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Wellcome Library

Wilson, Sir Graham Selby (1895-1987)


Reference code(s): GB 0120 PP/GSW

Held at: Wellcome Library

Title: Wilson, Sir Graham Selby (1895-1987)

Date(s): 1891-1987

Level of description: Collection (fonds)

Extent: 17 boxes

Name of creator(s): Wilson | Sir | Graham Selby | 1895-1987 | Knight | microbiologist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Wilson was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1895. He was educated at King's College, London and Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, London where he undertook his first research at the suggestion of W.W.C. Topley. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War, rejoining Topley at Charing Cross in 1920 as Demonstrator in Bacteriology. He moved with Topley, first to Manchester University as Lecturer in 1923, and then to the newly established London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) as Reader in Bacteriology in 1927. In 1930 he was appointed to the Chair of Bacteriology Applied to Hygiene, a post he held until 1947.

Wilson's researches, initially with Topley, encompassed the Salmonella group of bacteria, brucellosis and tuberculosis, milk hygiene and the control of diphtheria. Topley and Wilson established courses for the Diploma of Bacteriology at both Manchester and the LSHTM, and their celebrated text book Principles of bacteriology and immunity (first published in 1929) had its origins in these courses. After Topley's death in 1944, Wilson continued to revise the publication with A. A. Miles, reaching a seventh edition in 1984. With the approach of the Second World War, Wilson was involved in the planning of the Emergency Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) and became its Director in 1941. He continued as Director of the peacetime PHLS until his retirement in 1963, when he returned to LSHTM as Honorary Lecturer in Microbiology. Wilson died in 1987. He was elected FRS in 1978 (Buchanan Medal 1967). He was knighted in 1962.


Scope and content/abstract:

Although the collection is by no means comprehensive, there are interesting records of many aspects of Wilson's career.

Section A. Biographical: Brings together material relating to obituaries, tributes, honours and awards. Includes Wilson's account of his First World War experiences and his assessment of his scientific publications. Section B. Research: Although not extensive, provides documentation of a number of Wilson's principal interests including the Salmonella group of bacteria and milk hygiene. There are three laboratory notebooks with experimental data covering the period 1919-45. Section C. Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS): Relates chiefly to the unpublished history written by Wilson after his retirement as Director of the PHLS. There is also a little material relating to laboratory design and equipment and PHLS personnel. Section D. Lectures and publications: The most substantial in the collection. There are records of Wilson's lectures for a period of forty years from 1944, extensive documentation of the later editions of Principles of bacteriology and immunity, and editorial correspondence and papers for the British Journal of Experimental Pathology and the Journal of Hygiene. Section E. Societies and organisations: Documentation of Wilson's association with ten British organisations including the Medical Research Club, Medical Research Council and Veterinary Club. The Medical Research Council material relates to the Working Party on Tristan da Cunha which was set up to supervise medical investigations when the inhabitants were evacuated to Britain after the island's volcano erupted in 1961. There is also material relating to the Research Foundation, Chicago, which specialised in tuberculosis research, on whose medical advisory committee Wilson served. Section F. Visits and conferences: Records of a number of overseas trips in an advisory capacity for the World Health Organisation, including to Ethiopia 1964, Iraq 1965, Iran, Sudan and Egypt 1971 and the Philippines 1972, and records of international microbiology congresses. Section G. Correspondence: Although not extensive, includes a chronological sequence of scientific correspondence, 1930-1987, Wilson's collection of autograph letters addressed to Topley and himself, and references and recommendations. Section H. Photographs: Photographic records of Wilson, colleagues, conferences and PHLS laboratories. Section J. 'Biographical History of Bacteriology': Manuscript of Wilson's history, with correspondence about publication.


Language/scripts of material: English.

System of arrangement:

By section as follows: A. Biographical, B. Research, C. Public Health Laboratory Service, D. Lectures and publications, E. Societies and organisations, F. Visits and conferences, G. Correspondence, H. Photographs, J. 'Biographical History of Bacteriology'. Index of correspondents.

Conditions governing access:

By appointment with the Archivist, and after completing a Reader's Undertaking. Items no. G.27-G.29 are closed until 2036.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopies and photographic copies are supplied at the discretion of the Archivist; in the case of certain deposited collections, the permission of the owner may also be required. Please note that material may be unsuitable for photocopying on conservation grounds, and that photographs cannot be photocopied in any circumstances. Readers are restricted to 100 photocopies in twelve months.

Physical characteristics:

Finding aids:

Catalogued by National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath, 1990 (Printed Catalogues of the papers and correspondence of Sir Graham Selby Wilson: NCUACS catalogue no. 20/5/90, 66 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath). Catalogue amended by SM Dixon, CMAC, Wellcome Library in February 1991 and February 1997. Detailed catalogue available at

Collection level description available on-line on the Wellcome Library website


Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information:


Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

These papers were given to the Contemporary Medical Archives Centre (now Archives and Manuscripts following merger with Western Manuscripts) in August 1989 by Sir Graham Wilson's family (CMAC accession no. 300). Additional material came via the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine with the agreement of the family: reprints of Wilson's publications, 1989 (CMAC accession no. 318); manuscript of Wilson's `Biographical History of Bacteriology', 1994 (CMAC accession no. 541).


Existence and location of originals:

Existence and location of copies:

Related material:

Publication note:



Archivist's note: Description based on that created by NCUACS, University of Bath, with amendments by Helen Wakely, Wellcome Library.

Rules or conventions: Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions: August 2000

Awards | Social norms | Social behaviour
Biologists | Scientists | Scientific personnel | Personnel | People by occupation | People
Conferences | Group communication | Communication process
Editing | Publishing | Publishing industry
Enterobacteriaceae | Organisms
Experiments | Research work
Food control | Health policy | Health
History of science | Science of science
Hygiene | Health
Immunity | Immunology
Laboratory equipment | Scientific equipment | Equipment
Lectures (teaching method) | Teaching methods
Military medicine | Medical sciences
Milk | Dairy products | Animal products | Agricultural products
Photographs | Visual materials
Public health | Health
Research laboratories | Scientific facilities
Salmonella | Bacteria | Microorganisms | Bacteriology | Microbiology
Scientific organizations | Science administration
Scientific periodicals | Scientific publications | Scientific facilities
Surgery | Medical sciences
Travel abroad | Travel
Tuberculosis | Diseases | Pathology
War | International conflicts
World War One (1914-1918) | World wars (events) | Wars (events)
Public health x Health policy
Actinomycetales infections
Medical research

Personal names
Topley | William Whiteman Carlton | 1886-1944 | bacteriologist
Wilson | Sir | Graham Selby | 1895-1987 | Knight | microbiologist

Corporate names
British Journal of Experimental Pathology
Journal of Hygiene
Medical Research Club
Medical Research Council | Working Party on Tristan da Cunha
Public Health Laboratory Service
RAMC | Royal Army Medical Corps x Royal Army Medical Corps
Research Foundation | Chicago
Veterinary Club
WHO | World Health Organization x World Health Organization

Egypt | North Africa
Ethiopia | East Africa
Iran, Islamic Republic | Middle East
Iraq | Middle East
Philippines | South East Asia
Sudan | East Africa
Tristan da Cunha | Saint Helena | Southern Africa