Thanks for the blood

Like most academics, I enjoy reading the Acknowledgments in scholarly books. They sometimes mention blood in the “blood, sweat and tears” tradition. The most memorable Acknowledgments I’ve seen, though, are about actual blood. As in: the author is thanking all of the people who sent blood samples from around the world. Mostly animal blood, as it turns out.

George H. F. Nuttall (1862-1937) was an American-British researcher at Cambridge who did research on a serological test that would be used on forensic blood stains. The precipitin test identified the species of origin of a blood stain. To do it, you needed a reference library of blood serum from animals of many different species.

Nuttall conducted 16,000 experiments using 900 blood samples from 586 animals around the world. In the Acknowledgments to his 1904 book, Blood Immunity and Blood Relationshiphe “very cordially” thanked the “seventy gentlemen” who helped him amass a Noah’s Ark of animal blood. These included some sources close to home, like the Prosector of the London Zoo (in charge of dissections) and “Messrs Brazenor Brothers, Naturalists at Brighton.” From further afield, Nuttall thanked:

  • a museum director in Bergen and a professor in Christiania, Norway (whale blood from both)
  • Herr G. von Oertzen, Consul-General to the German Empire at Havre, France (porpoise blood)
  • Count Carl Otto von Schlieffen-Schwandt of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and his gamekeeper (multiple samples)
  • Prof. Bigelow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (mostly fish blood)
  • the Chief Veterinary Inspector of the Egyptian government and one Prof. Elliott-Smith, both in Cairo (the professor sent reptilian blood)
  • the Scottish Antarctic Expedition (penguin blood?)

Nuttall thanked a disproportionate number of contacts based in South Asia, particularly military physicians in the Indian Medical Service. He acknowledged samples sent from Bombay, Calcutta, Kashmir, Chitral, Khandesh, South Sylhet, and Ceylon, among others. He didn’t name the animal species covered, probably because they were so numerous.

There was also some research on human blood and race science going on here; this was the age of eugenics (more on that here and here). Nuttall thanked:

  • Dr. Henry Strachan, Chief Medical Officer at Lagos, West Africa for sending blood samples of Africans; and
  • Dr. Daniels of the London School of Tropical Medicine for sending “Mongolian and Indian” blood.

This race-based line of research, like blood group testing on humans by race, ended up nowhere conclusive. The precipitin test did prove effective in distinguishing between species, though. It took special hold in British India, where its forensic applications occupied much of the Imperial Serologist’s time. Stay tuned for my forthcoming article on precipitin testing and the Imperial Serologist in a volume edited by Ian Burney and Chris Hamlin (a product of this conference).

To read Nuttall’s full Acknowledgments, see pp.411-13 of G. H. F. Nuttall, Blood Immunity and Blood Relationship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1904), available here.