Collection RBSC-ARC-1722 - John Scott Haldane collection

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

John Scott Haldane collection

General material designation

Parallel title

Other title information

Title statements of responsibility

Title notes

Level of description


Reference code


Edition area

Edition statement

Edition statement of responsibility

Class of material specific details area

Statement of scale (cartographic)

Statement of projection (cartographic)

Statement of coordinates (cartographic)

Statement of scale (architectural)

Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)

Dates of creation area


Physical description area

Physical description

30 cm of textual records

Publisher's series area

Title proper of publisher's series

Parallel titles of publisher's series

Other title information of publisher's series

Statement of responsibility relating to publisher's series

Numbering within publisher's series

Note on publisher's series

Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

John Scott Haldane was born on May 3rd, 1860 in Edinburgh, Scotland to Robert Haldane and his wife Mary Elizabeth. His uncle was Sir John Burdon Sanderson, Waynflete Professor of Physiology in Oxford and known for his stance on vivisection. Haldane graduated with a degree in medicine from Edinburgh University in 1884.

Haldane studied the a wide range of issues dealing with respiration, including suffocative gases in coal mines and wells, low barometric pressure and acclimatization of the human body to high altitudes, deep sea diving and effects of poison gas on the human body. Haldane’s research was influential in understanding of the effects of carbon monoxide on the human body and its role in deaths in colliery explosions and underground fires. It was at this time that he became associated with the mining profession, which continued until his death. His work saved countless lives and vastly improved safety in a myriad of environments.

In 1898, Haldane invented the haemoglobinometer, which was an apparatus used to quickly analyze the mixture of air and gas in blood. In 1917, he led a scientific expedition to Pike’s Peak in Colorado, where he studied the effects of low barometric pressure and respiration at high altitudes. Haldane developed stage decompression for the Admiralty, which has been a problem for their deep-sea divers who ran the risk of decompression sickness before this point. He also designed dive tables, which were used until 1956. During WWI, he identified the type of gas used by the Germans and designed a portable oxygen administration apparatus that was use in the field in oxygen tents. He designed the first gas masks for use in chemical warfare. Haldane was well known for often experimenting on himself, sometimes inhaling toxic gases and observing the effects of decompression on himself.

Haldane died in Oxford at midnight on March 14th 1936.

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

The first part of the collection contains letters between Haldane from his mother, Mary Elizabeth Haldane (née Burdon Sanderson) and other family members regarding familial matters. These letters range from 1883 to1926. There are other letters pertaining to Mary Elizabeth Haldane and Edinburgh professors that are in the collection as well ranging from 1887 to 1922. Haldane’s personal documents, including his birth certificate and university certificates are also in this collection, ranging between 1878 to1897.

His reports, tables and correspondences are contained within, as well as his papers and speeches. These are largely undated and concern topics such as miners’ eye problems, tuberculosis in the Navy, regulation of normal breathing, functions of sweat, kinetic theory of gases, death by suffocation and the like. According to H.M. Sinclair: “Mrs. Haldane told me that her husband destroyed his MS as soon as the paper was published, and these lectures and addresses to various societies were not published. Haldane always wrote his addresses out in full, and this collection is mainly written in full in his own hand.”

A section of the collection contains reports and correspondence of Haldane’s work with the use of gas in WWI. H.M. Sinclair states that the collection is: “A most important collection of papers relating to his and Douglas's researches in World War I when gas was first used. Included are long autograph letters from Douglas (who was in the field in France), very out spoken about the military authorities and giving full descriptions of the casualties and attempts to prevent them.”

Finally, there are 2 drafts of an unpublished book written by Haldane on vitalistic physiology. H.M. Sinclair notes that: “The first draft is copiously corrected . . . This has been entirely rewritten in nine chapters of the final draft. . . . This very interesting book was never published, but illustrates the state of physiology at the turn of the century as seen by a young graduate of about 30 years.”

Notes area

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition


The collection is arranged into 2 major series. The first series is correspondence between John Scott Haldane, Mary Elizabeth Haldane, his mother, and his wife, Louisa Kathleen Coutts Trotte and other family members. The second series relates to manuscripts and other documents in the Haldane fonds relating to his professional life. The last section of the second series are first and second drafts of Haldane’s unpublished book.

Language of material

Script of material

Location of originals

Availability of other formats

Restrictions on access

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

Finding aids

Associated materials

Related materials


Alternative identifier(s)

Standard number area

Standard number

Access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Control area

Description record identifier

Rules or conventions


Level of detail


Dates of creation, revision and deletion

RAD compliant Finding Aide prepared by: Kristine Protacio, March 2015

Language of description

Script of description


Accession area