Walter Frank Raphael Weldon

Walter Frank Raphael Weldon FRS (15 March 1860, Highgate, London – 13 April 1906), Oxford, generally called Raphael Weldon, was an English evolutionary zoologist and biometrician.

Life and education

Weldon was the second child of the journalist and industrial chemist, Walter Weldon (FRS 1882), and his wife Anne Cotton. Weldon "père" moved around the country so frequently that Raphael could not attend school until he was thirteen years old. Walter and Anne had three children; their first child was a girl, with Raphael born next followed by his younger brother Dante.

Raphael did receive some tutoring from a local clergyman before he was thirteen years old then, in 1873, he entered Mr Watson's boarding school at Caversham near Reading. After three years there, plus several months of private study, he entered University College London. Weldon spent the academic year 1876/1877 at UCL, being taught by the zoologist E. Ray Lankester and the Danish mathematician Olaus Henrici. There he studied a wide range of subjects which he took in preparation for studying medicine. Henrici impressed Weldon more than any other lecturer; he later wrote that Henrici was the first naturally gifted teacher he had studied underFact|date=February 2008.

Later in 1877 he transferred to King's College London and then to St John's College, Cambridge in 1878. There Weldon studied with the developmental morphologist Francis Balfour who influenced him greatly: Weldon gave up his plans for a career in medicine. In 1881 he gained a first-class honours degree in the Natural Science Tripos despite the loss of his brother Dante, who died suddenly. In the autumn he left for the Naples Zoological Station to begin the first of his studies on marine biological organisms.

Weldon married Florence Tebb, daughter of William Tebb of Rede Hall, Burstow in Surrey, on 13 March 1883. She played a large role in his scientific work, assisting him on many of his projects. He died in 1906 of acute pneumonia, and is buried at Holywell Church, Oxford.


Upon returning to Cambridge in 1882, he was appointed university lecturer in Invertebrate Morphology. Weldon's work was centred around the development of a fuller understanding of marine biological phenomena and selective death rates of these organisms.

After graduating he began research, going to Naples where he worked at the Zoological Station. He was appointed a demonstrator in zoology at Cambridge University in 1882, and became a Fellow of St John's College and a university lecturer in invertebrate morphology in 1884. His teaching was described in these glowing terms:-

:"Seldom is it given to a man to teach as Weldon taught. He lectured almost as one inspired. His extreme earnestness was only equalled by his lucidity. He awoke enthusiasm even in the dullest, and had the divine gift of compelling interest." Fact|date=May 2008

After he was married to Florence, Weldon took all his holidays with his wife in places where they could study marine biology. In particular they visited the Bahamas in 1886, which was scientifically very profitable. The Marine Biological Association set up a laboratory in Plymouth, and Weldon and his wife began spending all their vacations there undertaking research. By 1888 they were spending as much time there as his duties at Cambridge would allow, and he only went to the university to give his lectures. He undertook research June to January, teaching at Cambridge for two terms each year.

In 1889 Weldon succeeded Lankester in the Jodrell Chair of Zoology at University College London, and was elected to the Royal Society in 1890. Royal Society records show his election supporters included the great zoologists of the day: Huxley, Lankester, Poulton, Newton, Flower, Romanes and others.

His interests were changing from morphology to problems in variation and organic correlation. He began using the statistical techniques that Francis Galton had developed for he had come to the view that "the problem of animal evolution is essentially a statistical problem." Weldon began working with his University College colleague, the mathematician Karl Pearson. Their partnership was very important to both men and survived Weldon's move to the Linacre Chair of Zoology at Oxford University in 1899. In the years of their collaboration Pearson laid the foundations of modern statistics. Magnello emphasises this side of Weldon's career. In 1900 he took the DSc degree and as Linacre Professor he also held a Fellowship at Merton College, Oxford.

By 1893 a Royal Society Committee included Weldon, Galton and Karl Pearson 'For the Purpose of conducting Statistical Enquiry into the Variability of Organisms'. In an 1894 paper "Some remarks on variation in plants and animals" arising from the work of the Royal Society Committee, Weldon wrote:-

:"... the questions raised by the Darwinian hypothesis are purely statistical, and the statistical method is the only one at present obvious by which that hypothesis can be experimentally checked."

In 1900 the work of Gregor Mendel was rediscovered and this precipitated a conflict between Weldon and Pearson on the one side and William Bateson on the other. Bateson, who had been taught by Weldon, took a very strong line against the biometricians. This bitter dispute ranged across substantive issues of the nature of evolution and methodological issues such as the value of the statistical method. Will Provine gives a detailed account of the controversy. The debate lost much of its intensity with the death of Weldon in 1906, though the general debate between the biometricians and the Mendelians continued until the creation of the modern evolutionary synthesis in the 1930s.


*Pearson, Karl 1906. Walter Frank Raphael Weldon. 1860–1906. "Biometrika" 5: 1–52.

*W.B. Provine (1971) The origins of theoretical population genetics. University of Chicago Press.

*Magnello E. 2001. Walter Frank Raphael Weldon, in "Statisticians of the Centuries" (eds C.C. Heyde and E. Seneta) p261-264. New York: Springer.

*Shipley A.E. 1908. Walter Frank Raphael Weldon. "Proc Roy Soc Series B" 1908 vol 80 pxxv-xli.

External links

*MacTutor Biography|id=Weldon
* [ "On Certain Correlated Variations in Carcinus moenas"] Proceedings of the Royal Society, 54, (1893), 318-329. An example of Weldon’s use of statistical methods
* [ of Weldon] on the [ Portraits of Statisticians] page.

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