J. S. HALDANE (1860–1936)
11 Crick Road, Oxford
John Scott Haldane was born in Edinburgh into an aristocratic Scottish family in 1860. He was educated in Edinburgh and qualified as a medical practitioner in 1883 but was drawn to a career in medical research. In 1887 he began work as a demonstrator in the Oxford Department of Physiology and later became Reader in Physiology (1907). Haldane’s most important research concerned respiration and the body’s use of oxygen. He was always concerned with applying his knowledge in real situations and he often experimented on himself, with some detriment to his health.
He is best known for his great improvements to safety in mines, including the use of canaries to give early warning of carbon monoxide. Through intensive investigations at the scenes of disasters, he had demonstrated that carbon monoxide poisoning was the cause of many deaths following an explosion or fire. He was Director of the Mining Research Laboratory for some years and was President of the Institute of Mining Engineers 1924-28, a mark of the esteem in which he was held by the mining industry.
He discovered that the ‘bends’ experienced by deep sea divers were caused by nitrogen bubbles in the blood. The Haldane Tables, a scheme of staged decompression, were devised by him and are still essentially those used today. Other concerns were the alleviation of altitude sickness and the design of prototype gas masks in WW1.
Haldane was made FRS in 1897 and awarded the Copley Medal in 1924. In 1928 he was made Companion of Honour for scientific work in connection with industrial diseases.
In 1891 he had married Louisa Kathleen Trotter and they lived at 11 Crick Road until 1899. Here Haldane conducted some of his early experiments with gases; it was also the first home of their children, the geneticist J. B. S. Haldane, and the novelist Naomi Mitchison. The family later lived at ‘Cherwell’, the house with a private laboratory built for Haldane at the end of Linton Road in 1907. ‘Cherwell’ was later demolished to make way for Wolfson College.
J. S. Haldane died in 1936 after a sudden onset of pneumonia. He was treated at the end in an oxygen tent, a procedure he had pioneered. His ashes were buried in Scotland on the family estate at Cloan.
- Sources: Martin Goodman, Suffer and Survive; article by Steve Sturdy in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- Pictures: Haldane’s former home and Unveiling of plaque
- Oxford Mail, 4 May 2009: ‘Blue plaque tribute to scientific pioneer’
The plaque was unveiled at 11 Crick Road, Oxford on 2 May 2009 by Professor Clive Ellory, Reader in Physiology at Oxford, assisted by Ros Elliott. Professor Ellory paid tribute to Haldane’s achievement and Professor Sir Roger Elliott, the owner of the house, also spoke. The ceremony was attended by Haldane’s grandchildren and later generations of the family, and by representatives of the Royal Society, New College and Wolfson College.
Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board
J. S. HALDANE / CH FRS
lived and conducted / experiments here / 1891–1899
Oxford Civic Society