Paton, Sir William Drummond Macdonald (1917-1993), Pharmacologist

  • Paton, William D. M.
  • Archives and manuscripts

About this work


Paton's main research interests were in underwater physiology, histamine, synaptic transmission, drug dependence, anaesthetic mechanisms, allergy electron microscopy and the history of science, particularly medical science. This collection of Paton's personal papers broadly reflects not only these research interests in a considerable range of correspondence, research papers and laboratory notebooks, but also much of the committee work that occupied his energies. Papers from Paton's time as both a Rhodes Trustee and a Wellcome Trustee provide further evidence of the extent of his commitments in committee.

Papers relating to Paton's Chairmanship of the Research Defence Committee (1972-77) are particularly extensive and reveal the social and political pressures of the period, the passionate challenges of the anti-vivisection lobby, as well as Paton's personal commitment to a socially responsible use of animals in scientific experimentation. Papers relating to Man and Mouse: Animals in Medical Research (1984), in which Paton set out his fundamental position on animal experimentation, provide further material on this topic.

Another field of interest in which Paton expended considerable energy was that of drug dependence, particularly the pharmacological action of cannabis. Through work in laboratory and committees, and through the media and many speaking engagements, he campaigned strenuously to warn of what he judged to be the deleterious effects of cannabis, and forged campaign alliances with American colleagues who shared his concerns.

Throughout his career, Paton maintained strong links with the Royal Navy, acting as scientific adviser and consultant on deep diving and underwater physiology. This strand of his work was of enduring interest: Paton's work on the physiological properties of gases at high pressure led directly to the development of the deep-diving breathing mixture known as 'Tri-Mix', in which nitrogen is added to helium and oxygen. Paton took great pleasure in the Royal Navy achieving, in 1980, the world's deepest dive (see D/2/14).

The collection comprises a set of papers that reflect, in their variety and coherence, a career that refused to be confined to a set of narrow pharmacological interests, and refused to confine science to the laboratory.



Physical description

84 boxes, and 2 o/s boxes


PP/WDP has been arranged as follows:

A Personal and Biographical Material

B Correspondence

C Pharmacology

D Royal Navy

E Animals in Medical Research

F Drug Dependence

G Trusteeship

H Unpublished Lectures

All file titles within the above Sections are Paton's unless otherwise indicated by [ ] brackets.

Acquisition note

Presented by Lady Paton between 1984 and 1995 (accessions 175, 192, 386, 506, 525, 547 and 581).

Biographical note

William Drummond Macdonald Paton was born in Hendon, London, 5 May, 1917, and died 17 October, 1993. Son of a clergyman, Paton was educated at Winchester House, Brackley, and at Repton. At New College, Oxford, he obtained first class honours in Animal Physiology (1938). He proceeded to study at University College Hospital (UCH) where he qualified as a physician (1942), marrying, in the same year, Phoebe Margaret Rooke.

His subsequent appointments were: Pathologist, Midhurst Sanatorium (1943); Member of Scientific Staff, National Institute for Medical Research (1944-52); Reader in Applied Pharmacology, UCH (1952-54); Vandervell Chair of Pharmacology, Royal College of Surgeons, London (1954-59); Professor of Pharmacology, University of Oxford, and Fellow of Balliol College (1959-84).

Other offices held include: Secretary of the Physiological Society (1951-57); Chairman, MRC Committee on Non-Explosive Anaesthetic Agents (1960-69); Member of the Medical Research Council (1963-67); Member of the Council of the Royal Society (1967-69); Delegate of the Clarendon Press, Oxford (1967-72); Chairman, MRC Working Party on Biochemical and Physiological Aspects of Drug Dependence (1968-75); Chairman, Editorial Board, British Pharmacological Society (1969-74); President, Institute of Animal Technicians (1969-74); Member, Central Advisory Council for Science and Technology (1970-71); Chairman, Committee on the Scheme for the Suppression of Doping in Horse-Racing (1970-71); Chairman, Research Defence Society (1972-77); Member, (Hunter) Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health (1978-79). In addition, Paton served as a Rhodes Trustee from 1968, and as a Wellcome Trustee from 1978. From 1953, Paton was consultant and adviser to the Director of Naval Physical Research, and was appointed as Civil Consultant in Underwater Physiology to the Navy in 1978, retiring from the role in 1982 on attaining the age of 65 years.

Amongst his many honours and awards were: FRS (1956), JP (1956), CBE (1968), FRCP (1969), FFARCS (Hon) (1975), and Knight bachelor (1979). He shared the Cameron Prize (1956) and the Gairdner Foundation Award (1959) with Eleanor Zaimis for their work on methonium compounds, and received the Gold Medal of the Society of Apothecaries (1979).

Related material

At Wellcome Collection:

British Pharmacological Society (SA/BPS).

Physiological Society (SA/PHY).

Research Defence Society (SA/RDS).

Wellcome Foundation Archive.

Wellcome Trust Archive.

Paton's published papers (reprints) are bound as seven volumes (QV6:1-7) in the published books collection of the library.

Terms of use

This collection has been catalogued and is available to library members. Some items have access restrictions which are explained in the item-level catalogue records.


For an introduction to PP/WDP, see Chris Beckett, "A coherent collection: the personal papers of Sir William Paton," Friends of the Wellcome Library & Centre for the History of Medicine Newsletter, 28 (2002), 7-11.

Permanent link


Accession number

  • 175
  • 192
  • 386
  • 506
  • 525
  • 547
  • 581