughter of Sir John Hunter, consul-general in Spain, spent his time in private travel or in literary and scientific pursuits at home. Of his travels in North America in 1827-8, he published an account in 1829 in 3 vols. 12mo, which was translated into French. His frank criticism of American customs excited the utmost indignation in the United States, of which an interesting account appears in Mrs. Frances Trollope's 'Domestic Manners of the Americans,' 1831. In September 1831, while living in London, he was able to lay before Sir James Graham, then first lord of the admiralty, the medical recommendation for Sir Walter Scott [q. v.] to winter abroad, and to obtain for him a passage to Malta in the Barham frigate. His own account of the circumstances of Scott's embarkation is fully given in his 'Fragments of Voyages and Travels' (3rd ser. iii. 282). In 1842 Hall's mind gave way; he was placed in Haslar Hospital, and died there on 11 Sept. 1844, leaving a widow (d. 1876), by whom he had two daughters and a son, Basil Sidmouth De Ros Hall, who died, a captain in the navy, in 1871. Perhaps the best known of Hall's works is the 'Fragments of Voyages and Travels' (three series, each in 3 vols. 12mo, 1831-3, and frequently reprinted), which, in addition to the subject-matter of the title, contains many interesting accounts of the internal state of the navy in the early part of the century. He also wrote 'Schloss Hainfeld, or a Winter in Lower Styria' (8vo, 1836), and 'Patchwork' (3 vols. 12mo, 1841), and numerous papers in the 'United Service Magazine,' as well as in the leading scientific periodicals (see Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers). In addition to the Royal, he was a fellow of the Royal Astronomical, Royal Geographical, and Geological Societies.

[The principal authority for Hall's Life is his own works, which are to a large extent autobiographical; Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biog. viii. (Supplement, pt. iv.) 142; Proceedings of the Royal Society, v. 526; Journal of the Royal Geog. Soc. vol. xv. p. xlii; Foster's Baronetage.]

J. K. L.