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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 56 Collections and/or Records:

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

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

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

Letter to Herbrand Arthur Russell, 11th Duke of Bedford from James Cossar Ewart (incomplete), 02 May 1907

Identifier: Coll-14/9/13/14
Scope and Contents Ewart describes the three ponies that he will send off to Woburn shortly. He states that the main questions relating to the origin of the domestic breeds of the horse will be settled if one of these mares has a foal to one of Russell's Przewalski's stallions. He states that unfortunately his Przewalski's mare is not in foal.

The latter part of the letter, including author's signature, is not present.
Dates: 02 May 1907

Letter to James Cossar Ewart from Herbrand Arthur Russell, 11th Duke of Bedford, 14 January 1909

Identifier: Coll-14/9/15/2
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 James Cossar Ewart from James Wood, with draft of Ewart's reply on the verso, 16-18 October 1916

Identifier: Coll-14/9/22/30
Scope and Contents Wood provides details of the two grants paid by the Board for the maintenance of sheep at Fairslacks and states that no further grant has been made.

Ewart's reply, dated 18 October 1916, requests Wood to supply him with the amounts paid between February and May 1914 and May and August 1914, which will allow him to make an appeal to the Factor to complete his statement.
Dates: 16-18 October 1916

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

Identifier: Coll-14/9/10/123
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

Letter to Sir Robert Blyth Greig from Henry John Elwes, 24 October [1912]

Identifier: Coll-14/9/18/73
Scope and Contents Elwes writes that he was impressed with Greig's practical knowledge in his question and encourages him to write to Ewart. He has not yet seen the letter he sent to the Shetland News to back up Ewart's endeavours, but hopes that Greig will ensure the matter is not dropped.

The year is not written on the letter.
Dates: 24 October [1912]

Letter to William Waldegrave Palmer, 2nd Earl of Selbourne from Walter Peacock, 25 April 1916

Identifier: Coll-14/9/22/20
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

Mulatto and Romulus at 5 days old, 1870s-1930s

Identifier: Coll-1434/327
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.
Dates: 1870s-1930s

Mulatto and Romulus at 7 days old, 1870s-1930s

Identifier: Coll-1434/328
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.
Dates: 1870s-1930s