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.
  • Bell criticized Alexander Monro secundus for publishing on the interventricular foramen (of Munro)…presuming to describe something which was already well known and for inaccuracies. Bell Stated ‘‘there is scarcely a book which we can consult without finding the circumstance of the universal communication betwixt the Ventricles particularly mentioned.’’

Major Publications


eponymictionary CTA 2


the person behind the name

Physicianly type with neurological leanings... | LinkedIn |

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