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Sir James Hall


1761 - 1832

Geologist and politician. Born at Dunglass (East Lothian), Hall inherited the Baronetcy of Dunglass from his father when aged only fifteen. He was educated at the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, and the military college at Brienne (France), where a fellow student was Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1786, he married Lady Helen Hamilton Douglas, the daughter of Dunbar Douglas, the 4th Earl of Selkirk (1722-99).

Noted for his practical research in the field of geology, Hall was friendly with other noted geologists in Edinburgh at the time of the Scottish Enlightenment, namely James Hutton (1726-97) and John Playfair (1748 - 1819). A Plutonist, convinced of the involvement of heat and pressure in the formation of igneous rocks, Hall undertook various experiments involving the melting and cooling of rocks and thereby established the composition of whinstone and basalt lava. He invented a machine for regulating high temperatures, which was described posthumously to the Geological Society in London by his son, Basil Hall (1788 - 1844), the noted naval officer and noted travel-writer. Hall also determined that limestone could form marble without decomposition, if subjected to considerable pressure while being heated. His work vindicated the theories of Hutton, which suggested most rocks were formed deep within the earth, over Werner and the Neptunists, who believed all rocks had been deposited from a primaeval ocean. Hall also travelled extensively in Europe, conducting field-work in the Alps and in Italy, where he noted the similarity of recent lava flows to the ancient rocks at certain locations in Scotland. He published many scientific papers on geology, but also an Essay on the Origin, Principles and History of Gothic Architecture (1818).

Hall served Member of Parliament for St. Michael's (Cornwall, England; 1807-12) and also as President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He died in Edinburgh and is remembered by a memorial in Dunglass Collegiate Church.


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