Basil Hall was one of six children of Sir James Hall, 4th Baronet of Dunglass, a scientist, and his wife Lady Helen Hamilton Douglas. In 1802, he joined the Royal Navy. He was commissioned a lieutenant in 1808, and he later rose to the rank of captain.
He commanded vessels involved in exploration, scientific, and diplomatic missions. Hall explored Java in 1813, and in 1817 he interviewed the former emperor Napoleon (who had been an acquaintance of Hall’s father) on St. Helena.
From the beginning of his naval career, Hall had been encouraged by his father to keep a journal, and this later became the source of a series of books and publications describing his travels.
In 1825, following his retirement from the Royal Navy, Hall married Margaret Congalton, with whom he had two children. In 1829, Hall published Travels in North America which caused some offense due to his criticisms of American society. His best known work was The Fragments of Voyages and Travels (9 volumes, 1831–1840). He contributed to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and wrote scientific papers on subjects as varied as trade winds, geology, and a comet he observed. In 1844, suffering from mental illiness, Basil Hall was confined tothe Royal Hospital Haslar at Portsmouth, England, where he died.