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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:

Newspaper clippings concerning the Congested Districts Board horse breeding scheme, 1908

Identifier: Coll-14/9/14/27
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...
Dates: 1908

Notes from lectures given by Professor Ewart, class of Natural History, University of Edinburgh, summer session 1882, taken down by G.G. Chisholm. Part I. Vertebrates, 1882

Identifier: Coll-68/5
Scope and Contents

Notes from lectures given by Professor Ewart, class of Natural History, University of Edinburgh, summer session 1882, taken down by G.G. Chisholm. Part I. Vertebrates; ms, 1 bound notebook.

Dates: 1882

Notes from lectures given by Professor Ewart, class of Natural History, University of Edinburgh, summer session 1882, taken down by G.G. Chisholm. Part II. Invertebrates, c 1924

Identifier: Coll-68/6
Scope and Contents

Notes from lectures given by Professor Ewart, class of Natural History, University of Edinburgh, summer session 1882, taken down by G.G. Chisholm. Part II. Invertebrates. With later notes and extracts inserted on a variety of unrelated topics (c.1924); ms, 1 bound notebook.

Dates: c 1924

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

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]

Notes made by James Cossar Ewart concerning the prices of sheep and ponies, 1920

Identifier: Coll-14/9/26/4
Scope and Contents

The notes record the prices of various sheep and ponies bought or sold over the 1911-1918 period. One piece of paper is dated 1920, and appears to refer to the calculations as being related to grants made by the Board of Agriculture and to payments made to the Factor.

Dates: 1920

Notes relating to the pony cross-breeding programme of the Congested Districts Board, 14 January 1908

Identifier: Coll-14/9/14/2
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

Notes (undated) made by James Cossar Ewart concerning the proposed valuation of sheep sent to Fairslacks, [c.1912]

Identifier: Coll-14/9/18/82
Scope and Contents From the Series:

Correspondence chiefly concerns research and breeding experiments on sheep, including the work of Henry John Elwes and their joint preparation for the exhibition at the Royal Agricultural Show, Bristol, July 1913, as well as the work on the Devon pack horse by Charles R. Haveley. The series also contains copies of letters to Elwes from James Cossar Ewart.

Dates: [c.1912]

Papers of James Cossar Ewart

Identifier: Coll-14
Scope and Contents Contains: Coll-14/1 - Medals, including those presented at school in Penicuik and while at Edinburgh University. There are also medals won for prize animals at various shows; Coll-14/2 - Certifcates, Diplomas and Letters of Appointment, including Ewart's medical qualification certificates, and his commission of appointment to the Regius Professorship of Natural History at the University...
Dates: 1866-1935

Practical Chemistry Classbook, 1854-1874

Identifier: EUA IN1/ACU/C2/6
Scope and Contents

List of students taking Practical Chemistry, including details of their addresses. Students include James Cossar Ewart and Sir George Christopher Molesworth Birdwood.

Dates: 1854-1874