James Bell Pettigrew FRSE FRS FRCPE (26 May 1834 – 30 January 1908) was a Scottish naturalist, aviation pioneer 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 and bird flight, which informed his invention of an early flying machine. The Wright Brothers studied his most popular work, Animal Locomotion: or Walking, Swimming and Flying which was published in 1873.
Pettigrew was born at Roxhill, Calderbank, Lanarkshire, 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 programme of research into the morphology 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.
In 1862, Pettigrew accepted the post of Assistant Curator at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London. He held the position 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.
In 1868, at the age of 36, Pettigrew was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
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.
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. Its publication was completed in 1908.
In this work, he showed some indifference to Darwinism and mainstream evolutionary biology, favouring teleological points of view instead. His reputation was subsequently overshadowed by that of his colleague D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson.
Pettigrew lived at 4 Randolph Place in Edinburgh's West End.
In 1889, Pettigrew was elected President of the Harveian Society of Edinburgh.
He died at his home in St Andrews in 1908. Pettigrew's grave is in the Eastern Cemetery of St Andrews, linked to the southern wall of the grounds of the Cathedral. Years later his widow and her second husband, Professor James Musgrove, were buried beside him.