Royal Society Publishing

William Donald Hamilton. 1 August 1936 — 7 March 2000

Alan Grafen


William Donald Hamilton was born in 1936 in Cairo to New Zealander parents, and was brought up for the most part in a rural and wooded part of Kent, England. He described his childhood as idyllic, full of freedom to roam, and of maternal inspiration and encouragement, and himself as a great burrower. He was fascinated by insects from an early age. A great–aunt gave him her insect collection, whose cases he used for his own (later rueing his discarding of the insects themselves), and also lent him a translation from Fabre, the great French naturalist and one of the first to study behaviour scientifically. A birthday present from his parents was a much coveted copy of E. B. Ford's Butterflies (Ford 1945) in Collins's New Naturalist Series, which introduced the 12–year–old to genetics, to a scientific sensibility that looked down on ‘mere collecting’, to mathematical biology in the shape of Mendelian segregation ratios, and to the modern study of evolution. After reading Ford, he asked for a copy of Darwin's Origin of Species as a school prize. To have inspired this one young biologist would by itself justify Ford's efforts in writing Butterflies.