Collection RBSC-ARC-1731 - Darwin-Burdon Sanderson letters

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Darwin-Burdon Sanderson letters

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  • Textual record

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7 cm of textual records

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Biographical history

Sir John Scott Burdon-Sanderson born on December 21, 1828. He received his medical education at the University of Edinburgh and at the University of Paris. He became a Medical Officer of Health for Paddington in 1856 and subsequently a physician to the Middlesex Hospital and the Brompton Consumption hospitals. Between 1858-1866, he investigated diphtheria, cattle plague and cholera when they appeared in England. He was one of the forerunners of penicillin, observing its ability to inhibit the growth of bacteria before Alexander Fleming.

He was the first person chosen to be the Waynflete Chair of Physiology in Oxford in 1882. It was at this time that he became the focus of the antivivisectionist movement, who opposed his stance on animal experimentation. In 1895, he became Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, a post he held until his resignation in 1904. In 1899, he became the first Baronet of Banbury Road in the Parish of Saint Giles in in the City of Oxford. He died in Oxford on November 23rd, 1905.

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Biographical history

Charles Robert Darwin was an English naturalist and geologist, best known for his book On the Origin of the Species. He is the father of evolutionary theory and natural selection.

Custodial history

Purchased from H.M. Sinclair as part of the Sinclair Collection in 1966 by the Woodward Library. Dr. Sinclair was a lecturer in physiology and biochemistry at Magdalen College in Oxford. The Woodward Library acquired the collection in 1966. During that time, these letters were separated from the Sinclair Collection and became a separate collection. The letters were transferred from Woodward Memorial Library to Rare Books and Special Collections in 2013.

Scope and content

This group of about 40 letters, a part of the Sinclair Collection, consists of correspondence between Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) and John Scott Burdon Sanderson (1828-1905) during the years from 1873-1881.
The letters deal with the research Darwin and Burdon Sanderson did on the digestive powers and leaf movements of insect-eating plants, notably Drosera and Dionaea. Darwin published the results of this research as part of his <em>Insectivorous Plants</em> (1875).
There is also correspondence about Burdon Sanderson's (and to a lesser extent, Darwin’s) attempts to ensure that the antivivisectionists should not secure the passage of a bill through Parliament that should hinder scientific research. Sanderson's efforts influenced the events that led to the appointment of a Royal Commission in 1875 to study the use of animals in scientific research in Britain.

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Letters are not in original order. Files are labeled based on the location of where the letter was written. The first half of the letters are written by Darwin to Burdon-Sanderson. The second half of the collection are letters written by Burdon-Sanderson to Darwin. Each letter is separated into individual file, with the final file containing Burdon-Sanderson’s recollections of a visit to Darwin.

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Please note material in this collection will be provided one file at a time.

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Associated materials

Related to the Sir John Burdon Sanderson Document Collection containing vivisection licenses and letters from his wife, Lady Ghetal (Herschel) Burdon Sanderson.


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RAD compliant Finding Aid prepared by: Kristine Protacio, February 2015.

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