Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Burdon-Sanderson, John Scott
BURDON-SANDERSON, Sir JOHN SCOTT, first baronet (1828–1905), regius professor of medicine at Oxford, born at Jesmond, near Newcastle-on-Tyne, on 21 Dec. 1828, was second son and fourth child of Richard Burdon (1791–1865), at one time fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, who took the additional surname of Sanderson on his marriage in 1815 to Elizabeth, only daughter of Sir James Sanderson, first baronet, M.P. His father's mother, Jane, daughter of William Scott of Newcastle-on-Tyne, was sister of Lord Eldon and Lord Stowell. His sister Mary Elizabeth married Robert Haldane of Cloanden, and Viscount Haldane is her son. As a boy Burdon-Sanderson was educated at home and was intended by his father for the law, in which two great-uncles had won distinction. But the youth's strong interest in natural science pointed to medicine as a more appropriate profession, and entering the university of Edinburgh in 1847 he graduated M.D. in 1851, with the gold medal for his thesis on the meta-morphosis of the coloured blood corpuscles. Proceeding to Paris, he first studied chemistry under Gerhardt and Wurtz, and later devoted himself to physiology under the celebrated Claude Bernard and to hospital work.
In 1853 ho settled in London as a practising physician, was soon appointed medical registrar of St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, and in 1854 served the medical school there as lecturer, first in botany and then in medical jurisprudence. In 1856 he was appointed medical officer of health for Paddington, and during the eleven years of his tenure of the post gave the first proofs of eminence. Two outbreaks of cholera rendered reforms in the sanitation of the district imperative. Food adulteration and insanitary dwelling-houses were evils which his efforts greatly diminished. Dr. (afterwards Sir) John Simon [q. v. Suppl. II], the chief medical officer of the privy council, recognised his ability and scientific acumen, and in 1860 Burdon-Sanderson was made an inspector under the council. Official reports by him dealt with the etiology of various contagious and infectious diseases, and inaugurated the successful experimental study of them in this country. A laborious inquiry into the contagium of cattle plague (1865-6) and a report on the conditions determining tuberculosis were particularly illuminating. In 1869 he investigated an epidemic of cerebro-spinal meningitis in North Germany. In an article 'On the Intimate Pathology of Contagion,' forming an appendix to the report of the council for 1869, Burdon-Sanderson gave prophetic intimation of the causal relationship of specific micro-organisms to disease.
In 1860 he became physician at the Brompton Hospital for Consumption, and also at the Middlesex Hospital, and there pursued his investigations.
In 1867 he was elected fellow of the Royal Society and Croonian lecturer, taking for his subject the influence of respiratory movements on the circulation. The lecture embodied results of experimental study which, though strictly physiological, was suggested by his numerous sphygmographic and stethograpliic observations at Brompton Hospital (Phil. Trans, clvii.).
In 1870 he gave up his hospital appointments and private practice in order to devote himself exclusively to scientific research. He had retired from the privy council in 1865, and from Paddington in 1867. His opportunity of research was increased by his appointments in 1871 as professor superintendent of the Brown Institution (University of London) and as professor of practical physiology and histology at University College, London, in succession to (Sir) Michael Foster [q. v. Suppl. II]. In 1874 he succeeded William Sharpey [q. v.] as Jodrell professor of physiology at University College. The courses of practical teaching which he organised in that capacity served as models for instruction in the medical curriculum of the country. Until 1878 he retained in addition his post in the Brown Institution. He had become F.R.C.P. in 1871, was Harveian orator at the College of Physicians in 1878, was awarded the Baly medal hi 1880, and gave the Croonian lectures there on the progress of discovery relating to the origin of infectious diseases in 1891.
In 1882 he was invited to Oxford as first Waynflete professor of physiology, a fellowship at Magdalen College being attached to the chair. The degree of M.A. was conferred on him in 1883, and that of D.M. in 1895. He remained Waynflete professor until 1895, when he was appointed regius professor of medicine in the university. He was elected at the same time an honorary fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. At Oxford he steadily pursued his researches in physiology and pathology, until his resignation of the regius professorship at the close of 1903. In pathology he powerfully enforced the truth that experimental investigations are essential for the elucidation of pathological problems, and that sound pathology must rest upon an accurate physiological basis.
In physiology his experimental activity was particularly identified with the investigation of the fundamental physical characteristics of living tissues when these are thrown into the active excitatory state. In this investigation, which largely occupied him for twenty-five years, he devoted himself to the precise determination of the comparatively small electrical changes presented by active tissues. The tissues selected included plants like Dionsea (Phil. Trans. 1877, 1882, and 1888), the heart (Journal of Physiology, 1880, 1883), muscle (ibid. 1895, and Proc. Eoy. Soc. 1899), and the electrical organs of the skate (Journal of Physiology, 1888, 1889). He employed for this purpose a modified form of Lippmann's capillary electrometer, which was brought to a state of great perfection in the Oxford laboratory. The value of his work in this field of research was recognised by his being chosen in 1877 for the second tune to give the Croonian lecture at the Royal Society on the excitatory changes in the leaf of Dionaea (Proc. Roy. Soc. xxv.), and by the award of a royal medal in 1883 by the Royal Society. In 1889 he was for the third time selected by the society as Croonian lecturer, taking as his subject ' The Relation of Motion in Animals and Plants to the Associated Electrical Phenomena' (Proc. Roy. Soc. lxv.).
To large audiences throughout the country Burdon-Sanderson frequently gave sugges- tive addresses, biological, physiological, and pathological. He was president of the biological section of the British Association at Newcastle in 1889, where he delivered an address on ' Elementary Problems in Physiology.' In 1893 he was president of the association at Nottingham, and in his presidential address he set forth his intellectual attitude to the genera nature of the physiological problems pre- sented by the living organism. The most noteworthy of his addresses are appended to the memoir commenced by his widow and completed by his nephew and niece, Dr. J. S. Haldane and Miss E. S. Haldane (Oxford, 1911).
Burdon-Sanderson served on three important royal commissions on hospitals for infectious diseases in 1883, on the consumption of tuberculous meat and milk in 1891, and on the University of London in 1892. On 10 Aug. 1899 he was created a baronet. Many other honours fell to him. He was hon. LL.D. of Edinburgh, bon. D.Sc. of Dublin, corresponding member of the Institute of France and of the Academy of Science, Berlin. After several months of increasing physical weakness, he died at Oxford on 23 Nov. 1905, and was buried at Wolvercote cemetery. He married, on 9 August 1853, Ghetal, eldest daughter of Ridley Haim Herschell [q. v.] and sister of Farrer, afterwards Lord Herschell, lord chancellor [q. v. Suppl. I]. His widow survived him until 5 July 1909. He had no children, and the baronetcy became extinct at his death.
He bequeathed the sum of 2000l. 'for bhe support of the pathological department of the University of Oxford and especially to provide for the expenses of research in pathology conducted in the said laboratory or elsewhere,' Of fine presence and striking features, Burdon-Sanderson had rare iharm of manner, A portrait (1883) by the Son. John Collier is in the lecture theatre of the Oxford Physiological Laboratory, and another by Charles Wellington Furse (1901) is in the hall of Magdalen College' Oxford. A marble bust by Hope Pinker is in the Oxford university museum. A pencil sketch was made by Rudolf Lehmann in 1893 and a cartoon by 'Spy' for 'Vanity Fair' in 1894.
Burdon-Sanderson took part in the great modern advance in pathology. In physiology he was an acknowledged master in his own somewhat recondite branch of experimental research; he founded an English school of exact experimental work, and initiated new methods of teaching. Always interested in the work of others, he was a venerated leader to the younger generation of physiologists and pathologists. The University of Oxford owes him a special debt of gratitude, as the virtual founder of her medical school. He edited in 1873 'Handbook for the Physiological Laboratory,' writing himself on circulation, respiration, &c. He wrote on Inflammation' in Holmes' 'System of Surgery' (1883), on 'Fever' in Allbutt's 'System of Medicine' (1896), and many papers for the Royal Society's Transactions and Proceedings (1877-1889); the 'Journal of Physiology' from 1880 to 1900; and 'Reports of the British Association,' 1872, 1881, 1889, 1893. His address to the thirteenth International Medical Congress (Paris) on 'Cellular Pathology' appeared in the 'Lancet,' 25 Aug. 1900.
[Memoir of Sir J. Burdon-Sanderson, with a selection from his papers and addresses, by Lady Burdon-Sanderson, J. S. Haldane and E. S. Haldane, Oxford, 1911; Privy Council Reports, 1861 to 1870; Burke's Landed Gentry and Baronetage; Nature, lxxiii (1905-6); Brit. Med. Journal, 2 Dec. 1905; Oxford Mag. 29 Nov. 1905; Proc. Roy. Soc. lxxix. B, 1907.]