William Thomson (1761-1806)

From Our History
Jump to: navigation, search

Doctor and mineralogist

The son of a Worcester doctor, William Thomson took his BA degree at the University of Oxford in 1776, after three years' study at Christ Church. He spent the next two years studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where he joined the Royal Medical Society and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; a letter from him to the founder of the Society, the Earl of Buchan, may have alerted the Society to the urgent need to conserve the crozier of St Fillan, now in the National Museum of Scotland. His Edinburgh years developed his interest in mineralogy, for he and others founded the Society for the Investigation of Natural History in 1782.

In 1782 Thomson returned to Oxford, where he graduated MA in 1783, MB in 1785 and MD in 1786. A brilliant academic career lay before him, but it was suddenly terminated in 1790 in circumstances of apparent disgrace which remain unexplained to this day. He spent the rest of his life in exile in Italy and in Sicily where he died.

Under his will Thomson's fine collections of fossils, minerals and materia medica and of books were offered first to Christ Church, Oxford which declined to accept them, and then to 'the Lord Provost and Magistrates of the City of Edinburgh in Scotland for the promotion of Mineralogy in the University of Edinburgh, who formally received them on 31 May 1808. With them came a sum of money for the appointment and maintain a lecturer in mineralogy.

The minerals, together with the cabinets housing them, were added to the University's Natural History Museum and a selection of the books to the University Library; the 823 books have since been dispersed among the Library's general historic collections, but are listed all together in one press in the press catalogue of the day. They include works on medicine, geology and mineralogy, travel and literature, and some his father's and his own manuscripts.

All or some of the text on this page originally appeared in the Gallery of Benefactors