Papers of James Cossar Ewart

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The James Cossar Ewart Collection consists of diplomas, medals and badges, letters and papers. The collection of medals and badges,1866-1931, includes those presented at school in Penicuik and while at Edinburgh University. There are also items won for prize animals (St. Kilda ewe, Libyan stallion, Celtic mare and foal, Arab Highland pony etc.) at various shows. The certificates, diplomas and letters of appointment span the years 1870 to 1927. There are biographical papers covering 1875-1934. Photographs include those of Professor Ewart himself and staff, and of zebra hybrids. Spanning the years 1870 to 1935, there are miscellaneous papers in connection with lectures, lecture course, press-cutting books, personal notebooks, and letters.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Cossar Ewart was born in Penicuik, Midlothian, 26 November 1851. He was educated in Penicuik and entered the University of Edinburgh as a medical student in 1871, graduating as a Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery in 1874. Until 1878 he was Curator of the Zoological Museum at University College, London. While in London he 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, at the end of 1878 he was appointed to the Chair of Natural History in the University of Aberdeen. While in Aberdeen Ewart became interested in marine biological investigation and established an experimental station on the coast in the area. There he worked in his spare time on fishery problems, and, with George John Romanes, on the locomotor system of echinoderms. In 1882, Ewart became Regius Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh and held this position for forty-five years, retiring in 1927. Also in 1882, Ewart joined the Fishery Board of Scotland as scientific adviser, publishing several papers on the fertilisation of herring ova and the natural history of the herring, cod, and other fish. He also carried out some work on the electric organ in the skate. Ewart had also given some attention to the development of the horse, particularly to the bones of the limbs. Around 1894, he had started investigations into experimental breeding, and much of this work was done before the rediscovery of Mendel's laws of heredity. Rather than the classical experiment using an Arab mare and quagga, and then an Arab stallion with the progeny, Ewart's experiments used Burchell's zebra. The results of his work were published in The Penycuik experiments (1899). As a result of Ewart's knowledge and experience, the Board of Agriculture for Scotland formed a special committee on animal breeding in 1913. After the First World War, this scheme was enlarged and a new Department of Genetics was formed at the University of Edinburgh. Meanwhile, Ewart had turned his attention to 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. James Cossar Ewart died in Penicuik on New Year's Eve 1933 after a short illness.

Conditions Governing Access

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Acquisition Information

The James Cossar Ewart Collection was deposited in on 22 April 1954. It was arranged and listed in the Department of Zoology after receipt from Messrs. McAndrew, Wright & Murray, W.S., Edinburgh, 17 November 1953.

Other Finding Aids

Handlist, H14; Another important finding aid is the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives. Additions to the typed slips in sheaf binders were made until 1987.

Related Material

The Index to Manuscripts shows at various shelfmarks references to notes of Ewart's lectures taken down by others, and letters of Ewart.