The Age of Hospital Reform

Sir John Hall


Sir John Hall was Head of Medical Services during the Crimean War (1854-1856)

John Hall, soon to be created K.C.B. was a bitter, influential, hard and self-satisfied man who had felt himself entitled to a more important post than that of head of the medical staff of the Expeditionary Army.

Lord Raglan could neither like nor respect him, and soon after the army came to Balaclava he was sent back to Scutari to report on the base hospitals there.

Miss Nightingale had not yet arrived, and they were, as she subsequently discovered, 'destitute and filthy'. Dr. Hall reported them as having been put 'on a very creditable footing'. Nothing, he said, was lacking.193

He is not the surgeon you would like to met today, in his letters, which are a record his correspondence during the 1840s and 1850s, he is quoted to saying;

“I like my patients to feel the smart of the knife”.

True to type, Sir John was hostile to anaesthetics. He warned his medical officers against using chloroform, even in cases of severe gunshot wounds:


“However barbarous it may appear, the smart of the knife is a powerful stimulant; and it is better to hear a man bawl lustily, than to see him sink silently into the grave.” 194


Of particular note are his battles of control with Nightingale, who he referred to as the “petticoat imperium”. Writing to his superiors he defends the army medical services from her criticisms, and pulls no punches in accusing her of arrogance and being an interfering busy body desperate for power.

He states that her intervention deprived the army of perfectly good nurses who were working before her arrival. On the other side Nightingale called his award of the K.C.B.,

Knight of the Crimean Burial grounds".

He did however have a great deal of respect for Mary Seacole who he viewed as a help and not a hindrance.

The fact of the matter was that Mary Seacole was a volunteer and was only allowed to enter the premises on his invite so she had to be diplomatic as opposed to Nightingale who was not.

Sir John Hall died shortly after the war; he had a distinguished career starting his military life days after Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

He ended up as Surgeon General at a time when there were a lot of changes and the introduction of anaesthesia and asepsis meant that all things surgical had to change, he sounded however like an old dog unwilling to learn new tricks.


"Miss Nightingale shows an ambitious struggling after power inimical to the true interests of the medical department,"

Sir John Hall




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