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Abstract

One of the principle figures of turn of the century anti-Darwinian evolutionism, William Bateson (1861-1926) was a professor at Cambridge University for 23 years before leaving to become first director of the John Innes Horticultural Institute (1910-1926). Developing a unique "vibratory theory" of organismal variability during the 1890s that envisioned evolutionary change as a discontinuous process, Bateson became well known as the first English advocate of the recently rediscovered theories of Gregor Mendel.

For a man inclined to drama and disputation in science, it was Bateson's family life that took on the airs of Greek tragedy. The two linear feet of correspondence, diaries, and photographs that comprise the Bateson Family Papers provide valuable insight into the social milieu of the Batesons and their decidedly unorthodox upper middle class academic life, as well as their responses to the tragic deaths of two of their sons.

Background note

One of the principle figures of turn of the century anti-Darwinian evolutionism, and an early and ardent advocate of Mendelian genetics, William Bateson (1861-1926) was professor at Cambridge University and the John Innes Horticultural Institute. The second of six children born to Anna Aikin and William Henry Bateson, William was raised in an unorthodox and intellectually challenging environment. Like his father, the reformist master of St. Johns College at Cambridge University, the children developed academic tendencies, and each of the Bateson children inherited their parents' habits of independent thought matched with a headstrong and disputatious nature.

As a boy, William harbored an interest in natural history quickened by an early exposure to the new theories of Charles Darwin. Although he met with little encouragement at Rugby School, where his academic performance veered from indifferent to unprofitable, William's matriculation at Saint Johns in 1879 provided a wealth of new opportunities. Under the influence of the embryologist Francis Maitland Balfour, Bateson excelled in zoology, and as a postgraduate, he spent two years in the United States studying the embryology and phylogeny of an obscure "worm," Balanoglossus. The choice of projects was propitious. In a painstaking analysis, Bateson identified a host of ontogenetic and anatomical affinities between Balanoglossus and vertebrates, instantaneously rewriting the evolutionary history of the class and gaining a measure of recognition sufficient to earn him election as a fellow at St. Johns in 1885.

After two years of scientific travel in the Russian Steppes and Egypt, Bateson returned to Cambridge in 1887 to absorb himself in the central problems of Darwinian theory: the nature of variation and the mechanism of heredity. For much of a decade, he accumulated data on variation in natural populations, and by the early 1890s, he had begun to situate himself with the ranks of anti-Darwinian evolutionists, emphasizing the discontinuities between species rather than the continuities predicted by Darwinian orthodoxy. Variation, Bateson suggested, could be expressed as a rhythmic or "vibratory" phenomenon analogous to natural phenomena such as ripples, zebra stripes, or morphological segmentation, clearly bounded by natural breaks, with the implication that the evolutionary process was radically different than the gradual incrementalism espoused by Darwin. Bateson's most thorough statement of his evolutionary theories at the time, Materials for the Study of Evolution (1894), was typically exhaustive and forcefully argued, and while it won few converts to either the vibratory theory or discontinuity, it established its author as one the leading anti-Darwinians of the period. Self-confident, intemperate, skeptical, and highly critical of work that he considered shoddy, Bateson was unphased by the lack of response, and continued to toil away at his underpaid position in Cambridge. Moving increasing into experimental studies of evolution, by 1899 he was offering undergraduate courses on "the practical study of evolution."

The last year of the nineteenth century was a watershed in Bateson's career. In April 1900, the Dutch biologist Hugo de Vries sent a copy of an overlooked article that he had recently rediscovered in the Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brunn for 1866. Written by the Bohemian monk Gregor Mendel, the paper outlined a theory of heredity that Bateson immediately grasped could provide a means to account for the discontinuities in organismal variation. In typically pugnacious style, Bateson took up the Mendelian cause against the Galtonians associated with the journal Biometrika and, much later, he continued its defense against the chromosomal theory of heredity advocated by the T. H. Morgan group at Columbia. At the annual meeting of the British Association in 1904, Bateson's ringing defense of Mendel was an important moment in turning aside the biometricians, and his books Mendel's Principles of Heredity: A Defence (1902) and Mendel's Principles of Heredity (1909) were widely read and enormously influential. At Cambridge, he attracted a core of young biologists to his laboratory and left his mark on the field as well by coining much of the terminology associated with modern Mendelian genetics, from allele and zygote to the term genetics itself.

Although his efforts were rewarded with an appointment to a new chair in biology in 1909, Bateson tired of the low pay at Cambridge and departed in 1910 to become the first director of the John Innes Horticultural Institution in Merton, Surrey. Presented with a blank slate, he built the Innes into a formidable center for the study of plant breeding and genetics, devoting his own research time to investigating exceptions to Mendel's laws. He was awarded the Darwin Medal in 1904 and the Royal Medal in 1920, was elected as president of the British Association in 1924, and was Fullerian Professor of Physiology at the Royal Institution. After a brief illness, he died at his home in Merton on February 8, 1926.

Sadly, the mix of turmoil and success in Bateson's professional life was tinged by family grief. His marriage to Caroline Beatrice Durham in 1896 was felicitous. The daughter of the senior surgeon at Guy's Hospital in London, Beatrice and her sisters were excellent intellectual matches for the Batesons (Florence Durham became a renowned geneticist in her own right), and Beatrice not only assisted William with his work, but during his days at Cambridge, she added much needed income for the family.

During the first seven years of their marriage, William and Beatrice had three sons, John, Martin, and Gregory -- the last named after Mendel -- each of whom displayed the family traits of intellectual promise and a headstrong disposition. As they grew, the boys were steeped in the study of natural history, and although they experienced some of the same distaste for the religion and conservatism of boarding school life that their father had, they excelled in the classroom. John and Martin were particularly close and in many respects, their lives ran a parallel course to tragedy. In 1916, John earned the school prize in biology at Charterhouse and in the same year, Martin earned a prize in chemistry at Rugby. Similarly, when John graduated from school in 1916, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the artillery, while Martin followed suit in 1917, enlisting in the Royal Air Force despite his (and his father's) principled opposition to the war.

The brothers, however, had very different experiences in military service. Having joined late in the war, Martin never went further afield than Grantham Air Force Base near Yarmouth, where he was trained in photographic reconnaissance, while John was shipped to active service in the trenches in France in the spring of 1917. His regiment was engaged on numerous occasions into November of that year, when John was wounded in the hand, earning a Military Cross for heroism in battle. Following a long recuperation of seven months, he rejoined his brigade in July 1918 and took part in the final campaigns of the war. On October 14, 1918, less than a month before the armistice, John was killed in action.

The shock of John's death drove a wedge between Martin and his father that was never fully repaired, and the already sardonic Martin seems never to have regained his equilibrium. After demobilization in 1919, he entered St. John's College to pursue the family science, but while he took first class honors in 1921, he took little pleasure in science and was unfocussed in his studies. Much to the disapproval of his father, his wish seems instead to have been to embark upon a literary career, writing poetry (as he had since his days at Rugby) or plays. It was while writing a play during the winter of 1921-22 that Martin developed a strong but unrequited attachment to a young woman, Grace Wilson. Martin's persistent advances, and his play, were equally persistently rebuffed by Wilson, and on at least one occasion, Martin threatened suicide. On what would have been his brother John's twenty-fourth birthday, April 22, 1922, Martin made good on his threat and shot himself in the head while standing in the middle of Picadilly Circus.

Scope and content

For a man inclined to drama and disputation in science, it was the family life of the geneticist William Bateson that took on the airs of Greek tragedy. Concentrated in the period 1900-1922, the two linear feet of correspondence, diaries, and photographs that comprise the Bateson Family Papers provide valuable insight into the social milieu of the Batesons and their decidedly unorthodox upper middle class academic life, as well as their responses to the tragic deaths of two of their sons.

Although the collection includes a small amount of genealogical material and a few letters from William's father, William Henry Bateson, and from his sister Mary (an historian), the heart of the collection consists of the letters from the three Bateson boys, John, Martin, and Gregory. Written from boarding school, college, and the military service, the letters are as literate and quirky as the family, filled with accounts of the boys' experiences at school, their thoughts on the war, their personal investigations in botany, zoology, and entomology, and the usual dose of parental advice and concern. Undeniably, though, it is the untimely deaths of John Bateson in the First World War and Martin to suicide that leave the most profound mark on the correspondence.

Collection information

Provenance

Deposited by Gregory Bateson, through Mary Catharine Bateson and David Lipset, September 1980.

Preferred citation

Cite as: Bateson Family Papers, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Recatalogued by rsc, 2003.

Alternate formats available

The collection has been microfilmed on three reels (Film 1425).

Related material

The largest collections of the papers of William Bateson are housed in the archives of the John Innes Institute and in the University Library, Cambridge University. The Innes collections were described in Mendel Newsletter 25 (1985).

The APS Library has six reels of microfilm ( William Bateson papers, HS Film 26) containing material selected and microfilmed by William Coleman in 1964 (now at Cambridge), including correspondence from Bateson to his wife, Beatrice, and colleagues such as Francis Galton, E. Roy Lankester, Alfred Newton, and Charles Scott Sherrington; lectures given between 1897-1904; and some genealogical and miscellaneous material. Personal letters relate Bateson's observations and reflections during his trips to the United States to lecture at universities (1907, 1921-1922), and to Siberia (1887). Other correspondence discusses such topics as cytology, eugenics, evolution, marine biology, and variation.

The William Bateson Collection (B B319) at the APS includes photocopies of Bateson's correspondence with Leonard Doncaster and Erwin Baur (1902-1921) on genetics and cytology.

Bibliography

The Printed Materials Department contains most of William Bateson's major publication, including:See also: Lipset, David, Gregory Bateson: The Legacy of a Scientist (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1980). Call no. B B317l.

Genetics Note

This collection contains materials which relate to the history of genetics.

AuthorFormatDate
Bateson familyManuscripts (2 linear feet)1829-1940

Indexing Terms

Corporate Name(s)

  • Cambridge University
  • Charterhouse School, Godalming, England
  • Rugby School

Genre(s)

  • Photographs
  • Poetry

Personal Name(s)

  • Bateson , Beatrice
  • Bateson, Anna Aikin, 1829-1918
  • Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980
  • Bateson, John, 1898-1918
  • Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922
  • Bateson, William Henry, 1812-1881
  • Bateson, William, 1861-1926
  • Durham, Florence
  • Herschel, John F. W., Sir, (John Frederick William), 1792-1871

Subject(s)

  • Genetics--Great Britain
  • Lepidoptera--Great Britain
  • Natural history--Great Britain
  • Suicide
  • World War, 1914-1918


Detailed Inventory
Bateson Family Papers
1829-1940 2.0 Linear feet

Subject(s): Biographical and personal data -- Bateson family; Biographical and personal data -- Bateson, William N.

Bateson, Anna Aikin, 1829-1918.
To Anna Aikin Batseon
1878 October 30 Box 1
Bateson, Anna Aikin, 1829-1918.
To Caroline Beatrice Durham Bateson
1896-1918 3 items Box 1
Bateson, Anna Aikin, 1829-1918.
Poem, "My Sister"
1860 August Box 1
Bateson, Caroline Beatrice Durham.
Accounts and receipts
1937-1940 Box 1
Bateson, Caroline Beatrice Durham.
"At a conversazione
1895 September Box 1

Published under Beatrice Durham in English Illustrated Magazine

Bateson, Caroline Beatrice Durham.
Baby diary
  Box 1

Birth and infancy of sons John, Martin, and Gregory Bateson

Bateson, Caroline Beatrice Durham.
To Gregory Bateson
1922 April-June Box 1
Bateson, Caroline Beatrice Durham.
To Martin Bateson
1917-1921 Box 1
Bateson, Caroline Beatrice Durham.
To William Bateson
1902 April 10-11 Box 1
Bateson, Edith.
n.d. (April 7) Box 1
Bateson, Edith.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson
1927 January 3 Box 1
Bateson, Edith.
Verses
  Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson
1910-1918 2 folders Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson
1910-1916 February Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson
1916 May-1918 Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
To Martin Bateson
1912-1921 Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
To William Henry Bateson
1921-1922 Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
From Fernand Chodat
1922 April 25 Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
From Peggy Dimmer
1922 April 29 Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
From ___ Durham
1922 May 14 Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
From F. H. Durham
1922 May 28 Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
From Florence Durham
1922 May 4 Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
From Hermia Durham
1922 May 14 Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
From Margaret Heitland
1922 May 9 Box 1
Bateson, Gregory, 1904-1980.
School certificate
1918 January Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
Commission
1917 March 7 Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
Condolences
1918 October Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
Imperial War Graves Commission
  Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Martin Bateson
1912-1918 5 folders Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Martin Bateson
1912-1916 Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Martin Bateson
1917 February-June Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Martin Bateson
1917 July-November Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Martin Bateson
1918 January-June Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Martin Bateson
1918 August-October Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1906-1918 10 folders Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1906-1911 Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1912 Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1913-1915 Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1916 Box 1
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1917 January-April Box 2
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1917 May-August Box 2
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1917 September-December Box 2
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1918 January-February Box 2
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1918 March-July Box 2
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1918 August-October Box 2
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
To Florence Durham
1917 March 21 Box 2
Bateson, John, 1898-1918.
Photographs
1917 March 21 Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Accounts and receipts
1921, 1922 Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Actors' Benevolent Association Legacy
1922 Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
British Lepidoptera
1915 Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Diary
1917-1918 Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Estate settlement
1922 December 6 Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1903-1922 22 folders Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1903-1911 3 folders Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1913 Sept.-Oct. Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1914 January-September Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1916 February-July Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1916 August-December Box 2
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1917 January-May Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1917 June-July Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1917 September-October Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1917 November-December Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1918 January-April Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1918 May-September Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1918 October-December Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1919 January-February Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1919 March-August Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1919 September-December Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1920 May-July Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1920 August-December Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1921 February-June Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1921 September-October Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1922 Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To Gregory Bateson
1911-1919 Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To John Bateson
1907, n.d. Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
To British Chess Federation
1918 December 2 Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
From Cambridge University. Bursar
1921 October 21 Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Miscellaneous
  Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Misc. verse and prose
  Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Photograph
1919 Spring Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Printed material
  Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Suicide letter
1922 April 22 Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Suicide: Investigations by William Bateson
1922 Box 3

See also Grace Wilson

Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Suicide: Newspaper clippings
1922 April Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Papers in his possession
1922 April 22 Box 3
Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
"Surface tension"
1917 Box 3

Prize essay in chemistry, Rugby School

Bateson, Martin, 1899-1922.
Verses
  5 folders Box 3
Bateson, Mary.
To Anna Aiken Bateson
1880 March 14 Box 3
Bateson, Mary.
Memorial Fund
  Box 3
Bateson, Mary.
Newnham College
  Box 3
Bateson, Mary.
Obituaries
  Box 3
Bateson, Mary.
Women's Suffrage Deputation
1906 May 19 Box 3
Bateson, William.
Address to British Association for the Advancement of Science
1914 Box 4
Bateson, William.
Art collection
1900-1929 6 folders Box 4
Bateson, William.
Art collection
1900-1906 Box 4
Bateson, William.
Art collection
1907-1914 Box 4
Bateson, William.
Art collection -- Chinese art
  Box 4
Bateson, William.
Art collection -- Lists
  Box 4
Bateson, William.
Art collection -- Printed catalogues
  Box 4
Bateson, William.
Art collection -- Sale
1929 Box 4
Bateson, William.
Birth and baptismal certificates
  Box 4
Bateson, William.
From Drighton Ben and Co.
1907 February 12 Box 4
Bateson, William.
To Edith Bateson
1907-1922 Box 4
Bateson, William.
To Beatrice Durham
1896 April 2, June 5 Box 4
Bateson, William.
To Gregory Bateson
1922 April-May Box 4
Bateson, William.
To John Bateson
1909 May 13 Box 4
Bateson, William.
To Martin Bateson
1917-1922 3 folders Box 4
Bateson, William.
To Michael Graham
1922 Box 4
Bateson, William.
Obituaries
  Box 4
Bateson, William Henry, 1812-1881.
To Margaret Bateson
1881 March 11, 25 Box 4
Bateson, William Henry, 1812-1881.
To Richard Bateson
1836-1860 Box 4
Bateson, William Henry, 1812-1881.
To "Sir"
n.d. Box 4
Bateson, William Henry, 1812-1881.
Shrewsbury School fees
1829 Box 4
Bateson family.
Genealogy
  Box 4
Bateson family.
Photographs of Bateson girls
1866-1873 Box 4
Brunner.
To John Bateson
1907 November 28 Box 4
DePeyer, Esmé E. V..
To Martin Bateson
1922 January 18, February 16 Box 4
DePeyer, Esmé E. V..
To William Bateson
1922 Box 4
Durham, Arthur.
Obituaries
  Box 4
Gray, R..
To John Bateson
1917 December 17 Box 4
Graham, Michael.
To William Bateson
1922 Box 4

Re: Martin Bateson.

Herschel, John F. W., Sir, (John Frederick William), 1792-1871.
To Richard Bateson
1862 July 30 Box 4
Inglis, Murray.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson
1918 November 2 Box 4
Kennedy, A. J. R..
To John Bateson
1917 December 17 Box 4
Kriser, Rudolf.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson
1938 Box 4
Lister, G..
To William Bateson
1917 August 9 Box 4
Lockhart, E. C..
To Martin Bateson
1921 October 21 Box 4
Lower, W..
To Beatrice Durham Bateson
1911 February 13 Box 4
Merringham, Christina J..
To Edith Bateson
1907 November 4 Box 4
Miscellaneous printed material.
  Box 4
Newman, M. H. A..
To William Bateson
1922 August-December Box 4
Reynolds, B..
To and from William Bateson
1922 June-November Box 4

Re: Martin Bateson.

Tatham, Maj. G. E..
To Beatrice Durham Bateson and William Bateson
1918 Box 4

Re: John Bateson.

Taylor, Delphy.
To Beatrice Durham Bateson
1910 October 11, n.d. Box 4
W. Waters and Son.
To Martin and William Bateson
1922 Box 4

Re: Martin Bateson's motorcycle.

Wilson, Grace.
To and from William Bateson
1922 Box 4

Re: Martin Bateson suicide and legacy.