The ‘Letters in the Limelight’ blog posts from the past few months have drawn from the correspondence part of the James Cossar Ewart archival collection here at Edinburgh University Library Special Collections. However I have recently moved on to catalogue the archival papers of Alan William Greenwood, who was director of the Poultry Research Centre in Edinburgh from 1947 until his retirement in 1962.
As with all of the collections being catalogued under the ‘Towards Dolly’ project, interconnecting stories are never far away. As F.A.E Crew, director of the Institute of Animal Genetics, wrote in his article ‘The Genealogy of the Poultry Research Centre’ (British Poultry Science, 121, 289-295, 1971), it was because of James Cossar Ewart that Greenwood came to Edinburgh in the first place…
Alan Greenwood was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1897. After reading Chemistry and Biology at the University of Melbourne, in 1923 he gained a scholarship to study in the UK. Greenwood’s original intention was to work on poultry genetics under Reginald Punnett (1875-1967) at the University of Cambridge, but Cossar Ewart persuaded him to come to join the Animal Breeding Research Department (later the Institute of Animal Genetics) in Edinburgh, then in its infancy under Crew. In Crew’s article, mentioned above, he also attributes Greenwood’s decision to head north to Mrs Punnett, who ‘actively discouraged her husband from enlarging his university commitments since these would interfere with their tennis and other social activities’! In any case, Edinburgh proved to be a fortunate choice: the influence of Crew, whose special interest was poultry, directed the whole course of Greenwood’s future research on the reproductive physiology of the fowl (particularly the secondary sexual characters and endocrine activity).
Greenwood was to take over as acting director of the Institute when Crew joined up for war service, and in 1947 he became director of the newly formed Poultry Research Centre. In the coming weeks the ‘Towards Dolly’ blog will be drawing on a few stories from the Greenwood archive.
The PRC was to eventually become a part of the number of bodies which formed the Roslin Institute. Now, with the establishment of a new National Avian Research Facility (NARF) in Edinburgh, in a partnership between the Roslin Institute and the Pirbright Institute, avian research is certainly still thriving in Edinburgh with Greenwood’s legacy still very much in evidence.
Roslin Institute traces its origins to the establishment in 1919 of the Institute of Animal Genetics (IAG) by the University of Edinburgh. In 1947, the Agricultural Research Council (later the Agriculture and Food Research Council – AFRC) created a series of publicly funded research organisations to help UK farmers produce more food. In Edinburgh the expertise within the IAG was used to create two new organisations, the Poultry Research Centre (PRC) and the Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO). Within the University of Edinburgh a residual presence was maintained in the form of the Unit of Animal Genetics (UAG).
In 1985, a fundamental review of over 30 AFRC Institutes and Units led to the closure of the UAG and PRC and ABRO were combined with the Institute of Animal Physiology based at Babraham to form the Institute of Animal Physiology and Genetics Research (IAPGR). ABRO staff were progressively relocated onto the PRC site at Roslin to form the Edinburgh Research Station of IAPGR.
In 1992, the AFRC decided that Roslin and Babraham should be developed into independent Institutes, each with its own clearly defined mission. On 1 April 1993, Roslin Institute (named after the local village) was established as an independent, but wholly owned, Institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). In 1995 Roslin Institute became a company limited by guarantee and a Scottish Charity sponsored by BBSRC. In April 2007, Roslin Institute was integrated with the Neuropathogenesis Unit formerly of the Institute for Animal Health, and in April 2008 the combined organisation became a part of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (RDSVS) of the University of Edinburgh.
The scientific papers that I’m working on date between 1993 and 2007, so I’m looking forward to finding some about the creation of Dolly, the sheep and more about the other research conducted there over the years. So far I’ve catalouged quite a few on gene mapping and transgenic animals!
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.’
Naturally much of Ewart’s correspondence in the collection is concerned with both the commercial and the purely scientific aspects of animal breeding. However, Ewart was also involved periodically with issues surrounding human health and its relation to agricultural industries. This week’s letter is from a man called William Burgess (although his signature is unclear), who writes from Highwood Hill, Mill Hill, London on 11 July 1917. Burgess writes that he has read Ewart’s article ‘The Saving of Child Life’, which appeared in The Nineteenth Century and After (Vol. 82, Part 1, 1917), and which dealt with the issue of infant mortality arising from the consumption of raw (that is, unpasteurised) milk.
From the 1880s onwards it became known that diseases such as bovine tuberculosis could be spread to humans from cattle through milk, and that children were particularly susceptible to infection. Even though pasteurisation had been discovered in the 1860s, the idea was slow in being put into practice, and the battle for clean milk was a lengthy one. It was 1934 before milk pasteurisation and compulsory tuberculin skin testing of cattle was adopted in the UK (in the 1930s, it was thought that around 40% of dairy cows were infected with TB). However, pasteurisation of milk is still not compulsory in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, although it was made compulsory in Scotland in 1983. Ewart was clearly carrying out practical research into methods for milk cleanliness in preparation for his article; another letter in the collection from February of that year is from John Robertson, Medical Officer of Health in the Birmingham Public Health and Housing Department. Robertson recommends that Ewart visit a certain farm near Basingstoke to see a particular method of cleansing in action.
Burgess writes that the advice Ewart’s article contains would be invaluable if it was ‘boiled down’ into a tract and made comprehensible to ‘ordinary people’, both the farmers who produce milk and the parents who purchase it. He writes that he himself has a small dairy and sells milk to his neighbours, so he will ask the district nurse to keep a watch on new babies. If such a popular tract were written however, Burgess advises Ewart against using such overly ‘scientific’ words as ‘pre-natal’, ‘biometricians’ and ‘heredity’!
This letter demonstrates something of the breadth of applications to which Ewart put his animal breeding work. From investigations into hereditary characteristics to the prehistoric origins of domestic animals to improvements in the wool industry, Ewart was always interested in the wider applications of the natural sciences. The relationship between ‘pure’ biological science, its commercial applications and its implications for human health is something which endures to the present day.
This week from the Roslin rare book collection I’ll be featuring William Youatt’s The Dog from 1852. An early study of the various dog breeds, diseases, welfare and even some poetry by Henry Hallam on Walter Scott and his dogs!
The evolution of the genetics of dogs is fascinating and one of the interesting features of this book are the illustrations of the various breeds of dogs as they looked in the mid-19th century. Comparing these early illustrations to present day photographs of similar breeds shows how they’ve developed over time and what’s changed and what has stayed the same.
Youatt also, discusses the characteristics of the dog breeds, diseases found in canines, social, cultural and animal welfare issues such as domestication, dog fighting pits and trafficking.
We’re taking a break from ‘Letters in the Limelight’ this week to take a look at another type of item in the James Cossar Ewart collection. There are 19 medals in the collection, which were awarded to Ewart over the period 1866 (a school medal from Penicuik Free Church School) to 1931 (British Association Centenary commemorative medal). Most of them are for Ewart’s achievements in science and animal breeding: there is a bronze Life Fellow’s Token from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, a gold medal from the Worshipful Company of Woolmen awarded for Ewart’s research into wool and numerous medals from the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland for various animal breeding competitions.
Sometimes the medals complement other items in the collection, as with the medal featured in the picture. This handsome silver medal from the Société Nationale D’Acclimatation de France (National Acclimatisation Society of France) shows the embossed head of the French zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1805-1861), who founded the Society in 1855. The medallist and engraver was Albert Désiré Barre. A programme which also survives in the collection tells us that Ewart was awarded the medal at the 26th Public Meeting of the Société Nationale D’Acclimatation on the 25 June 1899. The award was given for Ewart’s cross-breeding work with the Burchell’s zebra, which you can read more about here.
Cataloguing medals is not something an archivist gets to do very often, so it was an enjoyable new experience to explore how to catalogue the physical characteristics of objects rather than thinking about the intellectual content and context of documents. The medals are an interesting part of the Ewart collection, as they give a tangible idea of Ewart’s work, achievements and the number of societies and organisations with which he was involved.