The first Honorary Members

Since its foundation in 1876, The Physiological Society has been inviting distinguished scientists to become Honorary Members. The first two people to receive, and accept, this honour were Charles Darwim and William Sharpey.

Charles Darwin

Darwin was a surprising choice, as he was not a physiologist. However, he had supported physiologists against the antivivisectionists when he gave evidence at the 1875 Royal Commission on animal experimentation for scientific purposes. He had also collaborated professionally with several leading physiologists, assisting Society founder member John Burdon Sanderson in experiments on the Venus fly trap. He corresponded with George Romanes (on the colour of fish, and on grafting jellyfish organs) and with Michael Foster (on curare, a plant-derived nerve poison).


William Sharpey

William Sharpey, dubbed by an eminent admirer ‘The Father of Modern Physiology’ in Britain, was a more straightforward selection. The study of physiology in England in the mid-nineteenth century lagged far behind that in France and Germany. In 1836, Sharpey, who was primarily an anatomist at that time, was appointed to the newly-instituted Chair of General Anatomy and Physiology at University College, London. Professor for nearly four decades, he made a series of inspired appointments and was succeeded by John Burdon Sanderson shortly before The Physiological Society was founded. He left behind a department with a formidable reputation for the teaching and practice of experimental physiology.


Further reading

  • Sharpey-Schafer E (1927). History Of The Physiological Society During Its First Fifty Years, Part.1. J.Physiol 64 (Suppl), 1–76.
  • French RD (1970). Darwin and the physiologists, or the medusa and modern cardiology. J Hist Biol 3, 253-274.
  • Schwartz J (1995). George John Romanes’s Defense of Darwinism: The Correspondence of Charles Darwin and His Chief Disciple. J Hist Biol 28(2), 281-316.
  • Taylor DW (1971). The life and teaching of William Sharpey (1802-1880). ‘Father of modern physiology’ in Britain. Part 1. Med Hist 15(2):126-53.
  • Taylor DW (1971). The life and teaching of William Sharpey (1802-1880). ‘Father of modern physiology’ in Britain. Part 2. Med Hist 15(3), 241-59.

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