William Bateson’s Books in the Roslin Collection at the University of Edinburgh

In 1908, biologist William Bateson (1861-1926) became Britain’s first professor of genetics at the University of Cambridge. He was known for his interest in studying inheritance traits and Mendel’s research and was the first to translate his works into English. With Reginald Crundall Punnett, Bateson published a series of breeding experiments that extended Mendel’s theory to animals and showed, contrary to Mendel, certain features were consistently inherited together which was termed linkage.


We are lucky enough to have seven books in the Roslin Rare Book Collection that belonged to William Bateson. They are :  Instruction sur la maniere d’elever et de perfectionner la bonne espece des betes a laine de Flandre, 1763; Browne, D J, The American Poultry Yard, 1863; Dixon, Reverend Edmund Saul, Ornamental and Domestic Poultry, 1848 (showing the title page and flyleaf with Bateson’s signature); Dickson, Walter B., Poultry: their breeding, rearing, diseases, and general management, 1847; Croad, AC, The Langshan Fowl, it’s history and characteristics, 1889; Poli, A and G Magri, Il bestiame bovino in Italia, 1884; and ; Nathusius, Hermann, Vortrage über Viehsucht,1872.



As it is apparent from this small selection of books, Bateson’s interests were fairly diverse. He went on to accept the Directorship of the John Innes Horticultural Institute at Merton, England in 1910 and many of the books in the Roslin Collection contain the library stamp from this organisation, but whether it was Bateson acquiring these books or another scientist, it is unclear.  That Bateson’s books are found in the Roslin Collection highlights thelinks between the research scientists were conducting in both Cambridge and Edinburgh in the early/mid 20th century.

Letters in the Limelight: Samuel Henry Butcher (1850-1910)

DSCN2319Cataloguing 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’ .

While our last ‘Letters in the Limelight’ looked at the life of Peter Henry Buck, a man whose energy was inexhaustible, this week deals poignantly with another of James Cossar Ewart’s correspondents, Samuel Henry Butcher, an Anglo-Irish classical scholar and politician, whose strength had simply run out. Born in Dublin in 1850, Butcher was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was made a Fellow in 1874. From 1876 to 1882 he was a Fellow of University College Oxford, before taking up the post of professor of Greek at the University of Edinburgh, succeeding John Stuart Blackie. His many publications included, in collaboration with Andrew Lang, a prose translation of Homer’s Odyssey (1879), The Poetics of Aristotle (1902) and Some Aspects of the Greek Genius (1904). Butcher was also influential in areas other than the Classics: education was an important subject to him and one for which he was an advocate, on the Scottish Universities Commission (1889-1896); the University of Edinburgh Court (1891-1901); and the Royal Commission on University Education in Ireland (1901). A. Logan Turner described Butcher as possessing: ‘a singularly attractive grace in bearing and speech, he appealed by sheer contrast to the rather unkempt Scottish undergraduate  as an embodiment of Hellenism, at any rate on its aristocratic side’ (History of the University of Edinburgh, 1883-1933, pp. 229-230). However, despite his achievements, by 1903 Butcher’s health and strength were failing. In April of that year he wrote sadly to Ewart:

Riccall Hall
April 1903

My dear Ewart,
I have intended for some time past to tell you that I have come to the decision that I must resign my Chair. I did not wish this to become public property during this Session, for the leave taking and speech making – to me a great emotional strain – would probably have consumed my remaining strength. But now there is no longer any reason for silence, though my formal resignation to the Court will be deferred for a little while.
I have found, beyond all shade of doubt, that the strain of work had become too great for my strength and my nerve force, which has been greatly reduced during the last year. I have pulled through this Session, but only barely, and often at the week-end, I doubted if I could start afresh on Monday for another week.
I return to Edinburgh tomorrow and must apply myself to business of many kinds, and especially the dismantling of my house, and disposal of many of my goods, eg. books, for which I shall not have room in a smaller house in London. To uproot one’s home of 21 years is a work of much sadness and I cannot trust myself to allow my thoughts to go freely over all that it means. Still I have not lightly made this resolve and know that it is inevitable.
I will write presently and suggest a time which may suit you to look in on me, if you are still at home.
Yours ever,
S.H Butcher
I have a good deal of riding and open air exercise here at my brother’s and am the better for it.
(GB 237 Coll-14/9/9/44)

However, Butcher by no means became inactive after his retirement from the Chair. The remaining five letters from Butcher to Ewart in the collection all postdate Butcher’s retirement and show him to have kept a reasonably active life. One letter from June 1904 has him reporting on a recent lecture tour of America, though he states he found this ‘difficult’ (GB 237 Coll-14/9/10/69), another in September 1905 has him debating with Irish politicians on Irish language and politics (GB 237 Coll-14/9/11/32). Socially, Butcher and Ewart must have been rather close, as he was asked to be trustee of Ewart’s marriage settlement to his third wife, Edith F. Muir. Upon hearing of Ewart’s engagement in September 1904 he remarked: ‘I rejoice to think that the lonely life you have spent for so many years is now to be brightened with human companionship’ (GB 237 Coll-14/9/10/104). After his retirement, Butcher also served as President of the British Academy 1909-1910, was Trustee of the British Museum (1908), and was one of the two MPs for Cambridge University from 1906 until his death, representing the Unionist Party. Samuel Henry Butcher died in London on 29 December 1910 and is interred at the Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh.

Butcher’s lecture notes and papers are held in Edinburgh University Library Special Collections, while his letters to other individuals are held at Oxford, Cambridge, London, St Andrews and the National Library of Scotland.

Beautiful Books Breeding in the Roslin Rare Books Collection

The Roslin Collection comprises a surprisingly wide-range of material from archival papers, the bound collection of scientific offprints and glass slides. It also includes 71 books on agriculture, animal breeding and genetics. The span of topics and time is remarkable – the earliest book in the collection is a book on Italian horse breeding from 1573 Roslin Il Caualerizzoup to a book on Scottish photography from 1999!  These books were used by scientists at the Institute of Animal Genetics Library, Edinburgh; Animal Breeding Research Organization and Animal Breeding Research Department, University of Edinburgh; University of Edinburgh Agricultural Department, Poultry Research Centre, the Commonwealth Breeding Organization, Imperial Bureau of Animal Breeding and Genetics and Roslin including Professor Robert Wallace and FAE Crew. Some books contain beautiful fold-out illustrations and may have some annotations.

To give you an idea of the scope of the collection:

Corte, Claudio, Il Cauallerizzo de Claudio Corte da Pauia, 1573; Instruction sur la maniere d’elever et de perfectionner la bonne espece des betes a laine de Flandre, 1763; Buc’hoz, Traité Economique et physique des oiseaux de basse-cour, 1775; Hunter, A., Georgical Essays, 1777; Bakewell and Culley, Letters from Robert Bakewell to George Culley, 1777; Great Britain Board of Agriculture, Communications to the Board of Agriculture, vol. 1-7,1797-1813; Salle-Pigny, F.A., Essai sur l’education et l’amelioration des betes a laine…, 1811; Desaive, Maximillian, Les Animaux Domestiques, 1842; Low, David, The Breeds of the Domestic Animals of the British Islands Vol. 1 & 2, 1842; Dickson, Walter B., Poultry: their breeding, rearing, diseases, and general management, 1847; Dixon, Reverend Edmund Saul, Ornamental and Domestic Poultry, 1848; Dickson, James, The Breeding and Economy of Livestock…, 1851; Youatt, William, The Dog, 1852; Doyle, Martin (ed), The Illustrated Book of Domestic Poultry, 1854; Wegener, J.F. Wilhelm, Das Hühner- Buch, 1861; Brown, D J, The American Poultry Yard, 1863; Charnace, Le Cte Guy de, Etudes sur les animaux domestiques, 1864; Youatt, William, Sheep, 1869; Bates, Thomas, The History of Improved Short-Horn or Durham cattle …, 1871; Nathusius, Hermann, Vortrage über Viehsucht,1872; Coleman, J, The Cattle of Great Britain: being a series of articles on the various breeds…vol.1 & 2, 1875; La Pere de Roo, Monagraphie des Poules, 1882; Tegetemeir, WB, Pigeons: their structure, varieties, habits, and management, 1883; Poli, A and G Magri, Il bestiame bovino in Italia, 1884; McMurtrie, William, Report upon an examination of Wools and other Animal Fibres, 1886; Croad, AC, The Langshan Fowl, it’s history and characteristics, 1889; Wright, L, The Practical Poultry Keeper, 1890; Tegetmeier, WB, Poultry for the Table and Market…, 1893; Gordon, DJ, The Murray Merino, 1895-96; Theobald, Fred V., The Parasitic Diseases of Poultry, 1896; Felch, IK, Poultry Culture. How to Raise, Manage, Mage and Judge, 1898; Hearnshaw, Roger R, The Rosecomb Bantam, 1901; Weir, Harrison, Our Poultry and All About Them, Vol. 1 & 2, 1902; Parlin, S W, The American Trotter, 1905; Axe, Professor J Wortley, The Horse: its treatment in health and disease, Vol. 1-9, 1905; Davenport, CB, Inheritance in Poultry, 1906; Gunn, WD, Cattle of Southern India, 1909; Committee of Inquiry on Grouse Disease, The grouse in health and in disease Vol. 1 & 2, 1911; Hewlett, K, Breeds of Indian Cattle, Bombay Presidency, 1912; Lewis, Harry R, Productive Poultry Husbandry, 1913; Bateson, W, Mendel’s Principles of Heredity, 1930; Punnett, RC, Notes on Old Poultry Books, 1930; Houlton, Charles, Cage-bird hybrids : containing full directions for the selection, breeding, exhibition and general management of canary mules and British bird hybrids, 1930; Prentice, E Parmale, The History of Channel Island Cattle: Gurnseys and Jerseys, 1930; Hays, FA and Klein, GT, Poultry Breeding Applied, 1943; Odlum, George M, An Analysis of the Manningford Herd of British Friesians, 1945; Heiman, Victor (editor), Kasco Poultry Guide, 1950; Schlyger, Hühnerrassesn, c1951; Hartley and Hook, Optical Chick Sexing, 1954; Tyler, Cyril, Wilhelm von Nathusius 1821-1899 on Avian Eggshells, 1964; Marsden, Aloysius, The effects of environmental temperature on energy intake and egg production in the fowl, 1981; Ford, Donald, Millennium Images of Scotland, 1999; Bayon, HP, Diseases of Poultry: their prevention and treatment, n.d.


This collection of books provide a valuable resource for the collection as it offers an insight into what the scientists were reading and researching over the years. Over then next few weeks I’ll be highlighting some of the gems of the collection!

Letters in the Limelight: William Herdman and HMS Challenger’s ‘weird deep sea forms’

Coll. William Herdman and ChallengerCataloguing 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’ .

Last week’s ‘Letters in the Limelight’ focused on Dorothy Thursby-Pelham’s drawings of penguin embryos from Captain Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic; this week, we are staying with the theme of exploration by looking at a letter (dated 25 June 1915) to Ewart from the Edinburgh-born zoologist and oceanographer Sir William Abbott Herdman (1858-1924). Ewart had evidently written to Herdman, who was then Professor of Natural History at the University of Liverpool, requesting some biographical details, to which Herdman modestly replied: ‘what an awful question you ask me! What on earth am I to say? I am the last person who ought to answer it. Will Who’s Who not supply what you want? However I suppose I must help you with any facts I can think of…’ He manages to recover from his reticence sufficiently to provide a brief career history, although he is careful to stress that ‘I had nothing to do of course with the Challenger expedition – was a school-boy at the Edin[burgh] Academy at the time; but I was one of Wyville Thomson’s young men at the ‘Challenger Office’ after he came home.’

Herdman of course refers to the HMS Challenger expedition which visited all of the world’s oceans except the Arctic between  1872 and 1876. The expedition aimed primarily to determine deep sea physical conditions such as temperature and ocean currents, although other forms of investigation, including those of a biological nature, were also carried out. In charge of the scientific staff on board was Charles Wyville Thompson (1830-1882), whom Ewart was to succeed as Professor of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh. Thompson’s location decided that the ‘Challenger Office’ mentioned by Herdman was set up in Edinburgh in order to analyse the findings of the expedition. The resulting Report on the Scientific Results of the Voyage of HMS Challenger was as monumental as the trip itself, appearing in 50 volumes up until 1895, and much of the scientific data gathered by the Expedition is still in current use.

As Herdman writes to Ewart, he became involved in Wyville Thomson’s ‘Challenger Office’ after graduating from the University of Edinburgh in 1879. He was given the collection of Tunicata (a group of marine organisms) to investigate, a work which he continued after he departed for Liverpool in 1881, and which was to be published as a report in three parts between 1882 and 1888. It was research that he evidently enjoyed: he wrote to Ewart of his ‘luck to have a lot of weird deep sea forms to describe which were of course new to science, so I was able to add some new morphological facts.’ Herdman remained in Liverpool for the rest of his career, maintaining a room in the Department of Zoology far beyond his retirement. He was also a generous benefactor to the University of Liverpool, endowing two chairs and funding a geological laboratory. He established biological stations on Anglesey, in Barrow, Lancashire and on the Isle of Man, where he also helped to found the Manx Museum in Douglas. He received honorary degrees from several universities, was actively involved with the Royal Society and was knighted in 1922. However, Herdman’s personal life was marred with sadness when his only son was killed in the Somme and his wife died suddenly after a two-day illness. Herdman himself suffered from heart disease, and died on the eve of his daughter’s wedding, after attending a family dinner in London. His obituary in Nature (2857, 114, 02 August 1924) states that ‘Sir William Herdman’s life, if it is ever written, will be an inspiration to every man, whether he is interested in science or not.’ In his own life summary which he provided to Ewart however, Herdman retains his characteristic self-deprecation, concluding the letter thus:  ‘Oh – finally, I have probably made quite as many mistakes as any other zoologist who has ranged over a pretty wide field of work.’

Edinburgh University Library Special Collections also holds the HMS Challenger Papers: http://www.archives.lib.ed.ac.uk/catalogue/cs/viewcat.pl?id=GB-237-Coll-46&view=basic