SIR WILLIAM BAYLISS
1860 - 1924
by Helen Priddey
A version of this text first appeared in The Black
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
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
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.
Lives of Local People