Ewart, James Cossar, 1851-1933 (zoologist and professor of natural history, University of Edinburgh)
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 10 Collections and/or Records:
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
Draft letter to Herbrand Arthur Russell, 11th Duke of Bedford from James Cossar Ewart, 14 January 1909
Scope and Contents Ewart writes that the examination of the skulls from the Roman fort near Melrose has proved that horses representing four distinct varieties or species were living under domestication during the first century. The Zoology Board of the Royal Society Government Grant Committee have started an investigation to ascertain the origins of various species of horse by examining bones and cross-breeding. Ewart requests Russell's financial help with meeting the costs of this investigation. The...
Dates: 14 January 1909
Scope and Contents Russell, who signs himself 'Bedford', writes that he would be happy to contribute £100 towards the cost of the investigation into the origin of the horse.
Dates: 14 January 1909
Letter to Lord Arthur Cecil from J and J Cunningham, with enclosed copy of letter from Lord Arthur Cecil and James Cossar Ewart, 15 December 1904
Scope and Contents J and J Cunningham reply to Cecil and Ewart about their proposal (outlined in their enclosed letter, dated 13 December) for selling special powders and foods for horses and asks Ewart to make an appointment to discuss further particulars.
Dates: 15 December 1904
Scope and Contents Peacock thanks Lord Selbourne for his interest in the breeding experiments with Dartmoor ponies and old Devon packhorses. He is preparing a memorandum of their current work and plans for the future which he will send to Selbourne and also to Ewart, whom Peacock wishes to consult regarding the application of Mendelian principles to the pack horse. He goes on to describe the breeding work in South Devon between a Norfolk-Roadster stallion and mares with packhorse pedigrees.
Dates: 25 April 1916
Scope and Contents Photograph of James Cossar Ewart's West Highland pony, Mulatto, and her foal, Romulus, at 5 days old standing next to each other in a barn. Romulus was born in 1896 and is a cross between a horse and a zebra.
Scope and Contents Photograph of James Cossar Ewart's West Highland pony, Mulatto, and her foal, Romulus, at 7 days old standing next to each other outside in a paddock. Romulus was born in 1896 and is a cross between a horse and a zebra.
Scope and Contents Contains: 'Ponies', The Spectator, 27 October 1900; 'The Highland Pony: Revival of a Neglected Equine Breed', by J. Fairfax Blakeborough, The Scotsman, 6 September 1907; 'The Country House: Horses for the Territorial Army', The Field, 15 February 1908; 'The National Horse Supply',...
Notes relating to the pony cross-breeding programme of the Congested Districts Board, 14 January 1908
Scope and Contents The notes chiefly consist of quotations from newspaper reports relating to the introduction of 'new blood' into the crofters' ponies by the Congested Districts Board in a bid to improve the native stock.
Dates: 14 January 1908
Scope and Contents Photograph of James Cossar Ewart standing with Romulus, the zebra/horse hybrid, on the lawn behind a house in the late 19th or early 20th century.