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Sir Henry Halford (1766-1844)

This article was written by George Thomas Bettany and was published in 1890


HalfordSir Henry Halford, physician, was the second son of Dr. James Vaughan, a successful physician of Leicester, who devoted his whole income to educating his seven sons, of whom John (d. 1839) became judge of the court of common pleas, Peter (d. 1825), dean of Chester, and Charles Richard (d. 1849), envoy extraordinary to the United States. The sixth son, Edward Thomas, was father of Dean Vaughan, master of the Temple.

Henry, born at Leicester on 2 October 1766, entered at Christ Church, Oxford, and graduated B.A. in 1788 and M.D. in 1791. After studying some time at Edinburgh he settled in London, having borrowed £1,000 on his own security. His good manners and learning soon made him friends, and he was elected physician to the Middlesex Hospital in 1793, and fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1794, having been appointed physician extraordinary to the king in the previous year.

In March 1795 he married Elizabeth Barbara, the third daughter of Lord St. John, and by 1800 his practice had so greatly increased that he gave up his hospital appointment. He inherited a large property on the death of Lady Denbigh, widow of his mother's cousin, Sir Charles Halford, seventh baronet, and consequently changed his name from Vaughan to Halford by act of parliament in 1809. George III, who had a strong liking for him, created him a baronet in the same year, and he subsequently attended George IV, William IV, and Queen Victoria.

For many years after Dr. Matthew Baillie's death he was indisputably at the head of London practice. He was president of the College of Physicians from 1820 till his death, an unbroken tenure which was by no means favourable to reform and progress; but he was largely instrumental in securing the removal of the college in 1825 from Warwick Lane to Pall Mall East. He was made K.C.H. on this occasion and G.C.H. by William IV. He died on 9 March 1844, and was buried in the parish church of Wistow, Leicestershire. His bust by Chantrey was presented to the College of Physicians by a number of fellows. His portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence is at Wistow. He left one son, Henry (1797-1868), who succeeded to the title, and one daughter.

Halford was a good practical physician with quick perception and sound judgment, but he depreciated physical examination of patients, knew little of pathology, and disliked innovation. His courtly, formal manners and his aristocratic connection served him well. His chief publications were first given as addresses to the College of Physicians, his subjects being such as ‘The Climacteric Disease,’ ‘Tic Douloureux,’ ‘Shakspeare's Test of Insanity’ (‘Hamlet,’ act iii. sc. 4), ‘The Influence of some of the Diseases of the Body on the Mind,’ ‘Gout,’ ‘The Deaths of some Illustrious Persons of Antiquity,’ &c.

Halford is described by J. F. Clarke as vain, cringing to superiors, and haughty to inferiors. James Wardrop, surgeon to George IV, termed him ‘the eel-backed baronet.’ Some charges of unprofessional conduct are made against him by Clarke, who further states that when Charles I's coffin was opened in 1813 he obtained possession of a portion of the fourth cervical vertebra, which had been cut through by the axe, and used to show it at his dinner-table as a curiosity. This may be held to be confirmed by Halford's minute description of this bone in his ‘Account.’

Halford published:

  1. ‘An Account of what appeared on opening the Coffin of King Charles I,’ 4to, 1813.
  2. ‘Essays and Orations delivered at the Royal College of Physicians,’ 1831; 3rd edition, 1842.
  3. ‘Nugæ Metricæ. English and Latin, 1842, besides several separate addresses and orations.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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