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Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890-1962)
Statistician and geneticist
Papers 1911-2005

MSS 0013

Biographical Note

R.A. Fisher’s extraordinary contributions to statistical theory and methods, experimental design, scientific inference, evolutionary biology and genetics have had far-reaching consequences in many branches of human thought and endeavour.

His ground-breaking work revolutionised the design of experiments and created the foundations for modern statistical science. Fisher’s 1925 book Statistical Methods for Research Workers developed applied statistics which could be applied to many other areas of scientific interest.

In the field of genetics, Fisher connected Charles Darwin’s ideas of natural selection with Gregor Mendel’s notions of biological inheritance, created a unified theory which could be applied to any branch of biology. In the early 20th century, Fisher used his expertise to support the then popular but now discredited Eugenics movement, which aimed to improve the human race.

The achievements of this gifted, energetic and productive scientist have attracted continuing attention, not only for his seven books and several hundred papers (published in more than 80 different journals) but also for his scientific correspondence with its thought-provoking content and ideas for further development.

After the death of this remarkable scientist in Adelaide on 29 July 1962, the editing of his Collected Papers was undertaken by J.H. Bennett, then Professor of Genetics at the University of Adelaide; a former student, research assistant, colleague and friend of Fisher at Cambridge and closely associated with him after Fisher came to Adelaide in 1959 on a visit to the CSIRO Division of Mathematical Statistics. These were published in five volumes by the University between 1971 and 1974 in an edition of 1000 copies.   Two further collections were subsequently edited by Professor Bennett with selections from Fisher’s correspondence, Natural Selection, Heredity, and Eugenics: Including selected correspondence of R.A. Fisher with Leonard Darwin and others (Clarendon Press, 1983) and Statistical Inference and Analysis: Selected correspondence of R.A. Fisher (Clarendon Press, 1990).

Fisher’s archives were deposited with Rare Books & Manuscripts, Barr Smith Library, by Professor Bennett in 1981, and subsequently attracted many research enquiries from within Australia and overseas. In 2000 the Library undertook to progressively digitise selections from Fisher’s published and unpublished work in order to further publicise his scientific contributions and make his work more readily available to users beyond Adelaide.

The Fisher Collection housed in the Special Collections Reading Room contains his scholarship prize books from Harrow School and Caius College, editions of Fisher's works and selected books from his own personal library.

Additional information about the Fisher Collection and the Fisher Digital Archive can be found in the manuscripts collection of Professor J. H. (Henry) Bennett.


Digitised Works

Fisher's Collected Papers, selected correspondence and other works have been digitised and are available through the R. A. Fisher Digital Archive.


Contents Summary

Scientific papers (published)
Published books
Unpublished and miscellaneous papers
Notebooks, data collections, calculations

Lecture notes/outlines
Personal and biographical



Series 1. Correspondence.  1911, 1914, 1918-1962.   5 metres.  
[Principally of a scientific nature.  An alphabetical list of Fisher's correspondents with links to digitised letters is available.  A separate guide (incomplete) to the contents of the file(s) for each correspondent has been prepared by the Special Collections Librarian and is available for consultation.

Series 6.  Letters from W.S. Gosset to R.A. Fisher. 1915-1936.  5 volumes.  
[Copy of typescript for private circulation.  The Letters were published in 1962.]

Scientific papers

Series 2.  Published scientific papers and other writings  (Collected Papers)
Copies of separately published papers, including contributions to discussions, comments on the contributions of others, reviews, and letters to the editor.  1912-62. Published as Collected Papers of R.A. Fisher / edited by J.H. Bennett (University of Adelaide, 1971-74) 5 v. 294 separately numbered items. Also ms of papers CP290 and CP292 (with unpublished material), and folder of corrections to published edition of Fisher's papers (by J.H. Bennett?).
List of papers available at:

Series 2.1.  MSS versions/additions/notes to scientific and published papers
Arranged in CP (Collected Papers) numerical order. Also folder of corrections to published editions of Fisher's works.
See also series 12-13 and 19.

Series 2.2.  Published scientific papers and other writings, not included in Collected Papers of R.A. Fisher. Includes contributions to discussions, comments on the contributions of others, reviews, and letters to the editor. 1912-62. Approx. 300 items.


Published books

Note: A complete set of editions of published works by Fisher have been separately catalogued and housed as the R.A. Fisher Collection in the Rare Books & Special Collections Reading Room, along with items from Fisher's own library donated by Professor J.H. Bennett.
The Collection includes many examples of Fisher’s revisions for later editions in the form of interleaved copies with his manuscript amendments.

Series 3.  Statistical methods for research workers (1925-1958)  
Typescript and ms. corrections for the 14th edition; ms for Section 57.4 'Compiling and summarizing data of use in estimation' (2 leaves); typescript and ms amendments to 13th ed. p. 164 and 133 (4 leaves); typescript and ms additions to 14th ed. Section 29 (4 leaves); ms of the expansion made to 7th ed. Section 27 (2 leaves);  reviews of various editions, 1925-56; and variorum compilation by J.H. Bennett showing the changes over all editions.

Series 7.  Genetical theory of natural selection (1930)
Memorandum of Agreement with the publisher Clarendon Press (OUP) 1929, Reviews 1930-31, and revisions for reprint, 1939, 1948, 1955 and undated.

Series 4.  Design of experiments (1935-1960)
Reviews of various editions, 1936-52; and variorum compilation by J.H. Bennett showing the changes over all editions.
See also Series 18

Series 8.  Statistical Tables (1938-1963)
Reviews of various editions, 1938-49 and undated file of corrections for a later edition.

Series 9.  The Theory of inbreeding (1949-1965)
Drafts and data for a revised edition [1965], and Reviews of both editions, 1950-52 and 1965.

Series 10.  Contributions to mathematical statistics (1950)
Reviews 1951-1952

Series 5.  Statistical methods and scientific inference
Also separate file of corrections and of Reviews of the first (1956) and second editions, 1956-59.
See also Series 18 (1957 address)

Unpublished and miscellaneous papers

All are by Fisher and are undated unless otherwise indicated.

Series 12.  Papers on Eugenics. 1911-1920, 1936
12.1 Fisher's copy of his 1911 paper on Mendelism and biometry, with his ms corrections (reproduced in Natural selection, heredity and eugenics, ed. J.H. Bennett (O.U.P., 1983)
12.2 Paper 'Nationalism and eugenics' read to Science and Arts Society (ms, 9 p.)
12.3 'Eugenics and political theory' (ms, 10 p.)
12.4 'Memorandum on the policy of the Eugenics Society with respect to the professions and trade unions' (ms, 4 leaves) With associated address headed 'Filed under national Union of Scientific Workers' - written while at Rothamstead (5 leaves)
12.5 Untitled paper on barbarous versus civilised societies
12.6 Papers given to Eugenics Query Club (1912 and undated)
12.7 Untitled paper read at Cambridge ca.1920 (ms and typescript)
12.8 'Current condition of birthrate' (ms, 1930)
12.9 'The barbarians of Arabia' (ms)
12.10 Various notes
12.11 Ms draft of Chapters I-IV for work on evolution
12.12 Ms paper on relative rates of reproduction
12.13 Paper 'Revolutionary conspiracies' (ms, ca.1933)
12.14 Ms notes from A history of Egypt by E. Wallis Budge and other notes
12.15 Introductory paper on 'Eugenics and education' by T.E. Jones delivered at Cambridge University Eugenics Society 5 March 1912
12.16 Brief ms draft letter/address to the Eugenics Society in London towards the setting up of Rockefeller Institute of Hygiene in London(?)
12.17 Typescripts of papers to Cambridge University Eugenics Society, untitled and 'Some eugenic criticisms of modern social ideas' (1911-12?)
12.18 Ms draft of book(?) on natural selection (3 chapters only with typescript copies) donated by Joan Fisher Box in 1968 [may be the ms that Leonard Darwin refers to in his letter to Fisher 22/8/1919]

Series 13.  Miscellaneous papers and notes. c1927-1962
Including :
'A discussion on periodicities' The Observatory no. 647, April 1928 - at the Rooms of the Royal Astronomical Society, Sir Gilbert Walker in chair
'The sampling methods of estimating yield from experimental plots' (2 drafts) 1928
Triplet children in GB and Ireland 1928
The Petersburg problem ca. 1938
Heredity, environment and national efficiency in The Book of Buchan, ed. J.F. Tocher. 1943
A genetic garden [proposal for creation of at Cambridge] undated - after 1943
Heredity journal prospectus. April 1947
Polyommatus icarus, 1947-48 [cf CP177]
Testing the significance of manifestation in a three-point backcross 1948
Observed frequencies, March 1949
Chromosome markers in human genetics - paper read at Milan meeting September 1949
Paper by Fisher on Gregor Mendel, 1955
[prepared as introduction to the translation of Mendel's Experiments in plant hybridisation]
Latin Squares - draft paper? prompted by earlier publications by Bose and others, undated [after 1959]
Space travel and ageing (correspondence between Fisher, W.H. McCrea and others 1956-57)
Modes of gamete formation [part published 1962 as CP 292]
'A life table for mongols' [196?]
'Movement of the Perihelion due to the relativistic change of mass' [undated]

Also undated papers including:

'Stability of Veering Flight'
Combinatorial problems connected with arrangements in incomplete blocks - drafts of papers, calculations and table
Distributions (single tail) calculations, undated
Fitting curves by moments (relates to Karl Pearson and the Method of Moments), draft note and calculations  [cf CP149]
Fitting the non-cyclic 4 x 4 Latin Square with expectations
The location of a suppressor for polydactyly (Pl) in the fifth chromosome
Polar wandering
Polysomic inheritance with double reduction
The Rainbow
Self Sterility Allelomorphs
[includes Probability of extinction of non-advantageous genes and other untitled papers ]
Tests on samples from a wild population of Lotus corniculatus
Mathematical theory of Genetics
[Uncertainty and indeterminism] part only (p.5-15)
Variance (a) Exact small-sample treatment of components of variance (see also Dugue correspondence 17/11/1938)

Notebooks, data collections and calculations

Series 14. Lythrum data 1940-68.  24 v.
[23 v. of data and Register.  Data more limited after 1960]

Series 15.  Data records and notes
1. Data on Sd (dominance) in mice.  1940-45  1v.
with covering letter from Dr. Margaret Wallace, University of Cambridge 1966
2. [Data on mice litters] 1924-25  1v.
data is preceded by a ms story, not in Fisher's hand (possibly by Fisher's wife Eileen), and some plant data
3. [Data on chicken broods] 1929-36  1v.
4. Untitled notebook of data relating to inheritance, containing primarily analysis of data on egg-shell size (Jourdain's data)   1v. With bookplate of Arthur Guinness, Son & Co. Account book docket 21/7/1914. Inscribed to 'Dear Fisher' for him to try out for ruling size, from E. Sommerfield, 6 April 1923
5. Untitled early laboratory notepad
6. Dominula data c1941-46 and draft paper cf CP219
7. Grouse locusts data [includes copies of tables of Acrydium arenosum of Robert K. Nabours and draft papers on dominants and cross-overs using samples from Acrydium arenosum and other material]
8. Rainfall data for Cambridge 1900-53
9. Twin data, with typescript paper on Twins and twinning, undated (late 1920s?)
10. Table of 't'
11. Numbers of partitions on n into p parts or fewer
12. Exact smell-sample treatment of components of variance
13. Fit of Poisson limit to fertitlity frequencies (4 leaves)
14. Behrens Test
15. Acrydium arenosum
16. Combinatorial work (examples)

Lecture notes/outlines

Series 17.  Notes of lectures attended by Fisher.  Undated.   2 v.
Theory of elliptic functions, Statistical mechanics [notes on lectures?]

Series 18.  Lectures and addresses given by Fisher
History of Biometry ('On the systematic fitting of curves to observations and measurements' and 'The functions of Mathematics in Biology') undated
Abstract of lectures on population c1924 (given at the invitation of A.L Bowley at the London School of Economics)
Design of experiments (October 1935-March 1936) and Theory of estimation (May 1936) - notes taken of Fisher's lectures by Churchill Eisenhart (with related correspondence between Eisenhart and Prof J.H.Bennett 1986-87)
The Logic of Experimentation: a series of six lectures given by Fisher at the University of California, September-October 1936
[photocopy of transcript made by Dr Evelyn Aylesworth for the California Forest and Range Experiment Station at Berkeley  received from Professor Bennett February 2003]
Lectures 1945-47
[including general lecture schedule, brief notes and outline of lecture on The Theory of Inbreeding 1947]
Lectures 1948 on Bases of Genetics
Statistical information [based on a lecture to the Bio-System group of the Central System Laboratory August 1962]
The Evolution of Genetics (Ramsden Memorial Lecture to Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society March 1953)
Human Genetics 1955-56 - lecture on Scoring
Lay sermons [Thy will be done and Let the dead bury their dead] given at [Gonville and] Caius College Chapel, Cambridge 11 November 1951 and  4 November 1956
Statistical Methods and Statistical Inference (address October 1957 to American Statistical Association, Twin Cities Chapter)
The Centenary of Darwinism - Paper read at a meeting held in Adelaide 1959 [included in Natural selection, heredity and eugenics ed. J.H. Bennett 1983]
Mathematical theory of Genetics (course outline/syllabus, undated)
Kinds of gentics.


Series 19. Reviews of writings and comments by Fisher*, and Fisher's reviews of books and papers by others**.  1926-59.  2 cm.
* other than his major published works, for reviews of which see with the relevant publication in Series 3 –11. 
Includes review of Fisher's 1959 article 'Smoking - the cancer controversy' and reviews of A treatise in induction and probability, Foundations of inference (with covering letter to Michael Oakeshot 12/2/1952), and Genetics for medical students / E.B. Ford (1942)
** See also Series 2, which contains many reviews among Fisher's published writings.

Series 20.  Miscellaneous
Mailing list for reprints/papers (in file box)
Lists of books in Fisher's library

Personal and biographical papers

Series 22.  Scrap book re Willis's Rooms 1892-1900.  1v.
[Willis's Rooms was an auction house in St. James's Square, London, run by Messrs Fisher and Robinson]

Series 23.  Scrap book re school and later awards.  1901-10, 1920, 1926-33.  1v.
Examination lists, reports, letters of congratulation to his parents and later to Fisher re appointments and honours, photograph.

Series 24.  Cuttings book re [early] career.  1930-[38].  1v.
Copies of his scientific articles, reviews and work, numerous news clippings (especially re the birthrate and family allowances), and correspondence. Partially indexed.
Items inside front cover include: Appointment form for Fisher to Rothamsted Experimental Station 7 November 1924; letter from his young daughter Margaret from Milton Lodge, Harpendene; 1926 letter from J.A. Venn; 1933 letter from C.S. Stock congratulating Fisher on University College appointment; letters of congratulation on receiving the Royal Society Medal from Arthur Hill, ‘Gerard’, B.A Keen, Ashley Loundes and D Ward Cutler
p. 15: clippings on blood groups and lists of blood types of Fisher family members
p. 30: letter to ‘Nicolette’ written while staying a week with Queenie and Roy, 22 August 1929 [two other letters and postcard in pocket at rear of album]
p. 67: letter from E.W. Birmingham 29/9/1930 congratulating him on The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection and confessing “I did not know who you were”
p. 71: letters of congratulation on The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection from E.B. Poulton 29/4/1930 (also commenting on Bateson’s attitude to natural selection); Leonard Darwin 19/4/1030 and Julian Huxley 4/5/1930
p. 75. Ms extract of a letter from Charles Galton Darwin to ‘Uncle Lenny’Darwin on his review of Natural selection
p. 97-101: American newspaper reports on the Fishers visit to Harvard 1936
p. 210-18: newspaper clippings on sterilization
Back pocket: 3 letters from Fisher to ‘Nicolette’ 1929; letter to Mrs Fisher from [Mrs] C.M. Darwin, June 25th [no year], accompanying a gift of flower books for the Fisher children; letter from Marjory Gossett 8/11/1937 thanking Fisher for his letter of sympathy; menu designed in the style of a Latin Square with mathematically named foods for function at Grove Park Inn, Asheville, North Carolina, August 22 1936
See also Series 26

Series 25.  Photographs.  2 albums and loose items.
25.1. Family album c1900-55
25.2. Album of official functions (conferences, dinners, etc) 1945-62; and loose photos of similar occasions 1936-61
25.3. Loose photographs
  • V.I. Vavilov with E.M. East, Thaca, 1932
  • Mrs Eileen Fisher wth daughters 1938
  • Iowa State Univesity, Ames: Fisher with staff group 1931? and Juy 1936, and Fisher in charabanc with tour group July 1936; framed photograph of Fisher at Iowa State University (?) given to A.M. Brunson 1956. Donated by Wyman Nyquist May 2006
  • framed photograph of Professor and  Mrs P.C. Mahalanobis in India 1940
  • 7 photographs taken during visit to Naval Ordnance Test Station (China Lake, California, March 1950), with a letter of thanks from Captain W.V.R. Vieweg [see Villar's file in Series 1]
  • Fisher receiving Hon. D.Sc degree, Chicago, June 1952
  • group photograph with Fisher, Poona University Mathematics and Statistics Association 1960-61
  • Fisher with W.R. Reek? and G. Ruhnke? (undated)
  • Fisher with R. Torshaw, A. Pearson, Leggatt, D. Hill and and I. Motzok (undated)
  • photographs from launch of extended Fisher Digital Archive, University of Adelaide, 2004
  • studio portrait of smiling Fisher (undated, photographer Swaine, London)
  • close up photograph of Fisher portrait by Leontine Camprubi (undated)
  • oversize photograph of Fisher looking at display [undated, transferred from CSIRO Mathematics Library 2010]

Series 26.  Obituaries, appreciations and commemorations.   1938-78, 1990, 2002-5
26.1. Correspondence between the Bishop of Adelaide and Professor J.H. Bennett re Fisher's burial and memorial plaque in St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide 1962-1964
26.2. Biographical articles and obituaries. Includes W.E. Dick 'Professor R.A. Fisher' Discovery March 1944; Statistics and research: a colloquium on the contribution of R.A. Fisher [reprint from the March 1951 issue of Journal of the American Statistical Association]; newspaper cuttings re award of hon. degree of D.SC. in 1959; D.SC. diploma (Gonville and Caius College, 1926) [in cylinder]; extensive funeral and obituary notices 1962-63 (including obituary by F. Yates); papers re Centenary Dinner at Gonville and Caius College 1990; copies of articles from The Statistician v. 52 pt 3; announcement of R.A. Fisher Prize (Society for the Study of Evolution) 2005.
See also Series 2 and letters re Knighthood in Series 1

Series 27.  Reproduction of 1946 oil painting of Fisher by Leontine Camprubi.
[Framed copy of original held in the Institute of Statistics, Raleigh University of North Carolina, commissioned by Professor J.H. Bennett] Oversize

Series 28.  Articles about Fisher and/or his work.  1928-88.
Including articles by G.A. Barnard, H.A. David, A.F. W. Edwards, Churchill Eisenhart, Nancy Hall, H. Hotelling, Ina Jephson, E.J. Maskell, Sewall Wright, Frank Yates, Nancy S. Hall.

Series 29.  Miscellaneous biographical.
29.1 E.B. Ford reminiscening about R.A. Fisher (1 casette tape - NOT Ford's voice on tape) and transcript (donated J.H. Bennett 1/7/2005)

29.2 Issue of Once a Caian ... [Alumni journal of Caius College] Issue 2 (2005) with Fisher stained glass window (donated J.H. Bennett 1/7/2005)

29.3 Copies of Fisher material from CSIRO Mathematical Library (donated November 2005)
CD of photographs of Fisher's grave; Order of Service booklet from funeral; photocopy of E.A. Cornish's address at Fisher's funeral (3 p.); appreciations of Fisher by Jerzy Neyman (Science v. 156); M.G. Kendell (Biometrika v. 50, 1963) with Fisher bibliography; various authors (Biometrics v. 18 no. 4 Dec. 1962, and v. 19 no. 1 March 1963)

Series 30.  Sir Ronald Fisher lecture (University of Adelaide) 1990-.
Papers relating to Fisher lecture including: list of lectures, flyers and publicity material, copy of Rules of the Sir Ronald Fisher Lecture (1994) and associated correspondence. Also correspondence re endowment of Prof. Peter Parsons to fund lecture.

Series 31.  Realia

Embroidered portfolio folder with initials 'R.A.F.'  (probably by Fisher's sister)

Brunsviga 20 - Calculating Machine. Manufactured in Germany by Brunsviga Maschinenwerke Grimm - Natalis & Company, ca. 1910. Used by Ronald Aylmer Fisher during his time working for the C.S.I.R.O in Adelaide from 1957. Donated to the Barr Smith Library by the C.S.I.R.O Division of Mathematics and Statistics in 2014.

Revised 14/9/2011

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