1860 - 1924

by Helen Priddey

A version of this text first appeared in The Black Country Bugle in 2003

Sir William Maddock Bayliss was born in Butcroft, Wednesbury, on the 2nd May 1860, the only child of Moses Bayliss, a screw bolt manufacturer, and Jane Maddock. He was named after his father's brother, the founder of the famous local ironworks in Cable Street, Wolverhampton. Moses later joined this firm with another partner to form Bayliss, Jones and Bayliss.

William was educated at Mowbray House School, Wolverhampton. He was then apprenticed to a doctor at Wolverhampton Hospital in order to pursue his interest in medicine. He never completed his training there and changed his mind about the path he wanted to follow. He went to University College London in 1881 and then in 1885 he went to Wadham College, Oxford and obtained a first class degree in the School of Natural Science or Physiology, a field becoming more and more popular in the 1880s. He took up a teaching post at University College London and it was there his great discovery was made.

In 1902, with Ernest H. Starling, he discovered that, when food comes into contact with part of the small intestine, a chemical substance is secreted. This chemical substance is carried via the blood to the pancreas where it stimulates the secretion of pancreatic juice, the most important of the digestive juices. They named this chemical substance secretin.  It was the first discovered hormone. They coined the word 'hormone' from the Greek for 'I excite' or 'I arouse' and opened up an entirely new field of medicine and research. Bayliss' name became so identified with the field that in America "Bayliss Clubs" were formed to promote the viewing of life from the angle of chemistry.

Controversially, the team experimented on animals and this lead to the notorious Brown Dog Affair of 1903. Stephen Coleridge, the Secretary of the National Anti-Vivesection Society, in a speech to the Society, alleged that a brown dog had been vivesected by Bayliss at University College. Bayliss sued him and won, donating the £2,000 damages to University College for physiological research. Bayliss played no further part in the affair but a memorial to the brown dog was erected in Battersea and an attack on it by medical students lead to the worst riots in London until the Poll Tax demonstrations in the 1980s. Bayliss wrote a number of articles on the humane treatment of animals.

In 1912 he was appointed Professor of General Physiology at University College.

Amongst his other scientific work Bayliss studied the use of saline injections as a way of counteracting the shock suffered in surgery.  As a result of this work he proposed the use of gum-saline injections for wound shock and this was said to have saved many lives of wounded soldiers in the First World War.

In 1915, his classic work 'Principles of General Physiology' was published. It ran through four editions in his lifetime. Significantly, when he was too ill to revise the fourth edition himself, no other person was up to the task of revising the whole work. Each chapter required the skill of an expert in each subject covered.

He was knighted in 1922 and, although he continued to live in Hampstead, he remained a director of the family business, Bayliss, Jones and Bayliss.

Other fruitful results of his collaboration with E.H. Starling were his children: Bayliss married Starling's sister, Gertrude. They had three sons and one daughter. One of them, Leonard Ernest Bayliss, also became a physiologist and worked under Starling at University College.  He also published an article on the brown dog affair, looking at the matter from the point of view of University College.

Sir William and Lady Bayliss were interested in the social conditions of those around them and 'took an interest' in the labour conditions of the workers in Cable Street, Wolverhampton. They also had a reputation for unfailing hospitality and William loved to create an atmosphere of scientific discussion regularly at their house. Accounts label him as an honest and gentle man of exhaustive knowledge who was always approachable and always esteemed others more highly than he did himself.

Sir William Bayliss died in 1924.

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