Catalogue Number: 2099
Researches on colour blindness with a supplement on the the danger attending the present system of railway and marine coloured signals
Sub-Category: Hewett collection
Author: WILSON George
Year Of Publication/Manufacture: 1855 (reprinted 2012)
Time Period: 19th C
Place Of Publication/Manufacture: Edinburgh
Publisher/Manufacturer: Sutherland & Knox, South Bridge (reprinted by Pranava Books)
Description Of Item: Paperback, 180 pages with several black and white diagrams. Preface, an introductory discussion, 6 chapters which were previously published in the Edinburgh Monthly Medical Journal in 10 successive issues 1853 to 1854, the supplement (reprinted from Trans Royal Scottish Soc Arts 1854-1855), a paper 'On the theory of colours in relation to colour-blindness' by James Clerk Maxwell, and an Appendix containing notes A to L. On-demand reprint of the original.
Historical Significance: George Wilson (1818 - 1859) was Regius Professor of Technology at the University of Edinburgh, and the first Director of the Industrial Museum of Scotland. Born in Edinburgh, he attended the Royal High School and trained as a doctor at the University, where he completed a doctoral thesis on haloid salts in 1839. He lectured in chemistry at the Royal College of Surgeons from 1840, and was appointed lecturer at the Veterinary College in 1843. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1845, and served as President of Royal Scottish Society of Arts, 1855-1857. Wilson published many books and journal articles on the history of science, and was the author of Life of Henry Cavendish (1851) and this book Researches on Colour-Blindness (1855). Wilson was the first person to realise that colour-blindness has a high prevalence. He became aware of this because so many of his chemistry students had problems with titration. Dalton's report in 1794 of his own colour blindness was regarded as a rare or unique condiiton. Wilson was also the first to point out that colour blindness was a risk factor for safe operations on the railways and at sea and the first to attract the attention of railway companies to the risk. See Vingrys, A J and Cole, B L (1986) Origins of colour vision standards within the transport industry Ophthal Physiol Opt 6, 369-374 for more details. It is also interesting that Wilson found a higher prevalence of colour blindness among the Society of Friends (Quakers) and hypothesised that it was because their way of life required dress in sombre colours and had they not as a result developed a full sensitivity to colours. He held this hypothesis despite being told by Friends that they enjoyed fully the colour of gardens and flowers, but Wilson argued that the colour blindess of Friends was for those who did not engage in gardening and therefore had insufficient exposure to colour for their colour vision to develop fully. Mendell did not publish his work on inheritance until 1865 and the science of genetics did not really begin until 1900 so the possibility of inbreeding among Quakers did not occur to Wilson. It is interesting that Dalton was a Quaker.
How Acquired: Purchased by Kett Museum (Abe Books $20)
Date Acquired: October 2012
Location: Nathan Library. Hewett collection