Saturday, 9 February 2013


William Henry Bateson and his wife Anna Aiken Bateson came on holiday to Robin Hood's Bay in August 1861. They left their comfortable home in Cambridge, where William was Master of St John's College, for the bracing air and sea spray of the North Yorkshire coastline. Anna was heavily pregnant at the time and went in to labour rather earlier than expected. She gave birth to a baby boy that the couple also called William. He was destined to change the face of science forever.

William Bateson was described as a vague and aimless boy at Rugby school, he nevertheless attained first class honours in the natural science tripos at Cambridge. He recieved his B.A. in 1883. He was very poorly trained in mathematics and physics but an outstanding classicist, however zoology and morphology, the study of the structure and form of living things, would interest him and occupy his mind for the rest of his life.

In May 1900 he read the largely forgotten 1866 work of the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel, who discovered the basic principles of heredity through experiments in his garden . This led Bateson to wholeheartedly espouse Mendel's views and he proved that they held for animals as well as plants.

Although an ardent evolutionist Bateson was an opponent of Darwinism and could not see how gradual change could lead to the abundance and variety of life on Earth. He made no bones about rubbing his peers up the wrong way, and as Richrd Ingrams points out "he always showed the awkward, unbending traits of the true type, indulging in splendidly intemperate rows and still exciting scientists' angst, demonstrating that his Yorkshire genes were in proper working order".

Bateson was the first person to coin the word 'genetics' for the study of  how the individual features and behavior of living things are passed on through their genes. Indeed he founded the Journal of Genetics in 1910 alongside R. C. Punnett.

William Bateson died in 1926. His word genetics has been passed down through the generations.

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