Lives of the fellows

John William Trevan

b.23 July 1887 d.13 October 1956
BSc Lond(1908) MB BS Lond(1911) MRCS LRCP(1911) MRCP(1914) FRCP(1942) FRS(1946)

John Trevan had to contend in his youth with the obstacles of an upbringing in the strict sect of the Plymouth Brethren, but although he remained very religious, teaching in Sunday School and acting as a sidesman, he was always gay and amusing, fond of games, and an enthusiastic pianist and organist. His father, John William Stoneman Trevan, a clerk of works, and his mother, Bessie Babbage, frowned on his scientific interests, yet he went on to accumulate an encyclopaedic knowledge and become a brilliant scientist. At the age of fifteen he won scholarships at the Plymouth Scientific and Technical School, and at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital gained the Harvey, Foster, Walsham and Burrows prizes and the Brackenbury scholarship. At twenty-one he graduated B.Sc, with honours in physiology. To quote him, he chose a career in laboratory work because he ‘found clinical medicine too difficult’. His first post in this line came with a Fishmongers Company research scholarship; he was a demonstrator in physiology under J. S. Edkins and, later,F. A. Bainbridge.

In 1917, as a captain, R.A.M.C., he was a pathologist in Cairo and Salonika, but was recalled to England because of the influenza epidemic. His appointment as pharmacologist to the Wellcome Research Laboratories, already famous through the work of Dale, Borger and Laidlaw, paved the way for the abiding interest of the rest of his professional life. In 1941 he became director, and was very soon known for his encouragement to his junior helpers and his valuable services on many committees. He was a governor of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School, a member of the Biological Standards Commission of the League of Nations, and much in demand for committees of the Medical Research and Agricultural Research Councils.

He was particularly remembered for his introduction of statistical methods into pharmacology. He did much to make insulin safe; indeed it is not an exaggeration to say he laid the foundations of the science of biological assay (Proc. roy. Soc., B., 1927,101, 483-514). He also devised many new forms of apparatus such as the micrometer syringe. In 1948 he was Bertram Louis Abrahams lecturer to the College.

In 1916 he married Ida Kathleen Keys, by whom he had three sons and two daughters. She died in 1937. In 1939 he married Margaret Llewellyn Smith, by whom he had one son and two daughters. Two of his sons qualified from St. Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School.

Richard R Trail

[Biogr.Mem.Roy.Soc., 1957, 3, 273-88 (p), bibl. ; Brit.med.J., 1956, 2, 943-4 (p); Lancet, 1956, 2, 898-9 (p); Nature (Lond.), 1956, 178, 1027-8; Times, 15, 19 Oct. 1956; Western Morning News, 18 Sept. 1953.]

(Volume V, page 423)

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