James Bell Pettigrew

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James Bell Pettigrew
James Bell Pettigrew.jpg
Born (1834-05-26)26 May 1834
Roxhill, Calderbank, Lanarkshire
Died 30 January 1908(1908-01-30) (aged 73)
Nationality British
Education University of Glasgow;
University of Edinburgh
Notable work Design in Nature;
Animal Locomotion: or Walking, Swimming and Flying
Medical career
Institutions Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh;
Hunterian Museum;
Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
Research Anatomy; Pathology
Notable prizes Croonian Lectures
The grave of James Bell Pettigrew, Eastern Cemetery, St Andrews

James Bell Pettigrew, MD FRS FRSE FRCPE (26 May 1834 – 30 January 1908) was a Scottish naturalist and museum curator. He was a distinguished naturalist in Edinburgh and London, and at St Andrews University from 1875 until his death. Pettigrew was an internationally acknowledged authority on animal locomotion.


Pettigrew was born at Roxhill, Calderbank, Lanarkshire,[1] the son of Robert Pettigrew. He was educated at the Free West Academy in Airdrie and at the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. After a late start in Medicine in Edinburgh, Pettigrew flourished under the tutelage of John Goodsir with whom he developed a research programme in the anatomy of the human heart. Most unusually, as an undergraduate, he was invited to deliver the Croonian Lectures of the Royal Society and the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1860. In these lectures, Pettigrew advanced a remarkable discussion of the anatomical arrangement of the musculature of the heart. In 1861 he graduated in medicine from Edinburgh and became House Surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. From an early age, Pettigrew demonstrated a remarkable flair for morphological analysis and an analytical grasp of natural history.[2]

In 1862, Pettigrew accepted the post of Assistant Curator at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London which he held for five years. In 1867 he retired to Ireland (possibly suffering from a psychiatric disorder) to study the flight of birds and bats. He had a passionate interest in animal locomotion and, more particularly, in the theory of flight, and around the turn of the century made several prototypes of an ornithopter of his own design.[2]

In 1868, at the age of 36, Pettigrew was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. [2]

In 1869 he returned to Scotland to take up a position as Curator of the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and as pathologist to the Royal Infirmary. In 1872 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and in the following year a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. [2]

In 1873, Pettigrew published Animal Locomotion: or Walking, Swimming and Flying, his most popular work. In 1875, he was appointed to the Chandos Chair of Medicine and Anatomy at St Andrews University and established a home on the Scores which he called Swallowgate because of its situation which allowed him to observe birds in flight. Over several subsequent years, Pettigrew assembled his magnum opus Design in Nature, published in three volumes and lavishly illustrated with engravings and photographs. This was completely published in 1908. In this work, he showed himself to be rather hostile to Darwinism and evolutionary biology, and his reputation was subsequently overshadowed by that of his colleague D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson.

In 1889, Pettigrew was elected President of the Harveian Society of Edinburgh.

He died at his home in St Andrews in 1908. Pettigrew is buried in the Eastern Cemetery of St Andrews, linked to the southern wall of the grounds of the Cathedral alongside his widow and the remains of her second husband, Professor James Musgrove.


  1. "PETTIGREW, James Bell". Who's Who. Vol. 59. 1907. pp. 1390–1391.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Power 1894.


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