Marshall Hall

Marshall Hall (1790 – 1857) was an English physician, physiologist and humanitarian

Hall is remembered now for his important contribution to the discovery of reflex action, denounced as an absurdity in England and applauded in Germany by Johannes Mueller.

His contributions to medical literature include the principles of clinical diagnosis; effects of trauma and blood loss; diseases of women; irritability; seizures; and diseases of the nervous system. He also wrote on social problems, including slavery in the United States.

  • Born on February 18, 1790 in Nottingham, England
  • 1809 – started medical studies at Edinburgh University
  • 1811 – elected senior president of the Royal Medical Society (University of Edinburgh Medical School student society)
  • 1812 – graduated with an MD and immediately began work as house physician at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
  • 1825 – appointed physician to the Nottingham General Hospital
  • 1832 – discovery of the reflex action by observing the muscular movements of a dead newt and caused much controversy. The Royal Society refused to publish two of his papers on the topic and led to difficulty finding a physician appointment at any London hospital despite his previously high esteem.
  • 1842 – Goulstonian Lecturer after belated election as F.R.C.P
  • 1842 – 1846 lecturer at St. Thomas’s Hospital
  • 1850 – 1852 Croonian Lecturer
  • Died on August 11, 1857

Medical Eponyms
Marshall Hall ‘Ready Method’ of treating asphyxia (1856)

If there be one fact more self-evident than another, it is that artificial respiration is the sine qua non in the treatment of asphyxia, apnoea, or suspended respiration

Marshall Hall, 1856

A YOUNG friend of mine has proposed to designate the postural treatment of asphyxia the ready method, no apparatus of any kind being required. I have adopted the suggestion.

Marshall Hall 1856 ready method
Marshall Hall – Ready Method. Lancet 1856

Romberg Sign (1836)

Key Medical Attributions:
Neurological landmarks

Marshall Hall recognized and described:

  • the cerebrum as the source of voluntary motion;
  • the medulla oblongata as the source of respiratory motion;
  • the spinal cord as the middle arc of reflex function.

I incidentally observed a remarkable phenomenon; the separated tail of the eft [newt] moved on being irritated by the point of the scalpel … I conceived it impossible that any such phenomenon should exist in nature without such connection, and I resolved to pursue the subject

Marshall Hall 1841
Animal rights and welfare (1835)

He was also a proponent of animal rights and in 1835 outlined five principles for animal experimentation in Principles of Investigation and Physiology. To paraphrase:

  1. An experiment should never be performed if the necessary information can be derived from observations
  2. No experiment should be performed without a clearly defined, and obtainable, objective
  3. Scientists should be well-informed about the work of their predecessors and peers in order to avoid unnecessary repetition of an experiment
  4. Justifiable experimentation should be carried out with the least possible infliction of suffering (often through the use of lower, less sentient animals)
  5. Every experiment should be performed under circumstances that would provide the clearest possible results, thereby diminishing the need for repetition of experiments


Excito-secretory system – Dr Henry Fraser Campbell published a letter to the editor in the Lancet in 1857 addressed to Marshall Hall claiming discovery of the excito-secretory system as early as 1850. This was in response to works by Marshall Hall citing the excito-secretory system as worthy of further investigation but not referencing Campbell for coining the term.

Slavery – towards the end of his career, Hall became a stout abolitionist campaigning against slavery in the United States.


Major Publications



Eponymous terms

eponymictionary CTA


the person behind the name

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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