Robert Heath Lock (1879 - 1915) A scan of 4th edition of his textbook by AWF Edwards
Robert Heath Lock (1879 - 1915)


One of the most intriguing characters in Treasure Your Exceptions (p. 290-293) is Robert Heath Lock. In a letter to Beatrice (1917), Bateson said he had begun writing an obituary, but this has not yet surfaced. Lock, known to his friends as 'Bertie,' met Bella Woolf on the boat out to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he was Assistant Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Peradeniya. She was visiting her colonial administrator brother, Leonard Woolf, who later would marry Virginia Stephen. So Lock became Virginia Woolf's brother-in-law.

    Lock's textbook Recent Progress in the Study of Variation, Heredity and Evolution (first edition, 1906) spread the Mendelian message, and H. J. Muller later acknowledged its influence on himself and his "fly room" colleagues (Carlson 2013). Of the 'partial coupling' ('partial linkage') discovered by Punnett and Bateson (Edwards 2012), Lock supposed that this might be due to "some mechanism which causes the representative particles [alleles or genes] of the respective characters concerned, to remain in company during the process by which the other allelomorphs [alleles] are being reassorted between the chromosomes." Lock died in 1915 of a heart attack after influenza and the 4th edition (1916) was brought out by Bella with updating by Leonard Doncaster, who died in 1920 at the age of 42. Thus, two of the youngest and most dynamic members of the Bateson "pack" were not available to continue his work.

     To the 4th edition Bella attached a brief biographical note that, surprisingly, does not mention Bateson. While there was much correspondence between Bateson and Lock, the Bateson letters to Lock have disappeared, but we can judge their content from Lock's replies. Lock may have been better able to read the German literature than Bateson, and his praise for Hugo de Vries (whose early works were in German) may not have endeared him to Bateson. He read the English literature deeply, and his father, the Bursar at Caius College, Cambridge, was quick to respond to his requests for books to be sent to Ceylon.

     In later editions of Variation, Heredity and Evolution the works of Samuel Butler and George Romanes were cited. In 1921 Bella married Tom Southorn, a colleague of Lock, and returned to Ceylon. It can be speculated that Bella was bitter because Bateson had not appointed Lock in 1910 to one of the available senior posts at the John Innes Horticultural Institute. The stress of finding employment elsewhere may have increased Lock's vulnerability to influenza. Had he lived, he would likely have been a leading candidate for the Directorship when Bateson died in 1926.

     There is a growing interest in Lock in present-day Sri Lanka (Click Here). Vinay Moonesinghe's articles in the Ceylon Daily News relate that Bateson's son, Gregory, worked there during WWII with the lady who was later to become the famous "French Chef," Julia Child (Moonesinghe 2012). 

Carlson EA (2013) H. J. Muller's contributions to mutation research. Mutation Research 752, 1-5.

Edwards AWF (2012) Reginald Crundall Punnett: First Arthur Balfour Professor of Genetics, Cambridge, 1912. Genetics 192, 3-13.

Moonesinghe V (2012) Ceylon Daily News  Click Here

End Note (July 2013)

There is a fine review of successive editions of Lock's textbook by Edwards (2013), who points out that Sturtevant in A History of Genetics (1965) had noted that Lock had "suggested the relation between linkage and the exchange of parts between homologous chromosomes." The writings of Lock, the son of an Eton mathematics teacher, may also have been "an important source for Fisher." And "remarkably prescient" was Lock's noting "that the standard deviation 'happens to be determinable with greater accuracy from an actual series of variates' than the mean quartile, and in a footnote he gives the root-mean-square-deviation."

Edwards AWF (2013) Robert Heath Lock and his textbook of genetics, 1906. Genetics 194, 529-537.


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This page was established in April 2011 and last edited 19 Nov 2013 by Donald Forsdyke