Sir James Hall, 4th Baronet

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Sir James Hall of Dunglass, 4th Baronet FRS FRSE (17 January 1761 – 23 June 1832) was a Scottish geologist and geophysicist, born at Dunglass, East Lothian, to Sir John Hall, 3rd Baronet (died 1776), by his spouse, Magdalen (died 1763) daughter of Sir Robert Pringle, 3rd Baronet, of Stichill, Roxburghshire. Sir James was also Member of Parliament for St. Michael's borough (Mitchell, Cornwall) 1807–1812.


Hall studied at Christ's College, Cambridge,[1] and the University of Edinburgh. As an Edinburgh student during the early 1780s, Hall studied chemistry under Joseph Black and natural history under John Walker (naturalist). Though mineralogy was frequent taught in medical courses, Walker was one of the first professors to offer systematic lectures on the new field of geology. While attending Walker's popular course, Hall was taught how to use the chemical composition of minerals to determine relative age of strata. Walker also emphasised the geological relevance of chemists like William Cullen, Joseph Black, Johann Pott, Torbern Bergman, Johann Wallerius and Axel Cronstedt. After his studies, Hall travelled to continental Europe where he actively sought out book dealers who could sell him works on chemistry, mineralogy and geology. He eventually made it to France and met Lavoisier. He returned to Scotland to promote the new French chemical nomenclature.

Geological research

Sir James Hall was President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and author of various works on architecture and the sciences.

Hall was particularly fascinated by James Hutton's Theory of the Earth during the late 1780s and 1790s. Hutton's theory suggested that the strata of the earth were continually being worn down or melted, thereby making the earth one giant systems of material circulation. In the Spring of 1788 Hall was with Hutton and John Playfair on the boat trip east from his home at Dunglass along the coast of the Firth of Forth, which found the famous Hutton's Unconformity at Siccar Point.[2] At this point Hall was still sceptical of the chemical viability of Hutton's theory, however, he soon reconciled these doubts and ended up publishing several papers on the chemical composition of strata. He carried out research on granite that showed that it was possible for molten rock to form conformities. His results were published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and were well received by those like John Playfair who wanted to use Hutton's theory to promote a more mathematical approach to geology.

Hall travelled extensively in Europe to examine geological formations of the Alps and Mount Etna, and noted the similarity of lava flows in Italy to locations in Scotland.


He married Helen (d. 1837), daughter of Dunbar Douglas, 4th Earl of Selkirk and sister of the 5th Earl of Selkirk. They had issue: three sons and three daughters.

Sir James Hall died at home at 132 George Street in the centre of the New Town in Edinburgh, Scotland.[3] He was succeeded by his son and heir, Sir John Hall, 5th Baronet, FRS. Another son, Basil Hall, was a noted traveller and writer; his daughter Eliza was mother of Houston Stewart Chamberlain. His daughter Magdalene Hall (1793-1822) married firstly 1815 Colonel Sir William Howe De Lancey and secondly Captain Henry Harvey; she was author of A Week at Waterloo (first privately published) and died in childbirth with her third child. By De Lancey, her first husband, Magdalene had no issue.[4]

See also


  1. "Hall, Sir James, Bart. (HL777J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Hutton’s Journeys to Prove his Theory
  4. Ruth Fuller-Sessions. "Unseen for 100 years, the sad love story of a wife and the final days with her husband who died at Waterloo" Daily Mail 18 June 2008. Fuller-Sessions is descended from one of Magdalene de Lancey's brothers: "Magdalene was my great-great-great-grandfather’s sister."


  • M. D. Eddy, 'Geology, Mineralogy and Time in John Walker's University of Edinburgh Natural History Lectures', History of Science, 39 (2001), 95-119.
  • M. D. Eddy, 'The University of Edinburgh Natural History Class Lists', Archives of Natural History, 30 (2003), 97-117.
  • M. D. Eddy, The Language of Mineralogy: John Walker, Chemistry and the Edinburgh Medical School, Aldershot : Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7546-6332-4 [Hall is discussed throughout the book, especially in the introduction and conclusion].
  • The Royal Families of England, Scotland, and Wales, with their Descendants, etc., by Messrs, John and John Bernard Burke, London, 1848: vol.1, pedigree CXXVI.
  • Ten Parishes of the County of Haddington, by John Martine, edited by E.J.Wilson, Haddington, 1894, p. 214.
  • Leigh Rayment's list of baronets [self-published source][better source needed]

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Galway Mills
Edward Leveson-Gower
Member of Parliament for Mitchell (or St Michael)
With: George Galway Mills 1807-1808
Charles Trelawny-Brereton 1808-1809
John Bruce 1809-1812
Succeeded by
John Bruce
George Hobart
Baronetage of Nova Scotia
Preceded by
John Hall
(of Dunglass)
Succeeded by
John Hall