‘To sow the seeds of a new science…’ Happy Birthday James Cossar Ewart

Ewart Verlag portraitThe name of James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933) has featured regularly in this blog over the past year or so, but we wish him a happy 163rd birthday for tomorrow (26th November). Ewart, who was Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh from 1882-1927, is best known for his work cross-breeding zebras and horses and for being instrumental in establishing the UK’s first lectureship in Genetics in 1911. The creation of this post was to lead to a bright future for genetics and associated sciences in Edinburgh.

On this day in 1931, Professor F.A.E Crew, then director of what became known as the Institute of Animal Genetics, wrote this heartfelt letter to Ewart, expressing his admiration in no uncertain terms:

Dear Professor Cossar Ewart,

The 80th anniversary of your birthday surely warrants my writing to you my congratulations and to express my sincere hope that you may enjoy many more of these festive days.

I confess I envy you, to live for a long time means very little in itself but to have lived profitably: to have carved one’s name on the rolls of history of a science: to sow the seeds of a new science and to live to see the harvest gathered: these are things well worth the doing.

Happiness and a certain sense of contentment should be yours. It is the wish of those, who like myself are your disciples, that you shall enjoy the knowledge that you have, in a certain sense, achieved immortality. As long as biology exists, so long will your name be quoted.

On this day I send to you my homage and my affectionate regards.

Yours sincerely,

F.A.E Crew

Ewart died in his native home of Penicuik on New Year’s Eve, 1933. His two homes, the Bungalow and Craigybield House, can still be seen today in Penicuik, although both are now hotels.

2 thoughts on “‘To sow the seeds of a new science…’ Happy Birthday James Cossar Ewart

  1. During the late 1990s I spent a week in the Special Collections of the University of Edinburgh on the James Cossar Ewart collection. At that time I was told of the existence of a taped interview of JCE by FAE Crew and I made repeated attempts to find it, most recently in email exchanges with Andrew Thompson in 2002 when he was working on the NAHSTE history of science archive project based at the library of the University of Edinburgh. I understood that the interview was being transferred from tape to disc. Do you know whether that is the case, and whether the interview is available?
    I would be grateful for any help that you can give me.
    Keith Betteridge

    • Dear Keith,

      Many thanks indeed for your message. I am not aware of any recorded interview made with Cossar Ewart – it sounds like what was described to you were the recordings made by the Science Studies Unit in the late 1960s of the geneticists who were involved in the early days of the Institute of Animal Genetics. This includes a lengthy interview with F.A.E. Crew. The tapes of these interviews have now been transferred onto disc and can be listened to in our reading room. Further details and some sound clips can be found on the original NAHSTE website (link below)
      However we are hoping to shortly make available the full recordings of many of these interviews online on the ‘Towards Dolly’ website:
      The Cossar Ewart collection has recently been catalogued as part of this project, and the catalogue can be viewed and searched on the project website.
      Please let me know if you have any further questions.
      Kind regards,
      Clare Button
      Project Archivist

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