Sir Charles Bell

Sir Charles Bell

Sir Charles Bell (1774 – 1842) was an Scottish anatomist, physiologist, neurologist and surgeon.

Bell was a prolific medical writer, anatomical researcher and a skilled artist – especially war injuries and anatomical drawings.

Most noted for discovering a difference between sensory nerves and motor nerves in the spinal cord (1807) and for describing Bell’s palsy.

Published and illustrated a System of Dissections whilst still at medical school.


  • Born 12 November 1774 Doune, Perthshire
  • 1799 – Graduated medicine, University of Edinburgh
  • FRCS Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh
  • 1809 – studied gunshot wounds at Haslar Hospital after the Battle of Corunna
  • 1824 – Professor of anatomy and surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
  • 1828 – London University and King’s College
  • 1833 – Knighted by King William IV
  • 1834 – gold medal of the Royal Society
  • 1835 – Chair in Surgery at Edinburgh University
  • Died 29 April 1842

Key Medical Attributions:

  • Demonstrated the relationship between the special sense organs and those circumscribed brain areas where the nerve tracts from the sense organs ended
  • Demonstrated the motor and sensory functions of the anterior and posterior spinal nerve roots

Medical Eponyms

  • Bell’s palsy (1827)
  • Bell’s disease
  • Bell Phenomenon – upward deviation of the eye on attempted eyelid closure.
  • Law of Bell-Magendie
  • Bell’s nerve


  • Career was marred by disputes with the Edinburgh Medical Faculty and he moved to London to teach anatomy.
  • Left London University surgical position in 1830 ‘dissatisfied by the bureaucratic rules‘ he was forced to comply with.
  • Bell was one of the first to recognise the different functions of the anterior and posterior nerve roots, and argued extensively with Magendie over whose experiments were more definitive.

Major Publications


eponymictionary CTA 2


the person behind the name

Posted by Grant Sanger

Physicianly type with neurological leanings... + Grant Sanger | LinkedIn

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