Sir Henry Halford

Sir Henry Halford


Vol II

Pg 427

b.2 October 1766 d.9 March 1844

AB Oxon(1788) AM(1788) MB(1790) MD(1791) FRCP(1794) FRS

Sir Henry Halford, Bart., M.D., G.C.H.—This distinguished member of the medical profession was the second son (the eldest son having died at an early period) of Dr. James Vaughan, an eminent physician at Leicester, and was born in that town on the 2nd October, 1766. He was educated at Rugby, and whilst there evinced that love of classical literature for which he was afterwards so distinguished. He went from Rugby to Christchurch, Oxford, and, as a member of that house, proceeded A.B. 31st January, 1788; A.M. 17th June, 1788 ; M.B. 14th January, 1790; M.D. 27th October, 1791. Previously to taking his degrees in physic, he had spent some months in Edinburgh, and he practised for a short time in conjunction with his father at Leicester. Dr. Vaughan came to London about 1792; and, consulting Sir George Baker on his future prospects, was told that he stood little chance in the metropolis for five years, during which time he must continue to support himself from other sources at the rate of about 300l. a year. Nothing daunted, and doubtless confident in his own powers, he, with this intention (and the alternative, in case of failure, of returning to Leicester, to take his father’s position), borrowed 1,000l., and on that capital commenced his career in London. He was elected physician to the Middlesex hospital on the 20th of February, 1793; was admitted a Candidate of the Royal College of Physicians on the 25th of March, 1793; and a Fellow on the 14th of April, 1794.

His Oxford connexions, elegant attainments, and pleasing manners at once introduced him into good society, and he secured a position among the aristocracy by his marriage, on the 31st of March, 1795, to the Hon. Elizabeth Barbara St. John, the third daughter of John eleventh Lord St. John of Bletsoe. Dr. Vaughan’s success from the very first would seem to have been certain; and Dr. Richard Warren, then one of the leading physicians in London, and a man of shrewd observation and sound judgment, predicted, on his settling in town, that he would rise to the head of his profession. His progress towards that position was rapid. In 1793, within a year of his settlement in London, he was appointed physician extraordinary to the king; and by the year 1800, his private engagements had become so numerous, that he was compelled to relinquish his hospital appointment. Other circumstances conspired to advance his interests. After the death of lady Denbigh, widow of his mother’s cousin, Sir Charles Halford, he became possessed of an ample fortune, and changed his name in 1809, by act of Parliament, from Vaughan to Halford, and, as a mark of royal favour, was created a baronet on the 27th September, 1809.

About this time, when in attendance on the Princess Amelia, George III desired him, in case of his Majesty’s experiencing a relapse of his mental derangement, to take the care of him, adding that Sir Henry must promise not to leave him; and, if he wanted further help, he should call Dr. Heberden; and in case of further need, which would necessarily occur if Parliament took up the matter, Dr. Baillie.

On the illness of the king, which occurred soon afterwards, Sir Henry Halford, though physician extraordinary only, was summoned to attend; and his prompt introduction of Dr. Heberden and Dr. Baillie, at once insured the confidence of the queen and of the prince of Wales, the latter of whom appointed Sir Henry one of his physicians in ordinary, and secured for him in 1812 the appointment of physician in ordinary to the king. The confidence then reposed in Sir Henry by the prince was continued when the latter came to the throne,— he was appointed physician in ordinary to George IV, and he held the same position in the medical establishments of William IV and of her present Majesty Queen Victoria. Sir Henry Halford was thus physician in ordinary to four successive sovereigns. At the deathbed of three of these it was his melancholy privilege to minister. Almost every member of the royal family from the time of George III had been under Sir Henry’s professional care. His attentions to the duke of York during his last illness were so unremitting, that, to manifest the sense entertained of them, he received, by royal warrant, a grant of armorial augmentations and supporters. His arms were previously: Argent, a greyhound passant sable, on a chief azure three fleurs-delis or. For the centre fleur-de-lis was substituted a rose argent; and, in further augmentation, was added, on a canton ermine a staff entwined with a serpent proper, and ensigned with a coronet composed of crosses patèe and fleurs-de-lis (being that of a prince of the blood-royal). As a crest of augmentation, a staff entwined with a serpent or, as on the canton. As supporters, two emews proper, each gorged with a coronet, composed of crosses patée and fleurs-de-lis.

Upon the decease of George IV. Sir Henry received another flattering proof of royal esteem and appreciation—a very splendid clock, surmounted by a bust of his Majesty, was presented to him by the royal family, in evidence, as the inscription states, "of their esteem and regard, and in testimony of the high sense they entertain of his professional abilities and unwearied attention to their late beloved sister the Princess Amelia, her late Majesty queen Charlotte, his late Majesty King George III, his late royal highness the duke of York, and lastly, to his Majesty George IV."

Sir Henry Halford’s progress and eminence among his professional brethren, and in the College of Physicians, were no less rapid and distinguished than with the public and the royal family. His attainments as a practical physician were of the very highest order. Though inferior, it is said, to Dr. Baillie in accuracy of diagnosis, he was undoubtedly superior to him in that which constitutes the real aim and office of the physician—the cure and alleviation of disease. In this point of view, Sir Henry Halford attained to consummate skill. Endowed with quick perception, a sound judgment, and an almost intuitive knowledge of the powers of medicines, he wielded the resources of his art with a confidence, precision, and success, which was unapproached by any of his contemporaries. For many years he shared with Dr. Baillie the highest professional honours, confidence, and emoluments of the metropolis; and on the death of that great anatomist, in 1823, he was left without a rival. Thenceforward, until overtaken by age and illness, he maintained an indisputable pre-eminence in the profession.

No sketch of Sir Henry Halford’s life would be complete without especial reference to his long and distinguished connection with the Royal College of Physicians. Throughout the whole of his successful career, and even when most oppressed by the arduous and harassing duties of his extensive professional business, Sir Henry was ever attentive to the highest interests of that learned body, and ready and anxious to devote himself, his energies, and influence to the furtherance of its welfare and the maintenance of its dignity. He served the office of Censor in 1795, 1801, 1815; he delivered the Harveian oration in 1800, and again in 1835; he was named an Elect the 6th of February, 1815; and on the 30th of September, 1820, was elected President, an office to which he was annually and unanimously re-elected, and the duties of which he continued to perform with honour to the College and credit to himself till his death, on the 9th of March, 1844, in the seventy-eighth year of his age.

To Sir Henry Halford’s energy and exertions the College of Physicians mainly owe their removal from Warwick-lane to Pall-mall East. The inconvenience of the former situation, the rapidly increasing and almost irremediable dilapidations of the buildings of the old College, with the consequent deterioration of the property, had long been seen and lamented. Various attempts towards repair or removal had been made, but each and all had proved abortive. On Sir Henry’s election to the office of President, he applied his energies to the furtherance of an object which the Fellows had much at heart, but had not dared to encounter. Mainly through Sir Henry Halford’s influence, a grant of the ground on which the College now stands was obtained from the Crown; the Fellows lent their pecuniary aid by donations, subscriptions, and loans; the present College was commenced; and on the 25th of June, 1825, was opened by Sir Henry Halford, with an eloquent Latin oration, delivered to an audience of upwards of three hundred persons, among whom were their royal highnesses the dukes of York, Sussex, Cambridge, Gloucester, the Prince Leopold, and a brilliant assemblage of the most noble and learned of the land. The king, on the morning of the opening of the College, had been graciously pleased to confer on the President the star of a knight commander of the Guelphic order, and William IV subsequently promoted him to be a grand cross. Sir Henry, in testimony of his appreciation of the "noble exertions" which the Fellows had made to furnish the means of rebuilding the College, munificently defrayed the expenses (amounting to 300l.) of the splendid collation provided on the occasion of the opening.

The debt of gratitude due from the College of Physicians to Sir Henry Halford, for his unwearied exertions in its behalf, cannot be overrated. It has been respectfully acknowledged in several of the Harveian orations—in none, however, with equal elegance, or with so happy a sketch of the President’s character, as in the eloquent oration of 1848, by Dr. Francis Hawkins: "Ecquis enim unquam fuit, vel Medicus clarior vel litteris perpolitior, vel Collegii amantior, vel omnibus fere acceptior? Sit mihi fas in hoc dilecto nomine paulisper immorari. Erat, ut nostis, ad morbos dijudicandos sagax, ad sublevandos pollens; ingenii acumine, remediorum copiâ, pariter insignis. Nolite autem existimare, Auditores, eum ingenii vi aut acumine tantummodo esse confisum. Vobis ego hoc confirmare possum, vel diligentissimè eum juvenilem ætatem egisse. Tuto, prius, et scienter, armis uti perdidicerat, quàm celeriter et venuste. Studio igitur et labore extitit Medicus, plenus et perfectus, cui nihil neque a Naturâ denegatum, neque a Doctrinâ non delatum esse videretur.

"Mores hominum et vitæ consuetudinem apprimè callebat; atque is erat qui, facillimè citissimèque, mentes omnium sensusque degustaret. Ejus erat proprium maximè, ‘scire uti foro;’ et laus ea, non ultima—
‘Principibus placuisse viris.’
Erga omnes erat benevolus, quippe, suapte naturâ, suavis et benignus; quippe, cum dolentibus optimè mederi soleret, a dolore quovis animanti cuiquam incutiendo refugiebat. Itaque, vir erat plurimis amicitiis, inimicitiis perpaucis aut nullis: nam si forte dissensio aliqua incidisset, quamprimum redire in gratiam gestiebat animus.

"Ardebat, mihi credite, singulari quodam amore in hoc Collegium, cui, tam diu, omnium concessu, præfuit. Quid enim? testabor has ipsas aedes? quas maximis curis et laboribus suis, nobis adparavit; quas dedicavit oratione purâ sic, ut Latinè loqui pœne solus videretur; quas igitur ei, quem prope dixerim Conditorem nostrum quintum, perpetuo fore monumento prorsus existimo. Hic, hic inquam, si quærat quispiam Halfordi monumentum, circumspiciat."

Sir Henry Halford was a fellow of the Royal and Antiquarian societies, and a trustee of Rugby school; and, in virtue of his office as President of the College of Physicians, was president of the National Vaccine Establishment, and a trustee of the British Museum.

He died from the effects of natural decay, attended with much neuralgic pain, at his house in Curzon-street, May Fair, on the 9th March, 1844, and was buried in the church of Wistow, Leicestershire, where a monument to his memory bears the following inscription:—
Henrico Halford, Baronetto, G.C.H.,
ex -Æde Christi apud Oxonienses M.D,
Jacobi Vaughan, Medici clari,
Filio clariori:
Qui Sobrini sui Caroli Halford, Baronetti,
eidem ordini et ipse adscriptus),
Hæreditatem ex Testamento et Nomen suscepit.
Medicorum Coll, Reg. Londin.
Cum plausu et favore omnium Annos XXIV. præfuit.
Regum Georgii III. Georgii IV. Gulielmi IV,
Medicus Ordinarius;
Necnon a plerisque ejusdem stirpis principibus
in opem familiariter vocatus.
Ad morbos dijudicandos sagax, ad sublevandos pollens,
ingenii acumine, remediorum copia pariter insignis,
Artem quam moribus ornabat,
latè et feliciter exercebat.
Literis humanioribus admodum imbutus,
Vixit omnibus acceptus, erga omnes benevolus.
Natus die Octobris ii. A.S MDCCLXVI.
Obiit die Mart. Ix. A.s. MDCCCXLIV.
In solo Salutis Auctore Jesu Christo
spem vitæ immortalis omnem collocavit.
Filius gratus pius
H. M. fac. Cur.

Sir Henry Halford’s portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence is at Wistow. It was engraved by C. Turner. His bust by Chantry is in the Censor’s room. It was presented by certain of the fellows of the College at the opening of the new building in Pall Mall East.(1)

Sir Henry Halford’s early success as a physician left him but little leisure for composition. His two essays in the “ Medical Transactions ”—the one on the “ Climacteric Disease,” the other on the “ Necessity of Caution in the Estimation of Symptoms in the last steps of some Diseases ”—the only strictly medical writings from his pen, are of a character to make us regret that his contributions to our professional literature were not more numerous. His remaining essays were read at the evening meetings of the College, before a mixed assemblage, and are, therefore, necessarily of a somewhat popular character. They were admirably adapted to the occasion, and they afford abundant proof of Sir Henry’s elegant taste and classical attainments. His two Harveian orations, and his oration on the opening of the new College, are models of Latin composition; while his “Nugæ Metricæ,” written chiefly in his carriage, and in the course of his professional rounds, testify to his ability in the composition of Latin poetry.

William Munk

Post publication addition

Halford married (Elizabeth) Barbara St John in 1795. Her grand-father was joint owner of a large number of estates and enslaved people in Grenada and she inherited a legacy from her father which came from the profit of those estates (2).

[(1) Some papers concerning it are now before me, and are as follows:—
"At a meeting of the undersigned Fellows of the College held at the house of Dr. Turner on Thursday, 27th May, 1824,
"Sir Lucas Pepys, bart., in the chair,
"Resolved. That in the opinion of this meeting the zeal and ability with which Sir Henry Halford, bart., has conducted the affairs of the College since he has been President, and the signal success which has resulted from his indefatigable exertions, not only in forwarding the great object of building a new edifice, but in promoting the general welfare and dignity of the College, justly entitle him to the gratitude of all the Fellows.
"That placing his bust among those of former eminent characters and benefactors at the period of opening the new edifice, would be an appropriate and lasting memorial of the estimation in which he is held by the College.
"That in order to obtain this object, the President be requested to sit to Chantry for his bust, who has undertaken to finish it in the course of a few months at the price of one hundred and fifty guineas.
"That the sum of one hundred and fifty guineas be raised by a subscription among such of the Fellows as are willing to contribute.
"That the bust when completed be presented to the College, to be placed at their discretion at the opening of the new edifice.
"That three guineas be paid forthwith by each subscriber, which, from the number who have already signified their assent to the measure, it is deemed will be sufficient.
"That Dr. Turner be requested to receive the subscriptions.
"Signed by the fellows present:
“ Lucas Pepys, Edward T. Monro,
“ J. Latham, Geo. L. Tut hill,
“ G. P. Morris, W. Macmichael,
“ H. Ainslie, P. Mere Latham,
“ J. Franck, Francis H. Ramadge,
“ Thomas Turner, H. H. Southey,
“ Thomas Hume, Robert Bree.
“ John Bright,
(The names of thirty-three additional fellows were obtained subsequent to the meeting.)
The bust was presented to the College on the 4th June, 1825, under which date we read in the Annals: “Resolved that the bust of the President, Sir Henry Halford, bart., which has been executed by Chantry (in consequence of the Resolutions which passed at a private meeting of the Fellows held on the 27th May, 1824), be accepted by the College, and placed at the opening of the new edifice, among those of former eminent characters and bene-factors already in the possession of the College”

(2) Accessed February 2021]