Ashworth | James | 1874-1936 | professor of zoology and later of natural history, University of Edinburgh

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

James Ashworth (1874-1936) was Professor of Zoology and later of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh. He was educated at Carlton Road School, then at the University of London. Initially, he intended to study chemistry, but was converted to biology by a charismatic lecturer. In 1919, after many years as a lecturer in invertebrate zoology, Ashworth was appointed to the newly created chair of zoology at the University of Edinburgh, where he worked in tandem with James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933). Ashworth continued to concentrate on invertebrates, while his erstwhile superior Ewart concentrated on vertebrates. When Ewart left the chair of natural history, Ashworth was appointed in his place, and the zoology chair was left unoccupied until the 1960s. Ashworth was the first academic in Great Britain to give a course in medical zoology.

His scientific research centred largely, though not exclusively, on polychaete worms, in particular their giant cells and nerve fibres. One of his important discoveries came by chance. A student of the University was suffering from a polypus in his nose, found to be due to rhinosporidium. Ashworth, when studying the sample taken, discovered that rhinosporidium was not a protozoon, as he had believed, but a simple fungus. Other areas of study included mosquitoes (the prevalence of their various species in Scotland) and arenicolidae (with FW Gamble).

At the University of Edinburgh, however, he is not remembered for his scientific work as much as for the way he transformed his department. It was he who masterminded the removal of the department of zoology to its present site, in spacious new housing he had raised the funds to have built.


Worked with FW Gamble on arenicolidae. Colleague of James Cossar Ewart (1851-1933).

Other Significant Information


Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1895: Awarded Batchelor of Science (BSc) degree, University of London

1899: Awarded Doctor of Science (DSc) degree, University of London

1901: Appointed Lecturer in Invertebrate Zoology, University of Edinburgh

1911: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (FRSE)

1916: Awarded Keith Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh

1917: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS)

1918-1921: Elected President of the Royal Physical Society

1919: Appointed Professor of Zoology, University of Edinburgh

1927: Appointed Professor of Natural History, University of Edinburgh


List of sources for the biographical information:

University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Journal, vol 8, (Edinburgh, Oliver and Boyd, 1937)

Royal Society of Edinburgh, Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, vol LVI, (Edinburgh, Neill and Company, 1937)

Royal Society, Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, vol II, (London, Harrison and Sons, 1938)