Zebra Crossing – James Cossar Ewart, Romulus and the Penicuik Experiments

“Zebroid, zedonk, zorse, zebra mule, zonkey, and zebrule” –  these are the names of the offspring of any cross between a zebra, usually the stallion, and any other equine; however, the offspring of a donkey sire and zebra dam is called a “zebra hinny” or “donkra”, but are rare.

Ewart and RomulusIt was around the years 1894-95, when Scottish zoologist, James Cossar Ewart began his Penicuick Experiments in animal breeding on his private experimental farm where he conducted many pioneering investigations in genetics. His most famous experiments were related to telegony, which is the theory, accepted at the time by most scientists and breeders, that ‘a previous sire may so “infect” the dam served by him as to impress certain of his characters upon her subsequent offspring by other sires.’ Ewart’s experiments with a variety of species; however, were uniformly negative. One of the most famous experiments with telegony was Darwin’s lengthy citation of ‘Lord Morton’s Arab mare which first being served by a quagga produced a striped hybrid foal, and subsequently gave birth to an Arab foal as a result of mating with Sir Gore Ouseley’s Arab stallion. This foal, which is figured by Darwin, had striped markings that were said to resemble those of the quagga with which the mare had first mated.’ Ewart attempted to repeat this experiment; however, the quagga species had become extinct by that time, so he decided to use a Burchell’s zebra stallion which served several different breeds of mares which proRomulus and damduced striped hybrid foals, called “Tartan Cuddies” by the people in the Midlothian area. One particularly fine hybrid of this pairing was “Romulus”. The mares were then bred to horses of their own breeds, but the resulting ‘subsequent foals’ never showed any evidence of The mares were then bred to horses of their own breeds, but the resulting ‘subsequent foals’ never showed markings or traits of the previous zebra sire. Ewart collected these findings into a book entitled The Penycuick Experiments (1899).

In addition to these lovely images of Ewart and Romulus, I found a couple of images of a zorse and a zonkey!

Zonkey Hybrid

Juno, Zorse

Letters in the Limelight: E.A. Clemens

Cataloguing the correspondence of zoologist/animal breeder James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933), I have been intrigued by the various ‘life stories’ which emerge from the letters. Periodically I will be including some highlights in a series of posts entitled ‘letters in the limelight’ .

E.A Clemens letter Coll14.9.8.3E.A.  Clemens (d. 1924) is perhaps one of Ewart’s more ‘exotic’ correspondents – not least due to his being the nephew of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain). Earnest Allen (‘Al’) Clemens owned a ranch in Magdalena, New Mexico, and so owned a fair number of horses, which were Ewart’s primary focus of study at this time. In a letter dated 21 June 1902, Clemens tells Ewart that he would happily supply him with any horses from his own herd for experimental purposes, as well as any required skulls and other anatomical parts for analysis. One important motive behind breeding and cross-breeding at this time was the production of animals hardy enough to cope with heavy work or difficult conditions. In a letter to a mutual friend, American naturalist Theo Cockerell, Clemens reports that he was aiming to set up an experimental breeding station on his ranch to breed hardy ponies adapted for life in the prairie or desert. Whether or not he achieved this is as yet unknown (maybe this will emerge in later correspondence), but he was clearly a man with ambition.

Fascinated by this exchange of letters between a ranch in New Mexico and a rural bungalow south of Edinburgh, I did a bit of rooting around for any more information on Clemens. And what a story! His home, now named Clemens Ranch House, is now a registered cultural property and the current owners have created this informative website:


It is interesting to read about how Clemens’ personality manifested itself in the building of his ranch house. He was obviously a perfectionist: he reputedly ordered stonemasons from Italy to cut the locally quarried stone for the ranch house and ordered his back porch to be ripped out and remade three times before he was happy with the height. He was also cautious: after apparently being held hostage for three days by desperados, Clemens designed numerous trap doors, tunnels and escape routes from each room of the house!

 Join us again for more ‘letters in the limelight’…

Bio-Pirate! Henry Wickham’s Audacious Brazilian Rubber Removal

An audacious truth or an embellished fiction? Sir Henry WickhamHistory credits Sir Henry Alexander Wickham (b.1846, d.1928),  a British explorer, with bringing 70,000 rubber seeds from the plant, Hevea brasiliensis, in the Santarem area of Brazil to the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, London in 1876. These seeds would go on to be shipped to the Far East to establish rubber plantations expanding the rubber industry and breaking Brazil’s monopoly. The export laws in Brazil at this time did not prevent Wickham’s seed gathering and removal, but there is evidence that he may have misrepresented his cargo as ‘exceedingly delicate botanical specimens specially designated for delivery to Her Britannic Majesty’s own Royal Gardens at Kew’ in order to convince the Brazilian customs officials to grant him an export license. He had hoped to be sent to the Far East to help establish the new rubber plantations; however, Dr. Joseph Hooker, the director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew refused to let him go.  Evidently Wickham had been promised £10 per 1,000 viable seeds delivered to Kew, but unfortunately he was only rewarded with £700 for his efforts. Hevea brasilienisAccording to the website, Bouncing Balls, there are doubts to the veracity of his story and thoughts that he may have embellished his role. While it is known that he was in the Amazon at that time, there are questions to the collection and the shipping of the seeds. Regardless of what may have actually happened he is known throughout history as committing the world’s first act of bio-piracy by removing Brazilian rubber plan seeds, shipping them off to England and starting the rubber industry in South-East Asia.

A Sense of Place

Last week the Dolly team enjoyed a trip out to King’s Buildings, the main campus for the University of Edinburgh’s College of Science and Engineering. Bustling with students – not to mention architectural styles – the site is a chessboard of history, not least where animal genetics is concerned. King’s Buildings was home to, for instance, the Institute of Animal Genetics, the MRC Epigenetics Unit and the Poultry Research Centre. We were fortunate enough to have for our guide Professor Grahame Bulfield (former Director of the Roslin Institute and a University genetics student during the 1960s), who is also a valued adviser on the Dolly project board. Grahame’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the roll-call of each building’s previous occupants meant that we were able to visit the habitats of many of the individuals that Kristy and I have been ‘getting to know’ through our cataloguing. It was fascinating to be able to put, if you like, ‘places to names’, and gave us a sense of the social geography of animal genetics at Edinburgh. Here are a couple of our highlights:

Crew building

This building, now called the Crew building and used by the School of Geosciences, was formerly known as the Institute of Animal Genetics. Frances A.E Crew, Director of the Department in Animal Breeding since 1920, had worked to raise funds partly to pay for a designated building for the Department. Designed by John Matthew, the building was opened in 1930.

This oak panel contains the names of those who obtained higher degrees from theOld Genetics plaque and memorabilia now in Ashworth Department up to the year 1950. It used to hang in the entrance hall of the Institute building (above) but has now been moved to the Ashworth Laboratories (also built in 1929), now used by the School of Biological Sciences. Note also the wonderful chairs carved with various farm animals!


Ashworth staircase and palms right

The majestic staircase in the Ashworth building displays portraits of many key scientific figures within the University. F.A.E Crew can be seen on the right next to the wooden-framed picture, with his successor as Director, C.H Waddington, two pictures up.



Not quite so visually grand as the two preceding buildings, this used to house C.HOld Waddington MRC Epigenetics Building Waddington’s Epigenetics Laboratory. Funded by the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Foundation and the Distillers Company, the building was opened in 1965, with Waddington moving his office from the Institute of Animal Genetics building into the top floor here. Aesthetically perhaps a far cry from John Matthew’s creation, but also a bold statement of the continuing expansion of genetics at the University.

With thanks to Professor Grahame Bulfield.