The British Journal for the History of Science

Research Article

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

Robert Olbya1

a1 Department of Philosophy, The University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, U.K.

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.