Sir John Scott Burdon-Sanderson was born on 21 December 1828 near Newcastle upon Tyne to a well-known Northumbrian family. He completed his medical education at the University of Edinburgh and at Paris, before becoming the Medical Office of Health for Paddington, London in 1856 and later physician to the Middlesex Hospital and the Brompton Consumption hospitals.
In 1871, Burdon-Sanderson reported that Penicillium inhibited the growth of bacteria, an observation that placed him amongst the forerunners of Alexander Fleming. In 1882 he was then appointed as the first Waynflete Professor of Physiology here at Oxford. Burdon-Sanderson’s appointment was initially controversial, partly because the University spent a large amount of money on his resources and partly because such a position entailed experimentation on animals. However in the same year he was awarded a Royal Medal by the Royal Society in recognition of his research into the electrical phenomena exhibited by plants, the relations of minute organisms to disease, and of his services to pathology and physiology. A year later, under Burdon-Sanderson’s direction, the Department of Physiology was established at Oxford.
In 1895, Burdon-Sanderson was appointed Regius Professor of Medicine here at the University and in 1899 he was appointed a Baronet of Banbury Road in the Parish of Saint Giles, Oxford.
A year after resigning his University post, Burdon-Sanderson passed away in Oxford on 23 November 1905.
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