(Ruth) Eileen Guinness was only 17 when she married the much older Fisher on the 26th April, 1917. They were introduced by her older sister, Annie Geraldine, a friend of Fisher’s who he called Gudruna. Fisher liked to give those close to him pet names – hence ‘Gudruna.’ He bestowed Eileen with the name of Nicolette, taken from the old French Romance Aucussin and Nicolette.

The marriage was a love match and Fisher was fortunate to find a partner who was prepared to share his ideal way of life. With Gudruna’s help, the large family established a subsistence farming operation on the Bradfield estate, raising animals, growing their own food and living frugally and without any labour-saving devices. In the evening they would read aloud and have deep conversations. Eileen would also write down his books by hand.

Eileen’s contributions to the development of Fisher’s ideas and theories have perhaps been undervalued. In 2019 the International Biometrics Society Conference was held in Adelaide. While preparing an associated display on Fisher, we discovered four letters written by Fisher to Nicolette in 1929 in Fisher’s Cuttings book (Fisher Papers, Series 24)

The first letter was written from the Dolder Grand Hotel in Zürich where Fisher was attending The Royal Institute of Public Health meeting in May 1929. The letter, transcribed here (to the best of my ability given Fisher’s atrocious handwriting) shows Fisher’s affection for his wife.

Dolder Grand Hotel
16 May 1929

My dear Nicolette

I duly worked off my paper this morning and thrust upon a much dwindled audience a resolution which will give [Kel…?] an opportunity of taking action. So to Sir Henry Lunn his office where I arranged to start back on Sunday night, getting to London Monday afternoon and so home without difficulty.

We had a windy passage with lots of white on the water, but not really rough. Counting my breaths as it were/was, I survived. They put a mixed bag of eight of us into my 2nd class compartment, where we all had a very uncomfortable night, being too refined, to take off my boots, and fit ourselves comfortably [with?] the lady opposite.

I wish you were here (though you would not have had the crossing) as I think you would like the wooded hill on the [?] of which this Hotel is. There is a fine view of the lake. It is inclined to rain, but not too much to prevent us walking a bit, if only you were here.

However, I will see you on Monday,

Yours ever,

[Sir Henry Lunn was the founder of Lunn Poly, one of England’s largest travel companies]


The other three letters were written around in 1929 while Fisher was visiting his sister Queenie and her husband Roy at their home in Argyll, Scotland, and during the period when he was refining his dominance theory.

In an undated short letter Fisher writes:

This is all about your dominance theory.

We are going to have the poultry at Rothamsted barring accidents. The proofs of my reply to Wright in the American Naturalist have come and gone. Haldane attacks your theory finely? with ground locusts and Lebistes, and I believe, he could add snails to his army. But they will flee discomfited for I believe your little demon will smite them finely, to his great glory.

It is in the long letter from Argyll written on the 22nd August 1929 that Fisher discusses the development of his dominance theory in detail, finishing with:

How about my dominance modifiers then, which give the least selective advantage of all; is not the evolution of dominance brought ever more completely to a standstill? This I admit for every part of the chromatin, except the part which matters most, namely the duplicated complex itself. Modified or improved duplications will push out the others by slight advantages, that doorway is removed for them. Real evolution goes on in the recessive complex,

How does it fit, sweetheart? I told Haldane he was incautious to say “Fisher’s theory cannot explain …”

Unlike the other letters, which were tucked in the back pocket of the cuttings album, this letter was carefully tipped in on page 30 and annotated with the date and place of writing, perhaps registering its importance in Fisher’s development of his thinking on dominance.

It would seem apparent that Eileen was more than a helpful wife – she formulated ideas of her own and contributed opinions on Fisher’s work.

Eileen Fisher worked hard to support her household under primitive conditions and her husband in his research and his professional frustrations. She also bore nine babies and raised two sons and six daughters. The harsh conditions eventually took their toll on her physical health and Fisher viewed any reluctance to serve his wishes or his comforts as an indication that she did not love him. The marriage ended bitterly at the time when Fisher was appointed as Professor of Genetics at Cambridge in 1943.

Related papers by Fisher

See Fisher’s Collected Papers
069: Two Further Notes on the Origin of Dominance (1928)
081: The Evolution of Dominance; Reply to Professor Sewall Wright (1929)
087: The Evolution of Dominance in Certain Polymorphic Species (1930)

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Painting by Hogarth of Mr David and Mrs Eva Maria Garrick.

Painting by Hogarth of Mr David and Mrs Eva Maria Garrick. (Wikimedia Commons)

Among the many treasures from the Theatre Collection of the University of Adelaide Library is the 18th century wedding apron of Mrs Eva Maria Garrick, the wife of the famous 18th century actor David Garrick.

Eva-Maria Garrick was born in Austria, and came to England on a Dutch packet ship, disguising herself as a boy for the crossing. Using the stage name of or Mlle Violette, she achieved immediate success as a dancer at the Opera House in the Haymarket.

In 1749 ‘the finest and most admired dancer in the world’, according to Horace Walpole, gave up her career to marry David Garrick and devoted herself to him until his death, enjoying, by all accounts, a perfectly happy marriage.

The wedding apron is of embroidered cream coloured silk edged with guipure lace. A ms label on the verso reads: “Mrs Garrick’s (La S. Violette) wedding apron. Given to my wife by her Godmother Mrs J.G. Payne (nee Kitty Garrick). Kitty (Catherine) Garrick was David Garrick’s niece.”

It conforms with the descriptions in Carola Oman’s biography of David Garrick (p. 123) and Mrs Clement Parson’s ‘Garrick and his Circle’ (p. 143). Her biographers recount that Eva-Maria loved to recall her wedding day and had preserved a piece of her wedding dress, ‘a cream coloured silk apron edged with guipure’.

The wedding apron was bequeathed to the University of Adelaide Library in 1976, along with books, programmes, manuscript items and other realia, by Miss Angel Symon to form the Allen Wilkie – Frediswyde Hunter-Watts Theatre Collection.

Angel Symon was one of five daughters of Sir Josiah Symon, lawyer and politician, who helped to write the Australian Constitution. Josiah Symon was a great aficionado of Shakespeare and was a supporter of the actor-manager Allen Wilkie. Angel also had a great love of Shakespeare and the theatre and spent much time in England and Europe attending performances.

Angel actively collected material in her travels and purchased material from catalogues and auctions. She was friendly with many people in the British Society of Theatre Research, including Ifan Kyle Fletcher, who I am sure assisted Angel with acquisitions. A listing of Angel’s papers is available on our website. In addition there are numerous separate listings of the illuminated addresses presented to Barry Sullivan, Irene Vanbrugh and Dion Boucicault, the prompt books of Mrs Patrick Campbell, among others.

Cheryl Hoskin
November 2020

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Scrapbooks are a personal thing – the place where you keep things that interest or amuse you, of which you are proud or which you have found touching.

On examining Fisher’s cuttings book more closely for an exhibition in late 2019, we discovered some important correspondence as well as mementos of his career and family.

A more complete list is copied below, but significant items include Fisher’s appointment form to Rothamsted Experimental Station from 7th November 1924, and letters of congratulation on The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection from E.B. Poulton, Leonard Darwin and Julian Huxley.

I suspect that Fisher was amused by the letter from Ernest William Barnes, former lecturer at Cambridge and later Bishop of Birmingham, who wrote to Fisher in 1930 complimenting him on The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection but confessing “I did not know who you were.”

A memento of Fisher’s visit to North Carolina in 1936 is typed menu arranged around a Latin square with foods such as
“X1 Randomised cocktail of tropical fruits, with disproportionate frequencies”
“X3 Bisque of tomato, an example of a truly homogenous universe with zero tolerance”

Fisher used to involve his children in his experiments and the cuttings book also includes a charming letter from his young daughter Margaret to “Prof Fisher” telling her father that she “pinned out lots of butterflies but not today” and a handwritten list of the family’s blood types.

We don’t know if Fisher compiled the scrapbook or if his wife and helpmate ‘Nicolette’ (Eileen) did it for him. The book also contained four letters written Fisher wrote to his wife in 1929 which suggests that she played a greater role in the formulation of Fisher’s theories than has been acknowledged. These letters are transcribed in another blog post.

Items from the cuttings book are available online

Cheryl Hoskin
November 2020

MSS 0013

Sir Ronald Aylmer Fisher (1890-1962) Papers 1911-2005
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
  • 15: clippings on blood groups and lists of blood types of Fisher family members
  • 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]
  • 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”
  • 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
  • 75. Ms extract of a letter from Charles Galton Darwin to ‘Uncle Lenny’ Darwin on his review of Natural selection
  • 97-101: American newspaper reports on the Fishers visit to Harvard 1936
  • 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
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This week we are very excited to receive two new additions to the Rare Books collection, Livre d’heures d’après les manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Royale and Reynard the Fox : a poem in twelve cantos.  Both of these beautifully bound and illustrated books were purchased from David Brass Rare Books to compliment our extensive collection of 19th century […]

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Navigator and explorer, James Cook, was born in 1728 at Martin-in-Cleveland, Middlesbrough, England.  The second of eight children, he moved with his family to Great Ayton in 1736, where his father arranged for his apprenticeship to a shopkeeper on the North Sea coast.[1]  Perhaps it was this seaside location that inspired Cook to seek a […]

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Little is known about the personal life of 18th century navigator, Thomas Forrest, however, he is believed to have served in the Royal Navy, acting as midshipman in 1745, implying a date of birth of approximately 1729.[1]  He was engaged by the East India Company in 1748 and, according to his own writings, sailed the […]

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Hooper Brewster Jones has been considered to be one of the most progressive composers in Australia during the 1920s and 1930s. We are delighted to announce that a complete listing of his scores and papers held by the University of Adelaide Rare Books & Special Collections is now available at, incorporating the large donation […]

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Exhibition: Level 1, Barr Smith Library 16 August – 27 September 2019 Curator: Lee Hayes, Rare Books & Special Collections Is a picture really worth a thousand words? From woodcut to lithograph, this exhibition explores the history and methods of book illustration, and sheds light on the important role that co-existent images and text play in […]

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In 1919 the Spanish Flu finally hit Australia’s shores. The epidemic had originally started in 1918, borne around the world by soldiers returning from WWI. During the course of the outbreak it affected 500 million people and claimed more lives than those killed in the Great War. Also known as ‘pneumonic influenza’, it initially caused […]

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Exhibition: Level 1, Barr Smith Library 24 June – 9 August 2019 In 2018, drawing on her experience as a History of Science student, intern Kate Corcoran conducted a survey of Rare Book holdings to identify items that would be useful both for teaching purposes and online displays for students. This display presents the results […]

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