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HALFORD, Sir Henry (1766-1844)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0113 MS-HALFH
Held at: Royal College of Physicians
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Full title: HALFORD, Sir Henry (1766-1844)
Date(s): [1767]-1843
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 3 archive boxes; 50 small boxes; 53 volumes
Name of creator(s): Halford | Sir | Henry | 1766-1844 | Knight | physician


Administrative/Biographical history:

Sir Henry Halford was born Henry Vaughan in Leicester on 2 October 1766, the second son of James Vaughan, a successful physician in Leicester. Halford's father devoted his entire income to the education of his seven sons. Halford was educated at Rugby from 1774 before he entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1781, where he graduated BA and MA in 1788. He spent some months in Edinburgh and practiced for a short time with his father in Leicester, before graduating MB in 1790 and MD in 1791. In 1792, after a few months practice at the fashionable resort of Scarborough, he settled in Mayfair in London. He had borrowed 1,000 on his own security on the advice of Sir George Baker, President of the Royal College of Physicians and recognised head of the medical profession in England.

He was elected physician to the Middlesex Hospital in 1793. In the same year, before he was 27 years old, he was appointed physician extraordinary to King George III. In 1794 he was made Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and served in the office of censor in 1795, 1801, and 1815. In 1800 he delivered the Harveian Oration at the College. In the same year, as a result of his practice having become so large, he relinquished his hospital appointment. In 1802 he moved to Curzon Street, where he remained throughout his life. By 1805 his income exceeded 7,000 a year. His patients included the statesmen Charles James Fox, William Pitt and George Canning, and several members of the Royal Family including the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and three of the King's sons, the Dukes of York, Kent and Cumberland.

Halford inherited a large estate on the death of Lady Denbigh, widow of his mother's cousin, Sir Charles Halford. Consequently he changed his name by Act of Parliament from Vaughan to Halford in 1809. In the same year George III created him baronet. Halford attended the King during his illness, and the Prince Regent made him physician in ordinary to the King in 1812. In 1813 he attended, with the Prince Regent, the opening of the coffin of Charles I, undertaken to identify the former King's remains. On the ascension of George IV he was again made physician in ordinary, and subsequently performed the same duty to William IV and Queen Victoria.

It has been said that he was an eminent physician with good perception and sound judgment, wielding `the resources of his art with a confidence, precision, and success, which was unapproached by any of his contemporaries' (Munk's Roll, 1878, p.430). However it is recognised that his knowledge of pathology and accuracy of diagnosis were inferior to Matthew Baillie's, his eminent colleague, and it is said that he disliked innovation. Many of his contemporaries criticised him for behaving as a courtier outside of his role as royal physician. James Wardrop, who had been appointed surgeon to the King in 1828, referred to him as 'the eel-backed baronet'. Ultimately though `for many years after Dr Matthew Baillie's death he was indisputably at the head of London practice' (DNB, 1890, p.39).

From 1820 Halford served as president of the Royal College of Physicians, to which office he was unanimously re-elected every year for 24 years until his death. During his presidency one of the most significant changes in the College's history occurred, the ending of the restriction of the Fellowship to Oxbridge graduates alone. He also inaugurated a series of monthly evening meetings, the audiences of which came from all walks of life. Halford was largely instrumental in securing the removal of the College from Warwick Lane to Pall Mall East in 1825, and officially opened the new premises. To mark the occasion the King conferred on him the Star of a Knight Commander of the Guelphic Order (KCH). William IV subsequently promoted him to a Grand Cross of Hanover (GCH).

In 1831 Halford published Essays and Orations Delivered at the Royal College of Physicians, which included papers on 'Tic Douloureux', 'The Treatment of Gout', and 'The Climacteric Disease'. However he made neither significant nor extensive contributions to medical literature. In 1835 he again delivered the Harveian Oration at the College. Due to his office as president of the Royal College of Physicians he became a trustee of the British Museum and president of the National Vaccine Establishment. He had been a keen advocate of vaccination since its introduction by Edward Jenner in 1798. He also became a fellow of the Royal Antiquarian Societies and a trustee of Rugby School.

Halford spent much time in his latter years composing Latin poetry. He continued in practice to within a few months of his death. He had married Elizabeth Barbara St John, daughter of Lord St John of Bletsoe, in 1795. His wife died in 1833, whilst their son and daughter both survived Halford.

Halford died at his home on 9 March 1844, at the age of 77. He was buried in the parish church of Wistow, Leicestershire, where a monument was erected in his memory.

An Account of What Appeared on Opening the Coffin of King Charles I, in the vault of King Henry Eighth in St George's Chapel at Windsor (London, 1813)
Oratio in Collegii Regalis Medicorum Londinensis, aedibus novis, habita die dedicationis, Junii XXV, MDCCCXXV (London, 1825)
Essays and Orations Delivered at the Royal College of Physicians; to which is added an Account of the Opening of the Tomb of Charles I (London, 1831; 1842)
On the Education and Conduct of a Physician (London, 1834)
On the Deaths of some Eminent Persons of Modern Times (London, 1835)
On the Effects of Cold (London, 1837)
Nugae Metricae (Latin & English) (London, 1842)

Publications by others about Halford:
The Life of Sir Henry Halford, Bart, William Munk (London, 1895)


Scope and content/abstract:

Halford's papers, c.1767-1843, include notebooks containing medical extracts and observations, which include prescriptions, in the format of commonplace books, including prescription by Halford's father, James Vaughan, 1767, 1767-1801; Clinical reports, 1783-86, and lecture notes made whilst a student in Edinburgh, 1785-89; Case notes with prescriptions, from practicing in Leicester, 1787-91; Fee books, 1791-1808, annual cash-books with fees and receipts, 1796-1839 (incomplete, missing 1814, 1831), and cheque-book stubs, 1805-09; Prescription books, including one kept whilst practicing in Scarborough, 1792, 1802-03; Halford's copies of Jacobii Hollerii Stempani in Aphorismos Hippocratis commentarii septem... (printed, 1675) with annotations in his hand, and the Middlesex Hospital Pharmacopoeia, c.1790s; Monthly note-books containing daily appointments and total fees per month, 1802-43; Papers and speeches given at the College, including lectures on medical subjects, the Harveian Oration, 1800, and oration made at the opening of the new building, 1825, 1800-35. There is also a copy of Moore's Almanack for 1812, a postcard of hotel in Copenhagen, 18th century, and journal belonging to Jean Gaspard Lavater, 1787, found with Halford's papers.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:
Latin, English and French

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:


Conditions governing reproduction:

All requests should be referred to the Archivist

Finding aids:

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The majority of the collection was deposited at the Royal College of Physicians by Lord Cottesloe, 7 June 1958; The provenance of Halford's copy of Jacobii Hollerii Stempani in Aphorismos Hippocratis commentarii septem... is unknown

Allied Materials

Related material:

There is a large amount of material amongst the College's own papers relating specifically to College business undertaken by Halford in his role as president. There is correspondence of Halford's, with his signature to a resolution of sale, regarding the College moving premises from Warwick Lane to Pall Mall East in 1825, 1820-1823 (MS1097/30, 34-35, 47-49; MS1098/11-12); Letter to Halford regarding proposed Bill granting new charter for College, 1842 (MS2020/70); Returns of College questionnaire on the population, diseases and climates of overseas territories, and related correspondence, 1828-31 (MS3060/2; MS3062/1-2; MS3069/2, 4-5, 7; MS3083/2; MS3088/1; MS3099/3; MS4000/4; MS4032/4, 7); Reports of medical practice overseas, 1828-1843, in College file on reports from hospitals abroad (MS4034/2; MS4040; MS4056/1-2), and correspondence regarding the curative power of plants found overseas, 1829-1836 (MS4020/2; MS4051/1-2, 6); Correspondence regarding specimens for the College museum, [1820-1830] (MS2001/27, 40); Letter regarding possible unlicensed practicing of a provincial doctor, 1830 (MS2411/4-5); Letter presenting College with Sir John Pringle's copy of Sydenham's Processus Integri, 1822 (MS496); Discussion of case of vesicular calculus in a horse, 1830 (MS109/106-107); Petition regarding College estate of Ashlyns Farm, 1821 (MS2005/32).

There is also material relating to Halford's professional work as a physician and a member of the College, including Halford's reply to circular sent out during the College's vaccination enquiry, 1806 (MS2319, no.24); Correspondence regarding the illnesses of Charles James Fox and Georgiana Anne Fox, his patients, 1806-1819, in papers relating to Fox (MS3013/3-8, 14-15, 18, 23-26); Signature to letter from physicians of George III, written by Matthew Baillie, about the King's illness, 1811, in papers relating to George III (MS3011/52); Letters from Halford in the letter book of William Collyns, 1787-1838 (MS226).

References are made to Halford throughout the College archives, including discussion about the placing of Halford's bust in the College's new premises, 1824, in a file on presentations and bequests to the College (MS2002/30-31); Reference to him in letter amongst William Baly's correspondence, 1834 (MS-BALYW/715/173); Extract of 1896 Comitia about an autographed letter of Halford's forming the nucleus of an autographed letter collection of eminent figures, 1896 (MS2003/35/116); Correspondence between the College librarian and Lord Cottesloe about depositing Halford's papers at the College, 1957-58 (MS2000/179-182). There are also a number of letters that make reference to Halford amongst the College's Autographed Letters Collection (ALS).

Halford's correspondence and papers are held at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland; Miscellaneous letters and papers relating to George III, 1811-19, are held at Lambeth Palace Library; Letters to the Duke of Cumberland, 1815-37, are held at the Niedersachsisches Hauptstaatsarchiv in Hannover; Correspondence with Sir Robert Peel, 1826-42, is held at the British Library, Manuscripts Collection; Letters and reports to Spencer Perceval, 1810-11, are held at Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives; Letters to Sir C.R. Vaughan, 1822-34, are held at Oxford University, All Souls College. See the National Register of Archives for details.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Some of his papers were notes for his own publications:
Oratio in Collegii Regalis Medicorum Londinensis, aedibus novis, habita die dedicationis, Junii XXV, MDCCCXXV, Sir Henry Halford (London, 1825)
Essays and Orations Delivered at the Royal College of Physicians; to which is added an Account of the Opening of the Tomb of Charles I, Sir Henry Halford (London, 1831; 1842)
On the Deaths of some Eminent Persons of Modern Times (London, 1835)
Papers also used by Munk in his biography of Halford, The Life of Sir Henry Halford, Bart, William Munk (London, 1895)

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. XXIV, Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee (London 1890) [DNB, 1890, p.39]; The Roll of the Royal College of Physicians of London, Vol. II, 1701-1800, William Munk (London, 1878) [Munk's Roll, 1878, pp.427-35]; `The Friend of the Royal Family - Sir Henry Halford, GCH, MD, FRS (1766-1844)', Brian Hill, The Practitioner, November 1966, Vol. 197, pp.696-701; The Life of Sir Henry Halford, Bart, William Munk (London, 1895); The Royal College of Physicians and its Collections, Geoffrey Davenport, Ian McDonald and Caroline Moss-Gibbons (London, 2001); Historical Manuscripts Commission On-Line National Register of Archives.
Compiled by Katharine Williams

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives, Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
Compiled July 2003

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