Nora Bateson, granddaughter of first director William Bateson, visits John Innes Centre
Nora Bateson, film director and granddaughter of geneticist William Bateson, visited the John Innes Centre on 28 May. William Bateson was the first director of the John Innes Centre (then Horticultural Institution) and coined the word “genetics”.
The JIC William Bateson archive comprises 10,000 items. They document Bateson’s life, work and correspondence with leading scientists, doctors, plant and animal breeders, and evolutionary thinkers between 1869 and 1926. Together they provide an insight into the founding years of genetics in Britain and around the world.
Nora, who is named after Charles Darwin’s granddaughter Nora Barlow, is on a personal journey into family history as well as at the beginning of professional research. She became interested in ‘WB’ when she realised how profoundly his ideas and example influenced her father Gregory Bateson’s life and work. Gregory was William Bateson’s youngest son and was an anthropologist, social scientist and cyberneticist.
Nora has already produced and directed a highly acclaimed film titled ‘An ecology of mind: a daughter’s portrait of Gregory Bateson’. She may turn her professional attention to William Bateson for a future film project. She is starting to investigate the history behind his reluctance to accept the chromosome theory of inheritance developed by Thomas Hunt Morgan at Columbia University.
On her visit, JIC’s Simon Coleman and Sarah Wilmot showed Nora some of the more striking items in the Bateson collection. They include a personal annotated copy of Gregor Mendel’s landmark 1865 first paper on experiments in plant hybridisation, a newly discovered photograph of Bateson taken in Moscow, and coloured wools preserved from a research project on the genetics of colour blindness. In turn Nora passed on her knowledge of Bateson material located in archives around the world. Nora was accompanied by Kevin Power, who has been researching Gregory Bateson for many years.
About her visit Nora said: ‘‘It has been such a fabulous day- filled with treasures.’
To round off her visit she was introduced to the current Director of JIC Dale Sanders FRS and was given a tour of the site by Dee and Steve Rawsthorne.