Letters in the Limelight: Rowland Ward, taxidermist

Coll14.9.10.71 Rowland Ward billCataloguing 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’ .

For anyone seriously interested in studying the various physical and biological characteristics of animals in James Cossar Ewart’s time, taxidermy played an important role. Ewart’s correspondence reveal that he travelled extensively around the world observing or seeking out various breeds of animals (for instance in 1905 he went to Mexico to study mustangs). He was also able to acquire various breeds or hybrids at his home in Penicuik (most usually sheep, ponies and his famous zebra/horse hybrids). We also know that his correspondents sent him photographs or glass slides depicting various interesting specimens. However, sometimes travel or photography was not possible, or a particular animal Ewart wished to inspect died before he could visit, or he wanted to preserve one of his own animals for future research use, such as examining colouration or markings. This is where taxidermy came into its own. The picture shows a bill from the renowned taxidermist Rowland Ward. Dated 4 July 1904, it summarises the services Ewart had received since 1902, including ‘skinning Przewalski’s horse [a species of wild horse], preserving and dressing skin, making artificial skull’, ‘preserving and macerating skeleton’ and ‘skinning zebra hybrid.’ During the course of his research, Ewart amassed quite a collection of zebra and horse skins, skulls and bones, which allowed him to compare variations in markings, bone structure and other characteristics.

Born in London in 1847, Rowland Ward left school at 14 to begin work at his father Henry Ward’s taxidermy studio. His gift for taxidermy and sculpture soon became clear, and his hard work and entrepreneurship soon made him established. His final premises, The Jungle, was situated in London’s fashionable Piccadilly district and largely catered for wealthy sportsmen and game hunters, as well as naturalists like Ewart. He became widely known for his hugely detailed dioramas, often used at large exhibitions, depicting, for example, scenes of jungle life, as well as fashionable ‘animal furniture’. However, he also pioneered techniques in taxidermy which are still employed today, and his books on taxidermy and extensive compilation of horn measurements are still consulted. The business continued to flourish after Ward’s death in 1912, its subsidiary company finally closing in 1983.

You can see examples of Rowland Ward’s work here: http://taxidermyemporium.co.uk/15.html