Roslin Glass Plate Slides Digitisation Sample Project

Previously we’ve introduced the Roslin Glass Slides Collection and have posted a selection of the 3,465 images in various posts. It is a goal of ours to digitise the collection for easier access to these images and, also, for conservation purposes. While digitising the entire collection is a future project, we’ve managed to find funds in the Towards Dolly budget to have the photographer from the University of Edinburgh’s Digital Imaging Unit (DIU) do a ‘scoping project’  or ‘sample’ and digitise 50 of the slides! As she began work on the slides she found a slide with an interesting feature – it was an early example of someone using an early form of Photoshop on an image! To see her more in-depth discussion of the image read her blog post, Analogue Photoshop?

Maori Girl in Canoe

Admittedly it’s quite hard to tell from this small image; however, looking closely, she said you notice the way the light falls on the water on the background and the size differentiation between the girl in the canoe in the foreground and the other canoe in the background is off and the edging around the girl looks like she’s been cut out from one image and placed on another. This is just one example of the curiosities found and hopefully, once the rest of the slides are digitised, they’ll provide more insight into the quirky nature of this collection.

Letters in the Limelight: Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913)

Coll. Alfred Russell WallaceCataloguing 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’ .

We heard last week about Robert Wallace, Professor of Agriculture and Rural Economy at the University of Edinburgh: in this week’s ‘Letters in the Limelight’ we will hear about explorer and naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (no relation!) who, independently from Charles Darwin, discovered that evolution is governed by natural selection. However, Wallace was a pioneering thinker in a dazzling array of other subjects, including land reform, glaciology, astrobiology, anthropology, socialism and spiritualism. The theory of natural selection came to Wallace in February 1858 when he was suffering from a fever on the remote Indonesian island of Gilolo (now Halmahera). He wrote a detailed essay and sent it to Charles Darwin, who he knew to be interested in evolution. What he didn’t know was that Darwin had been working on the same theory, more or less in secret, for over 20 years. Naturally, Darwin was horrified and asked his friends Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker for advice. Their response was to combine Darwin’s writing on the subject with Wallace’s essay – without Wallace’s knowledge or permission – and the resulting paper appeared in the Linnaean Society’s Journal in August 1858. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species appeared the following year: Wallace, on the other hand, remained in the Malay Archipelago for another four years.

Considering that James Cossar Ewart corresponded with a vast array of individuals prominent in the field of science, it is hardly surprising that a letter from Wallace appears in his collection of correspondence. However, considering that this year marks his centenary, it was a nice to see his signature appear whilst cataloguing. In the letter, written from Dorset on 07 March 1899, Wallace thanks Ewart for sending him his copy of the Penycuik Experiments (the book, published in that year, in which Ewart was able to disprove the theory of telegony by showing that the influence of a first sire could have no influence on the offspring from subsequent sires). However, he considers that Ewart does not emphasize the importance of breeding in telegony tests from pairs of animals of the same colour as well as the same breed. Going on to discuss of the heredity of characteristics, Wallace contrasts the idea of ‘infection’ (as telegony’ was also known) with ‘prenatal impression’, and tells an anecdotal story to illustrate the theory of ‘the influence of mental impressions of the mother on the offspring’. This curious story, Wallace explains, was told to him by a doctor friend of his:

A gamekeeper had a gun accident which led to the amputation of his right fore-arm, at the North Devon Infirmary at Barnstaple of which Dr Budd was Physician. Being anxious to get home he left before the wound was healed, taking instructions for the dressing, which he said his wife would do for him. His wife however was so nervous that she could not do it, so a friend of hers – the recently married wife of a farmer near – offered to come and do it, which she did, till it was quite healed. About 6 months later this farmer’s wife had a son born without any right fore-arm, the stumps exactly resembling that of the gamekeeper.

This, for Wallace was ‘conclusive’ in proving the theory that maternal impressions, particularly those produced by a shock or unpleasant experience, could contribute to causing deformities in offspring. Although of course we now do not hold with this theory, it certainly makes for a good story! One wonders what James Cossar Ewart would have made of it.

In his own lifetime, Wallace was considered to be the most famous scientist alive. His place in the story of evolutionary science has since been eclipsed by Darwin, but in this his centenary year, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about this extraordinary man, including The Alfred Russel Wallace website: and the Natural History Museum:

Professor Robert Wallace, (1853 – 1939), Scientific Agriculture and Rural Economy, University of Edinburgh


As I catalogued the Roslin glass slides collection and some of the rare books one name, and occasionally photograph of, kept appearing – Professor Robert Wallace. Wondering who he was and how he might have been involved with the animal genetics programme at the University of Edinburgh, I decided to investigate.

According to his biography on Archives hub:

 Robert Wallace was born into a farming family at Wallace Hall, Glencairn, Dumfries and Galloway, on 24 June 1853. He was educated at Tynron School and Hutton Academy. He studied at Edinburgh University and was awarded the degree of M.A. in December 1920, and thereafter managed farms for his father and farmed for himself and his brother. He was interested in every aspect of farm livestock recognising the importance of scientific agriculture, and throughout his career he sought to improve the standard of agriculture in Britain and the Commonwealth. Professor Wallace Highland Show 1913In 1882 he was appointed Professor of Agriculture at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester and then in 1885 he returned to Edinburgh University as Professor of Agriculture and Rural Economy. In the early years of his office a course in Forestry was added to the curriculum for students, then a course in Agricultural Entomology, and in 1892 and an Ordinary B.Sc. was instituted. He also established the Edinburgh Incorporated School of Agriculture and this led to the official recognition of Edinburgh by the then Board of Agriculture as an agricultural teaching centre. Later on, the East of Scotland College of Agriculture, founded in 1907, merged with the University School to form the basis of the modern School of Agriculture. Wallace occupied the Chair of Agriculture and Rural Economy until 1922. In that year too, an Honours degree in Agriculture was instituted. He was also the Garton Lecturer in Colonial and Indian Agriculture, 1900-1922. In the pursuit of his study and interests, he travelled to CanaProfessor Robert Wallace on Porch in BCda, Australia, New Zealand, India, Southern Africa and Malaysia, Professor Robert Wallace in Africaas well as the United States of America, Egypt, Greece, Mexico, and Japan. Towards the end of his career, between 1914 and 1917, Wallace engaged in correspondence with Woodrow Wilson, President of the USA. The subject of his concern was the treatment of prisoners and hostages in Germany. His publications include Farm live stock of Great Britain (1889), The rural economy and agriculture of Australia and New Zealand (1891), Argentine shows and live stock (1904), and, Heather and moor burning for grouse and sheep (1917). Professor Robert Wallace died on 17 January 1939.

Professor Wallace with Sheep in EgyptWhile some of his papers (1 volume; 2 small bundles; c. 1914-1920) may be found in the Centre for Research Collections, Main Library, University of Edinburgh (Reference number: GB 237 GB 237 Coll-87 / Location Gen. 554-555; Gen. 867F).; there are also numerous glass slides from the Roslin collection used by him as teaching material as well as images of him in East Africa, Egypt, Canada and the United States and several books that were owned by him on horses and Shorthorn cattle. There is even a photograph of him teaching Canadian soldiers about agriculture at the University of Edinburgh during World War I!  Professor Wallace Teaching Canadian SoldiersProfessor Robert Wallace, what’s known about him, seems to have been an important figure in agriculture, rural economy and the natural sciences at the University of Edinburgh with his passion for exploration, documentation and knowledge.

Dolly, Polly, Molly, Megan and Morag

Dolly and press Murdo MacleodHere on the ‘Towards Dolly’ team we couldn’t let the 05 July go by without celebrating our namesake, who was born on this day in 1996. To most people, Dolly the sheep (1996-2003) needs no introduction. The first mammal to be cloned from adult cells, Dolly was produced at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh as part of research into producing medicines in the milk of farm animals. The creation of Dolly met with public acclaim and outcry, fuelling the continuing debates surrounding the ethics of cloning. Most people know the basics about Dolly (including, of course, how she acquired her name), but here are a few facts that may surprise:

Dolly’s birth was kept under wraps for seven months

Dolly’s birth was announced to the world in Nature (385, 753-844) on 27 February 1997, when Dolly was already seven months old. (This time delay was so that the research could be properly prepared for presentation.) Although the journal featured ‘Dolly’ on the front cover, the ‘announcement’ was couched in somewhat muted terms: ‘Viable offspring derived from fetal and adult mammalian cells.’ It is only towards the close of the article that the phrase ‘The lamb born after nuclear transfer from a mammary gland cell is, to our knowledge, the first mammal to develop from a cell derived from an adult tissue’ suggests the importance of the event. Even so, few people at Roslin realised what the strength and duration of public interest in Dolly would be.

 Clones pre-Dolly

Of course, there are naturally occurring clones in nature, such as in bacteria. In terms of laboratory cloning, transgenic frogs, mice and cows have been available from the 1980s onwards. The difference with Dolly was that it is so much more difficult to clone from an adult cell. Dolly was the only live lamb to emerge from 277 attempts.

Ever heard of Megan and Morag?

Megan and Morag were identical twin sheep cloned from the same embryo and were the first mammals to have been successfully cloned from differentiated cells. They were born at the Roslin Institute in July 1995. Although Megan and Morag never got the same level of publicity as Dolly was to have, there was a lot more resting on their birth. Crucially, Megan and Morag demonstrated that viable sheep can be produced by nuclear transfer from cells which have been cultured in vitro. The technical breakthrough which produced them made Dolly the sheep possible.

Polly and Molly the sheep

Since Dolly, other sheep have since been cloned from adult cells, as have cats, rabbits, horses, donkeys, pigs, goats and cattle. In 1997, two ewes were born at Roslin which were the first mammals to have been successfully cloned from an adult somatic cell (like Dolly) and to be transgenic at the same time. Scientists used cells into which a new gene had been inserted so that the animals produced a therapeutic protein in their blood. Polly and Molly built on the work that had been done with Dolly to demonstrate the therapeutic potentials of recombitant DNA technology combined with animal cloning.

Read more about Dolly and the work of the Roslin Institute here:

Over the next two years, I will be cataloguing the papers of Professor Sir Ian Wilmut (part of the team who cloned Dolly), Professor Grahame Bulfield (former Director of Roslin) and the Roslin Institute itself as part of the second phase of our Wellcome Trust-funded project. I look forward to discovering more about Dolly the sheep as well as the work of the Roslin Institute from its inception in 1993 until the early 21st century.

 Photograph reproduced with kind permission of Murdo Macleod.