Basil Hall

1788 - 1844

Traveller and author. Born in Edinburgh, son of Sir James Hall of Dunglass, Hall was educated at the High School in the city. He joined the Royal Navy in 1802 and rose to the rank of Captain, commanding a series of vessels involved in exploration, scientific and diplomatic missions. In Spain, on the frigate Endymion, Hall saw General Sir John Moore (1761 - 1809 ) being carried dying from the Battle of Corunna. The following year, still serving as a Lieutenant on the same ship, he was a member of the first party to land on the remote Scottish islet of Rockall. He explored Java in 1813 and interviewed Napoleon, who had been an acquaintance of his father, on St. Helena (1817).

Encouraged by his father to keep a journal, this provided the source for a series of publications describing his travels. These include: Account of a Voyage of Discovery to the West Coast of Corea and the Great Loo-Choo Island in the Japan Sea (1818), 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).

He spent Christmas 1824 with Sir Walter Scott at his new home, Abbotsford, penning an illuminating account of the author's domestic life. In 1826, when Scott was deep in depression after his wife's death and financial ruin, it was Hall who organised a recuperative trip to Naples, persuading the government to place a ship at his disposal.

Following his retirement from the navy in 1823, Hall married. He continued his travels with his wife, publishing Travels in North America (1829) which caused some offence due to his criticisms of American society; a Winter in Lower Styria (1836), partly a fictional romance, and Spain and the Seat of War in Spain (1837). His best known work was The Fragments of Voyages and Travels (in nine volumes, 1831-40). He also contributed to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and wrote scientific papers on subjects as diverse 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 at Portsmouth (England), where he died.

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