Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

William Bateson's Introduction of Mendelism to England: A Reassessment

  • Robert Olby (a1)

The recognition of Gregor Mendel's achievement in his study of hybridization was signalled by the ‘rediscovery’ papers of Hugo de Vries, Carl Correns and Erich Tschermak. The dates on which these papers were published are given in Table 1. The first of these—De Vries ‘Comptes rendus paper—was in French and made no mention of Mendel or his paper. The rest, led by De Vries’ Berichte paper, were in German and mentioned Mendel, giving the location of his paper. It has long been accepted that the first account of Mendel's work in English was given by the Cambridge zoologist, William Bateson, to an audience of Fellows of the Royal Horticultural Society in London on 8 May, 1900. This is based on two sources: the paper ‘Problems of Heredity as a Subject for Horticultural Investigation’, published in the Society's journal later that year and stated as ‘Read 8 May, 1900’, and Beatrice Bateson's account of the event over a quarter of a century later. Of the paper which her husband gave on that occasion she wrote:

He had already prepared this paper, but in the train on his way to town to deliver it, he read Mendel's actual paper on peas for the first time. As a lecturer he was always cautious, suggesting rather than affirming his own convictions. So ready was he however for the simple Mendelian law that he at once incorporated it into his lecture.

Hide All

It is a pleasure to acknowledge my indebtedness to Dr M. J. S. Hodge and Dr O. G. Meijer for reading two earlier drafts of this paper and for making most helpful suggestions.

1 Bateson B., William Bateson F.R.S. Naturalist, Cambridge, 1928, p. 73.

2 Meijer O.G., ‘De Vries no Mendelian’, Annals of Science, (1985), 42, pp. 220224.

3 Bateson W., ‘Problems of heredity as a subject of horticultural investigation’, J.R. Hort. Soc. (1901), 25, pp. 5561.

4 ‘Societies: Royal Horticultural Lecture’, Gardeners' Chronicle, (1900), III, 27, p. 303.

5 See Vries De, ‘Unity in variability’, University Chronicle of California, (1898), 1, pp. 334336, 342; and Bateson W., Materials for the Study of Variation Treated with Especial Regard to Discontinuity in the Origin of the Species, Cambridge, 1894, pp. 36, 40, 43.

6 Bateson, op. cit. (3), p. 57. Reprinted in Kříženecký J. (ed.) Fundamenta Genetica, Brno and Prague, 1965, pp. 229230. Referred to in future as ‘Kříženecký’.

7 de Vries H., ‘Sur la loi de disjonction des hybrides’, C.R. Acad. Sci. Paris (1900), 130, pp. 845847. Reprinted in Kříženecký, pp. 9395.

8 de Vries H., ‘Das Spaltungsgesetz der Bastarde’, Ber. Dtsch. Bot. Ges. (1900), 18, pp. 8390. Reprinted in Kříženecký, pp. 96102.

9 Mendel G., ‘Versuche ueber Pflanzenhybriden’, Verb. Naturf. Ver. Brunn. (1865), 4, Abhandlungen, pp. 347, published 1866. Reprinted in Kříženecký, pp. 5792.

10 De Vries, Intracellulare Pangenesis, Jena, 1889; English translation by Gager C.S., Intracellular Pangenesis, Chicago, 1910.

11 W. Bateson to his wife (?) cited in: Olby R., Origins of Mendelism 2nd edn., Chicago and London, 1985, p. 115.

12 ‘Societies: Royal Horticultural. Scientific Committee’. Gardeners' Chronicle, (1900), III, 27, p. 318.

13 The annual Temple Flower Show of the Society, held on 23 May, was described in The Times as ‘one of the principal events of the London season’. It was noted that this exhibition was visited by the Queen of Sweden and Norway, and that Her Majesty was received by the President, Sir Trevor Lawrence, and Lady Bredallane. Also present were the Duchess of Connaught, the Duchess of Devonshire, Warwick Lady and Cross Lord. The Times, 24 05 1900, p. 14c.

14 I am grateful to Dr A.W.F. Edwards for drawing my attention to the existence of the Cambridge holding of this journal, and to Peter Gautrey for confirming that it was in the possession of the Library by 1880. On a subsequent visit to the Library I was surprised to discover the letter from Brünn bound in with the first two volumes (see Fig. 1).

15 Bateson W., Mendel's Principles of Heredity: A Defence, Cambridge, 1902, p. 35.

16 Bateson W., J.R. Hort. Soc. (1901), 26, p. 1.

17 Hurst Charles Chamberlain (18701947) was one of Bateson's early collaborators. Although Rona Hurst knew him as a first cousin, it was not until 1922 that they married.

18 For information see: Hurst R., ‘The Hurst Collection of Genetical Letters’, Mendel Newsletter, (1975), 11, pp. 17.

19 I am grateful to Onno Meijer for conducting a search for this item in Amsterdam.

20 De Vries to Hurst, undated. Cambridge University Library, Add. 7955/2/15. The greater part of this postcard has already been quoted by Hurst Rona in: ‘The R.H.S. and the birth of genetics’, J. R. Hort. Soc. (1949), 74, p. 383; and in her What's All This About Genetics? London, 1951, p. 24.

21 Hurst R., op. cit. (20) (1949), p. 383.

22 Hurst C.C., ‘Notes on some experiments in hybridisation and cross-breeding’, J. R. Hort. Soc. (1889), 24, p. 121.

23 Stomps T.J., ‘On the rediscovery of Mendel's work by Hugo de Vries’, J. Hered. (1954), 45, p. 294.

24 Meijer, op. cit. (2), pp. 220224.

25 Bateson W., ‘Hybridisation and cross-breeding as a method of scientific investigation’, J. R. Hort. Soc. (1899), 24, p. 61; Kříženecký, p. 220.

26 Bateson W., op. cit. (25), p. 66. Kříženecký, p. 224.

27 Bateson B., op. cit. (1), p. 73.

28 ‘Royal Horticultural Society: Scientific Committee’, Gardeners' Chronicle, (1900), III, 27 (Suppl.), p. 3.

29 Galton F., ‘The average contribution of each several ancestor to the total heritage of the offspring’, Proc. Roy. Soc. (1897), 61, p. 403.

30 Galton, Natural Inheritance, London, 1889, p. 139. Galton had later explained that ‘The neglect of individual prepotencies is justified in a law that avowedly relates to average results; they must of course be taken into account when applying the general law to individual cases’. Galton, op. cit. (29), p. 402.

31 Pearson K., ‘Mathematical contributions to the theory of evolution—On the law of reversion’, Proc. Rov. Soc. (1900), 66, p. 141.

32 Pearson, op. cit. (31), pp. 142143.

33 Bateson W., op. cit. (3), p. 56; Kříženecký, p. 229.

34 Bateson, ibid.

35 Bateson, op. cit. (3), p. 57; Kříženecký, p. 229.

36 Bateson W., op. cit. (5) (1984), p. 419.

37 Gallon, ‘Discontinuity in evolution’, Mind, (1894), II, 3, pp. 363372. Extracts of this review are reprinted in: Olby, op. cit. (11), pp. 181186.

38 Bateson, op. cit. (3), p. 59; Kříženecký, p. 232.

39 Bateson W., ‘Experiments Undertaken by W. Bateson, F.R.S., and Miss E.R. Saunders’, Reports of the Evolution Committee of the Royal Society, (1902), Report 1, 127; Kříženecký, p. 244.

40 Weldon W.F.R., ‘Mendel's laws of alternative inheritance in peas’, Biometrika, (1902), 1, pp. 228254.

41 Bateson W., Mendel's Principles of Heredity: A Defence, Cambridge, 1902.

42 Bateson, op. cit. (39), pp. 138154 and 155160; Kříženecký, pp. 255270 and 270275.

43 Bateson, op. cit. (39), p. 152. Kříženecký, p. 268.

44 Bateson, op. cit. (39), pp. 152153; Kříženecký, p. 268.

45 Bateson, op. cit. (39), p. 158. Kříženecký, p. 274.

46 Bateson, op. cit. (41), p. 116.

47 Kottler M., ‘Hugo de Vries and the rediscovery of Mendel's laws’, Ann. Sci. (1979), 36, pp. 517538; Campbell M., ‘Did De Vries discover the law of segregation independently?’, Ann. Sci. (1980), 37, pp. 639655. Readers of the BJHS no doubt realize that this author's recent paper ‘Pairing in Mendel's theory’, BJHS, (1986), 18, pp. 337340, misrepresents the argument of my paper: ‘Mendel no Mendelian?’, History of Science, (1979), 17, pp. 5372. Those who wish to follow up this subject should consult my paper as reprinted in Olby, op. cit. (11), pp. 234258. In this reprint minor modifications have been made to the text in the interests of clarity.

48 Meijer, op. cit. (2).

49 Olby, op. cit. (11), pp. 120124.

50 Stern C. and Sherwood E. R., The Origin of Genetics. A Mendel Sourcebook, San Francisco and London, 1966, pp. xxi.

51 Meijer, op. cit. (2), pp. 220223; Olby, op. cit. (11), pp. 127130.

52 Cock A.G., ‘William Bateson, Mendelism and biometry’, J. Hist. Biol. (1971), 6, pp. 134.

53 Darden L., ‘William Bateson and the promise of Mendelism’, J. Hist. Biol. (1977), 10, pp. 87106.

54 Darlington C.D., The Facts of Life, London, 1956, pp. 104105.

55 Tschermak E., ‘Weitere Beiträge ueber Verschiedenwerthigkeit der Merkmale bei Kreuzung von Erbsen und Bohnen’, Ber. Dtsch. Bot. Ges. (1901), 19, pp. 3637.

56 Bateson, op. cit. (25), pp. 6566; Kříženecký, p. 224.

57 Bateson, op. cit. (39), p. 159. Kříženecký, p. 275.

58 Merton R.K.S., The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations, Chicago and London, 1973, p. 358; Provine W.B., The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics, Chicago and London, 1971, pp. 5657.

59 Bateson, op. cit. (41), p. 115.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 9 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 159 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.