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Ewart, James Cossar, 1851-1933 (zoologist and professor of natural history, University of Edinburgh)

 Person

James Cossar Ewart was born in Penicuik, Midlothian, on 26 November 1851. He was educated in Penicuik and entered the University of Edinburgh as a medical student in 1870, graduating as a Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery in 1874.
Ewart found employment in London as Curator of the Zoological Museum at University College, and also published a number of papers on the structure of the retina and lens, the sexual organs of the lamprey, and the placentation of the Shanghai River deer. His research on Bacillus anthracis was presented as a thesis for the degree of Doctor of Medicine at Edinburgh.
After a brief return to Edinburgh as Lecturer in Anatomy in the Extra-Mural School, Ewart was appointed to the Chair of Natural History in the University of Aberdeen at the end of 1878. It was there that Ewart became interested in marine biological investigation and established an experimental station on the coast in the area, the first of its kind in Britain. In 1882 Ewart secured the post of Regius Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh, a position he was to hold for 45 years.
In around 1894, Ewart began his investigations into experimental breeding, the work for which he was to become best known. He was especially concerned with disproving the long-held theory of Telegony, which held that a sire may 'infect' the dam he serves so as to influence the characteristics of future offsprings from different sires. To do this, Ewart repeated a classic experiment which supposedly proved this theory, the case involving the Arab mare belonging to Lord Morton which produced a striped foal after mating with a quagga, even when subsequently served by an Arab stallion. Ewart's experiment used a Burchell's zebra (the quagga having become extinct), but found that the 'subsequent foals' showed no signs of having been affected by a previous zebra sire. The results of his work were published in The Penycuik Experiments (1899). Ewart's preoccupation with the evolution of horses, particularly the theories that early horses were striped and that the modern domestic horse had a multiple origin, was to occupy him for large part of his career.
Following his major publications on horses, Ewart turned his attention to experiments on sheep, being largely occupied with cross-breeding for fleece improvements, travelling as far as Australia and New Zealand to advise sheep breeders and related institutions there. Ewart's later work focused on the origin and history of feathers in birds and their relation to scales in reptiles. The rearing of penguins at the then fairly new Edinburgh Zoo provided him with the relevant material.
Ewart remained adamant that animal breeding should be taken seriously by universites and funding bodies, both for its academic importance in terms of the emergent science of genetics as well as its practical and financial use to agriculturalists around the world. It was certainly at least partly due to Ewart's knowledge, reputation and advocacy that a University Lectureship in Genetics, the first post of its kind in the UK, was instituted in 1911 at the University of Edinburgh.
James Cossar Ewart died at his home in Penicuik on New Year's Eve 1933 after a short illness. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1893, having jointly delivered the Croonian Lecture in 1881, jointly with George John Romanes. F.H.A Marshall described him as not only 'a distinguished man of science but also as a delightful companion, a kindly and courteous host, and a loyal and loveable friend.'

Found in 6 Collections and/or Records:

Copy of a letter to Charles Mackinnon Douglas from James Cossar Ewart, 20 March 1916

 Item
Identifier: Coll-14/9/22/18
Scope and Contents Ewart writes that he is sending Douglas another paper on the development of the horse, but that he will require financial help to continue with the work. He supposes that the Development Commissioners are not worth approaching, but asks Douglas to consider the matter favourably.
Dates: 20 March 1916

Letter to Henry John Elwes from James Cossar Ewart, 04 April 1911

 Item
Identifier: Coll-14/9/17/18
Scope and Contents Ewart thanks Elwes for his information on sheep, which he will need for a paper he is to write. He writes that William Eagle Clarke did not land on Soay but hopes to do so on his next visit to St Kilda.
Dates: 04 April 1911

Letter to Henry John Elwes from James Cossar Ewart, 13 March 1913

 Item
Identifier: Coll-14/9/19/14
Scope and Contents Ewart writes concerning a paper which has gone missing in the post. Some of Elwes' lambs have been infected with parasites and are paralysed. He asks whether Elwes would like to give a couple of lectures indicating what vets should know about sheep as part of a course Ewart is organising.
Dates: 13 March 1913

Letter to Henry John Elwes from James Cossar Ewart, 02 June 1913

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Identifier: Coll-14/9/19/22
Scope and Contents Ewart writes that he is enclosing the proof and that he hopes to find Barclay at home on his next visit to Cambridge.
Dates: 02 June 1913

Letter to Henry John Elwes from James Cossar Ewart, 05 June 1913

 Item
Identifier: Coll-14/9/19/24
Scope and Contents Ewart writes that Watson has started for Shetland with sufficient introductions. Ewart's paper will appear in the Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. He asks what Elwes wants done with the Shetland hoggs when shorn and with the wethers.
Dates: 05 June 1913

Notes in Ewart's hand quoting from the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 01 March 1841, [c. 1910]

 Item
Identifier: Coll-14/9/16/48
Scope and Contents The notes quote from a paper by John Stark, 'On the supposed Progress of Human Society from Savage to Civilized Life, as connected with the Domestication of Animals and the Cultivation of the Cerealia', printed in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 01 March 1841.

The notes, made on University of Edinburgh headed paper, are undated.
Dates: [c. 1910]